my story

Eighteen years ago, I, Diane Sciarretta (Founder) was enjoying a successful career as an art teacher at Ely High School in Fort Lauderdale, after receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Tufts University and the Boston Museum School. Then, my career was interrupted by a dramatic change in my health that required an extended period of recovery. I moved to San Francisco to become the patient of a very wise and earnest doctor of Chinese Medicine. One day during that period of treatment, I was feeling particularly low. “You are getting the opportunity,” he said, “to smooth your stone. And you, dear,” he patted my hand, “are going to have a very smooth stone, indeed.” Adding, “this is only one phase of my life.”  Then, he inserted a needle into the acupuncture point called the Home of Wonderment.  Immediately, the image of a tall and narrow house painted red and orange with fourteen karat gold trim sitting on a rock the size of a planet came into my consciousness. I did not understand the image. However, I knew it was important to my healing, because I had been asking to find meaning for the change in my health. Often, when I meditate or pray, I see images or “pictures behind my closed eyelids” as I used to instruct my students.
I was at a critical juncture in my fight to return to health.  I remained as quiet and home bound as my doctor insisted. I tried my best not to allow anything to stress my already sick liver. I pushed back against each negative and fear based thought which came to me. One day, I realized that in all the months I had been trying to heal my liver and headaches, I did not know what my sick internal organ really looked like. Nor did I truly know the physical structure of the inside of my throbbing head. The idea came to me that I needed to buy an anatomy book. Soon, I began to make pastel drawings of my sick liver. “From the moment I saw the photos of an actual liver, I saw something innocent, a part of myself which had done nothing wrong yet got all the blame. My liver had no words written on it indicating my failures as an artist, a student or a daughter. It was just my flesh and I simply could not be mad at it any longer.”  My relationship with my body changed dramatically that day.

Medical Illustration by Unknown, 1930, Pencil on Paper, 9"X12"

Medical Illustration by Unknown, 1930, Pencil on Paper, 9″X12″

Liver Transplant by Diane Sciarretta, 1995 Pastel on Fabriano paper, 36” x 24”

Liver Invasion by Diane Sciarretta, 1995 Pastel on Fabriano paper, 36” x 24”

I was creating artwork about my body and placing it on the wall. When my family visited me, we often stared at the drawings. My pain and illness suddenly had texture and color which made it easier for my family to find the language to help me feel better and ease my pain. I realized my drawings inspired my family and me to connect in a new way, and as a result, I felt less alienated and alone. I instantly had hope. Suddenly, the artistic practices I had been teaching others became my life line and road to recovery. Art-making was able to soothe my soul in a way no clinical intervention seemed to do. It allowed me to accept my illness and continue my journey of life with meaning and gratitude. Art-making became both a relaxing refuge from my sometimes painful and scary treatments as well as a powerful source of personal and spiritual fulfillment.

Tummyache by Diane Sciarretta, 1995Pastel on Fabriano paper, 36” X 24”

Tummyache by Diane Sciarretta, 1995
Pastel on Fabriano paper, 36” X 24”

Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray, 1918 editionInk on paper, 16” X 14”

Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray, 1918 edition
Ink on paper, 16” X 14”

After reflecting upon the important role art-making played during my illness, I realized that teaching this type of art-making to brave children, their families and the elderly living with serious medical conditions was my new calling. Through The Red & Orange House, I now do this work in healthcare settings . From my personal experience and those of the patients’ with whom I have worked, I know that drawing these unique pictures of the human body helps reveal personal insights about living with illness.

The Red & Orange House  became a legal 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in January 2013. 


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