Studio assistant Ashley Ricker arranges elements of “mirror IV’ by Amy Stacey Curtis at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Photo by Amy Stacey Curtis

BIDDEFORD — It’s been nearly three years since a neurological illness felled Lyman artist Amy Stacey Curtis, ravaging her mind and body, haunting her with suicidal images and thoughts and leaving her bedridden for months.

She has learned to live with her disability, and this winter is involved in three exhibitions that signal her full re-engagement with her art practice. Prior to becoming ill, Curtis was among Maine’s most active conceptual artists, completing a rigorous 18-year “solo biennial” project in abandoned Maine mills that involved a total of 81 installations that explored themes of memory, time and movement.

Soon after completing the cycle of exhibitions, she began seeing images of her suicide play out in her head like movies, and twice she was hospitalized in psychiatric wards. She told her story to the Press Herald two years ago, recounting her hospitalizations and her efforts to stay alive. She developed movement and speech disorders, and now says doctors believe her neurological illness was caused by untreated Lyme disease.

A section of “mirror IV” by Amy Stacey Curtis at the Gallery at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Photo by Bob Keyes

This winter, she takes up where she left off before she became sick, creating interactive exhibitions that require the audience to participate. She has three exhibitions up now – a group show at Engine in Biddeford and solo installations at the Museum of Art at the University of New Hampshire in Durham and 3S Artspace in Portsmouth.

“I’m so grateful my brain was still able to conceptualize and to communicate new concepts,” she wrote in an email.

At UNH, Curtis’ exhibition, “Transfer,” involves a handful of minimal sculptures. Visitors are asked to perpetuate the action of the installation, by moving pieces around to create different levels of energy and order. Participants complete the action of a piece by moving and reordering wooden cubes or posts, in sequence and at certain times. These are simple, repetitive tasks, and the longer visitors engage with the work, the more order they help create out of what might appear to be a chaotic collection of cubes.


A collection of wooden cubes, “Mirror IV,” in process at the studio of Amy Stacey Curtis. Photo by Amy Stacey Curtis

She is showing a related piece at 3S Artspace, “mirror IV,” a wall-length installation of colorful symmetrical wooden cubes. At Engine in Biddeford, Curtis is showing tiny work in “Nano,” an invitation group show in which all art must fit in a 4-by-4-by-4-inch envelope.

With this flurry of activity, Curtis is hopeful for continued better days ahead.

“Although I am still disabled I feel I am finally beyond the worst of what was happening to me,” she wrote. “Through trial and error and occupational therapy, we have figured out ways to manage my movement and speech disorders so I can function much better, sometimes even like my old self again. The more stimulation, the less control I have. So, for example, if I give a talk, and there’s a lot of people and sound and lights, I still need my walker. Otherwise I can push through quite well.”

Exhibiting art, she added, is crucial to her healing, because the act of making and showing art connects her with people. “Keeping connected has been a huge part of getting through this for both me and my husband, Bill, and now getting through recovery,” she wrote. “When you are going through something like this, the worst thing you can do is isolate yourself. Our generous art community never let me.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.