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Participant Information

Kathy A. Harris


I was an artist before Parkinson's and am now an artist with Parkinson's. Pursuit of my art is not the result of Parkinson's, it is a life drive.

It's hard to know how much influence Parkinson's has on my work. The onset coincided with other major changes in my life.

I finished my master's degree in sculpture, moved from New York to Philadelphia, got married, had a baby, and was diagnosed all in a fourteen month time span!

I never stopped working for any length of time. When I can't work with other materials, I draw. The need to create is in my mind and if my mind is driven enough it finds a way for my body to do it.

With the progression of Parkinson's, my patience grew thinner and my production slower. I could be in the middle of a task when my meds would stop working and it could take me twenty minutes to get a tool ten feet away. Driven to keep working, I believed if I stopped, I would never start again.

Five years after my diagnosis, I realized that there are more important things in life than historical significance. I began to accept my limitations and my desire to compete in the "big art world" waned. This freed me to explore different media working at my own pace.

Unable to keep up with art world trends, I did what I was driven to do, not what I thought I should do. Using lace, satin, jewelry, porcelain, and the female form as a vehicle for expression, I am working out personal issues created by the struggle with Parkinson's as well as addressing issues of femininity and "decorative," and their place in the art world.

Fifteen years after my diagnosis, I had become isolated from the art world. It was harder to participate in shows. My limited movement made it difficult for me to get to the galleries and show my work. It was hard to take slides and get them processed. When I got the slides processed, I had trouble labeling them because my handwriting had become illegible. I was losing opportunities.

It was also harder to maintain production. When I was "on", I was dyskinetic and had no fine motor skills. When I was "off", I had fine motor skills but had difficulty walking. It was a constant challenge. I often found myself working in two unrelated directions and media at the same time, one compulsive, when "off", and the other more expressive, but uncontrolled, when dyskinetic. The "ons" and "offs" of my meds made working in clay difficult.

I had DBS-STN surgery in 1999. DBS-STN surgery changed my work almost as much as getting Parkinson's. Since having the DBS-STN surgery, the compulsive drive to produce has slowed down. I allow myself to spend more time living the parts of life I missed over the previous fifteen or so years. I get more joy out of what I create.

I believe, that second to my son, this drive to create kept me moving and working. It is more powerful than Parkinson's disease.