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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Return of the prof

Michael Farmer, a junior majoring in 2D painting, consults Art Professor Sheila Pitt about his project in his relief printmaking class on Wednesday, Sept. 8. Art Professor Sheila Pitt has just recently returned to teaching in a studio setting after being in a serious horseback riding accident which left her paraplegic.
Michael Farmer, a junior majoring in 2D painting, consults Art Professor Sheila Pitt about his project in his relief printmaking class on Wednesday, Sept. 8. Art Professor Sheila Pitt has just recently returned to teaching in a studio setting after being in a serious horseback riding accident which left her paraplegic.

It was Sheila Pitt’s fear of horses that motivated her to ride, with the notion that if she could overcome this fear, she could accomplish anything.

Her fear quickly grew to a passion, resulting in horse ownership.

“”After a while, a rental horse is no fun to ride,”” said arts Professor Pitt said. “”You want to train your horse your way and want the horse to learn how you respond and they respond to you and work back and forth.””

After she owned several horses, she got involved in showing and doing dressage: teaching and schooling the horses.

“”But every form of riding, the rider and the horse form a special relationship and that’s the beauty of owning your own horse,”” Pitt said.

Every rider falls. Pitt said she considered herself lucky, because in the past 10 years, she fell “”maybe twice.””

She tried hard to not fall and on Feb. 2, 2008, and her fall felt like it was going to be a simple one, she said.

That Saturday around 10:30 a.m. she had gotten a new saddle to use on her horse Donovan. They started to trot in the dressage arena, Pitt said, when he fell in a hole or tripped on a stone and she fell forward landing on her head and breaking her neck.

She realized that she could not move and an ambulance, followed by a helicopter, came to lift her to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.

She does not remember any of the following events; the next thing she remembers is waking up from surgery and having limited movement.

Pitt believes that her vertebra was screwed together during surgery and that she did not cut her spinal chord.””It is what it is, it’s done,”” Pitt said as she explains that she never looked into the technicalities of her surgery.

She remembers being surprised listening to the doctor when he told her that she was quadriplegic, but she said she has always been optimistic about her recovery.

“”Yesterday I walked 340 feet in my braces, that’s almost the size of a football field,””  Pitt said.

She said the goal is to build up her muscles so she will not need the braces.

Pitt said that she always drew, but did not take herself seriously as an artist until her 40s.

She then decided to get her graduate degree in printmaking, which is her favorite medium to work with. Her focus, relief printmaking, involves cutting into a surface with a tool that causes the cuts you make to appear white in an image and whatever is left becomes black. You ink the surface, put a piece of paper over it and run it though the press and then see a result.

Pitt explains that her printmaking now is very different because she cannot use her arms and hands.

She works with a computer pad that allows her to draw on the computer. She has an assistant who helps her with Photoshop, which they use to enhance and erase parts of the image.

Then once she is satisfied with the image, they print it out and use a photo process.

She began teaching at the UA in 1987.

She admits to being a tough professor and even “”brutally honest”” at times, but she has the student’s best interest in mind.

“”They aren’t here to hear how good they are, they are here to find out how to get better,”” Pitt said.

The Disability Resource Center, the Art department Head and her family have all been very supportive of her, which has made her life a lot easier she said.

Her favorite artist is painter and printmaker Jim Dine. Pitt said his attitude is “”you do whatever it takes to get it done,”” and this is an attitude she relates to.

“”Looking Back”” a horse print that hangs on the wall of her office above her desk was done before her accident. It was part of a portfolio that had the theme of machinery and technology. She used the horse here as a symbol of industrialization, rather then leisure. The horse wears armor and is portrayed as a rocking horse, not being able to go anywhere.

Now, her images relate more to her and her injury.

“”Body Cast in the Garden”” shows the cast of her body that was used for the braces that she walks in now. It was a laser compression computerized. She has a big garden at home so surrounding the cast is her favorite flower, an Agapanthus.

“”The Collar”” portrays a 17th century dog collar, which is symbolic of the collar she had to wear for eight weeks in recovery.

“”Each print has its own personality”” Pitt said.

 

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