Local Artist Shelly Lawler Showcases Nature’s Healing Powers to Comfort Others During Covid-19

kelly lawler art

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Over the past seven months, Covid-19 has touched all of us in some way, whether it’s physical, emotional, economical or all of the above. The fear, stress, and sadness of the pandemic has left people, at times, feeling hopeless, like it’s never ending, and like life will never return to normal.

We may never go back to what we knew pre-pandemic, but there’s something that never, ever changes. It’s something on which we can always rely to counteract negative feelings and promote hope, gratitude, inspiration and healing. 

I’m referring to nature — trees, water, animals, plants and flowers. The constant beauty of the outdoors inspires the soul and brings comfort to everyone, including the sick.

That’s the philosophy behind artist Shelly Lawler’s work. Lawler, a Hoffman Estates photographer, said the purpose of her pictures is to bring light and life to those in need.

“I’m a believer that nature enhances healing,” said Lawler, a former model, singer and corporate spokesperson. Lawler found a love of photography in 2005, by taking photos in her backyard garden. 

“There’s a charm and a comfort in connecting to the hope that is in nature. It’s a form of meditation to look at something beautiful and be in the present,” she said.

You might be familiar with Lawler’s work if you attend art shows on the North Shore or the western suburbs. Since 2006, Lawler estimates participating in 25-30 shows per year, with her booth full of her photographs on wall hangings, pillows, women’s scarves, tote bags, note cards, a poem book, throws, floor mats, and facemasks. The items are also featured in the gift shop at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Lawler poses with a customer in her pop-up shop at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Photo courtesy of Shelly Lawler.

In 2014, Lawler’s art took on another dimension. Her husband, Val Mazzenga, was in the hospital. Mazzenga’s name might sound familiar. He’s a 40-year veteran Chicago Tribune photojournalist, Hall of Fame winner, and six-time Pulitzer Prize nominee. During his hospital stay, Lawler said the view from his room was awful.

“My husband’s view was disparaging and desponding. It was ice cold looking,” Lawler said. “So, I put up my pictures all over his room and on the windows. When these pictures went up, it felt like a garden. The light came through and it was colorful and alive. Nature is life.”

A short time later, Lawler said she was approached by the president of the hospital, which led to her photographs becoming window art in patient rooms at AMITA Health Women & Children’s Hospital Hoffman Estates and Northwest Community hospital. 

Using fine art paper with a self-adhesive back, Lawler prints her photographs and cuts them to size. She said the paper is easily removable and can be repositioned, if needed.

Window Art Installation AMITA Health Women & Children’s Hospital Hoffman Estates. Photo courtesy of Val Mazzenga.

“When you’re a patient, you’re in that room all day and all night, and many people are alone for a lot of that time,” Lawler said. “The light changes the look throughout the day, which brings it to life.”

Patty Kaplan is a former Highland Park resident, who recently moved to south Florida. Kaplan said she met Lawler at an art show a few years ago, and was instantly attracted to her work.

“Our house was 73 years old and the bathroom had a window that we wanted to enhance. We wanted to make it prettier,” said Kaplan. “Shelly put window art on our window and on a window in our bedroom. When the sun hit it, it was just gorgeous.”

Lawler’s newest item: women’s wraps, designed to provide comfort from the look and the way they feel. She said idea came to her from a woman whose daughter was in the hospital.

“A woman came into the gift shop at the Botanic Garden and started feeling the material of my throw blanket,” Lawler said. “She said she bought her daughter a blanket but that it was awkward to carry while walking the halls in the hospital. That’s how I came up with the idea. My wrap is like a blanket you can wear, and it’s pretty and stylish, too.”

Shelly assisting a customer in her booth at a summer art festival last year. Photo courtesy of Daniel White.

Marsha Brody of Glenview met Lawler at an art show in 2009, and said what attracted her was the beauty and the romance of the work.

“The straw hats, the benches, the wine, the roses. It’s beauty, tranquility, comfort and peace, plus that romantic element,” said Brody, a breast cancer survivor, who owns several of Lawler’s photographs and pillows.

Brody said Lawler’s pillows have become her go-to gift for people recovering from an illness.

“It’s the way they look and feel. They’re very soft and comforting,” Brody said. “I’m a spring and summer person, but she also captures winter scenes which is something I embrace. She makes you see winter with a different perspective.”

Author Jackie Pilossoph with Shelly Lawler. Photo courtesy of Shell Lawler.

I first met Lawler in 2010, while covering the Glenview Art League summer art fair as a newspaper reporter. That day, I left my assignment carrying one of her photographs to my car. Since then, I have filled my home with her art. For me, it’s almost addicting, especially now, as I am going through a time of health challenges and personal healing. I can attest to the power of positivity by looking at Lawler’s photographs, as well as looking out the window to help soothe anxiety and offer inspiration and hope. 

The bottom line is, COVID won’t last forever, but plants, trees, green grass, flowers, lakes, oceans, wildlife, and even snow—they’ll be around for the rest of our lives. There’s no greater hope, comfort, and inspiration I can think of. 

“When I started all of this, did I know how it would turn out? No. But I did know that the garden, not just in spring and summer but in every season, is inspiring,” said Lawler. “We know if we focus on the beauty, we can get through anything.”


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Jackie Pilossoph is a former television journalist and newspaper features reporter. The author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially, Pilossoph is also the creator of the divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers.