When Huffman’s husband, Max, was 42 he had a series of 15 cardiac arrests. They caused a diffusion of destroyed brain cells.
“He could walk all over and solve ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ but he couldn’t remember what he ate or if he did,” Huffman explained.
The effects of the brain injury have lasted for 22 years.
“In 2005, I decided to move closer to family,” Huffman said. The move allowed Huffman to design a house that suited the needs of her husband.
“I designed the house with two purposes in mind. First, it was situated with an open front so that Max could watch TV or sit in his chair while still knowing where I was. Second, I was able to have a studio,” Huffman revealed.
Painting allowed Huffman to disconnect from life’s anxieties.
“[Painting] really helped when I was trying to take care of my husband. I was really stressed and getting little rest,” Huffman said. “When I painted, I just let it all go.”
Her pursuit of painting has been encouraged by the members of the Dayton Art League. In 2006, Huffman sold her first painting at the Strawberry Festival.
Huffman describes her artistic ability as a blessing. It allows her to create and enage her imagination.
A gallery owner once took a look at Huffman’s paintings and said, “That’s a lot of work.” Huffman replied, “That’s a lot of stress.”
Max has always been interested in Huffman’s work.
“He would watch me paint and say, ‘What’s that?’” Huffman said with a laugh. “He would have me take out a willow in a painting while asking questions.”
Last September, Max had major gall bladder surgery. A side effect was the loss of full mobility. Huffman eventually turned to the Bradley Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center for full-time assistance.
“This center is the best,” she shared. “They take such good care of him.”
Huffman knows this firsthand from her daily lunch dates with her husband. As she talks, Huffman walks around the facility with confidence and ease. She says a ‘hello’ to the nurses’ station before presenting her five paintings in the dining hall.
“I placed these paintings here for two reasons. First, it makes my husband feel more at home to see my work,” Huffman explained. “Second, the dining room did not have much color to it so I realized my paintings could do some good in there.”
Huffman chose the five paintings for their vibrancy and size. “Max knows the way I paint. He knows that those are mine,” Huffman said. “Someone asked him, ‘Did your wife paint those?’ and he said, ‘Yeah.’ It made him happy.”
Jeanna Officer, the Nurse Manager of Max’s wing, believes the residents enjoy the paintings.
“I believe the paintings make Max feel more at home, as well,” Officer said. “Ultimately, we want Max to feel comfortable. The paintings make him feel just as proud of his wife as we are.”
Many of Huffman’s paintings come from her imagination.
“It’s not what you see, but how you see it. Its about how you want to portray it,” Huffman revealed. “I may change the colors in a way that you would not, but that is what I want to do.”
The paintings hanging in the dining hall were created in Huffman’s art studio. A home studio has allowed her to grow in her painting.
“The more I paint, the more I learn and it helps me to become a better painter,” Huffman said. “The more I paint, the more I teach myself to express what I want to.”
Huffman admits that her art philosophy is sometimes different from other artists.
“I believe that if you do not have certain rules to adhere to in terms of color and form then it frees you. If you do not know that it doesn’t go, then it can go,” Huffman declared.
Max will readily give his opinion on the paintings.
“I will get different reactions at different times,” Huffman said. “He may say one day, ‘That’s really good,’ and then another day he will go, ‘Why’d you paint that?’”
According to Huffman, before his brain injury Max enjoyed doing everything with her. Today they are still able to bond, especially over a common love: microbiology. “Max is very intelligent,” Huffman said. “His recall is about 30 seconds, but I can still talk to him about work.”
Their relationship has stood the test of time and injury.
“Max encouraged me in everything,” Huffman shared. “I began a project that I did not believe I would finish. When I shared this with Max he told me, ‘You always finish what you start.’ I will never forget this. He meant that I did not quit.”
It seems Huffman has decided to continue Max’s encouragement through her paintings. “I think people should be less discouraging of themselves and give painting a shot,” Huffman said. “There is no bad art — just different. You may not enjoy it, but that does not mean it is bad.”
While Huffman is happy the residents enjoy the dining hall paintings, there are two that she will never give away.
“I have two water colorings that I did while Max was in the hospital,” Huffman revealed. “ I have those paintings framed now and I wouldn’t take any amount of money for them.”