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How Art Can Re-Order A Harsh, 'Deformed' Childhood

This article is more than 4 years old.

Artist Evelyn Berde was born with congenital scoliosis in 1950 and spent many years in and out of Massachusetts General Hospital, confined to a bed for months at a time.

Her art, she says, is informed by her experience living with her “deformity,” as it was referred to back then, and her childhood growing up in the old West End of Boston, a low-income neighborhood near MGH and the Charles River, which was razed in the late 1950s, displacing many residents.

It wasn't an easy childhood: Alcoholism ran in the family and Evelyn's brother drowned in the Charles River when he was nine and she was just six. Evelyn was subjected to numerous surgeries and procedures for her scoliosis — some that now seem barbaric.

But art, she says, "has the ability to lift us out of one place and take us to another.”

Here, you can listen to Evelyn talk about five of her paintings and tell the stories that helped shape them.

Artist Evelyn Berde's "Shame" (Courtesy Berde)
Artist Evelyn Berde's "Shame" (Courtesy Berde)

Artist Evelyn Berde's "July 12, 1956" (Courtesy Berde)
Artist Evelyn Berde's "July 12, 1956" (Courtesy Berde)


"Don't Move" (Courtesy Evelyn Berde)
"Don't Move" (Courtesy Evelyn Berde)

"I'm Sorry I'm Gone" (Courtesy Evelyn Berde)
"I'm Sorry I'm Gone" (Courtesy Evelyn Berde)

"He is Risen" (Courtesy Evelyn Berde)
"He is Risen" (Courtesy Evelyn Berde)
Evelyn Berde, Self Portrait (Courtesy)
Evelyn Berde, Self Portrait (Courtesy)

Dr. Annie Brewster, M.D., is founder and executive director of Health Story CollaborativeEvelyn Berde is an artist, teacher and healer who lives and works in Brookline, Mass.

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