For more than 30 years, art has been Teri Jensen’s biggest hobby. Now, art will also be her business.
The resident of the Westwood Place assisted living facility in Watertown is planning an open house to display and sell her work later this month, a sort of launch of what she hopes turns into a successful business venture as a freelance artist.
Writing and drawing have always come naturally for Jensen, but until now, the 52-year-old Prior Lake native has done it simply for her own enjoyment. Now, she hopes her work brings joy to others as well, while showcasing at the same time that mental and physical disabilities don’t truly have to be disabling.
“In coming to these places (assisted living facilities), sometimes people think it’s a terrible thing, and you get closed up and it’s the last of your moments,” Jensen said. “But it isn’t. You can blossom where you’re planted.”
Blossoming is exactly what Jensen is doing at Westwood Place despite mental disabilities that include depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and previous unsuccessful suicide attempts that are a large part of the reason she is in assisted living. She arrived at the facility two years ago after suffering a breakdown that first led to a hospital stay, followed by three months at another Twin Cities area facility.
The breakdown followed a tough year for Jensen, who no longer could write or draw as her hands began to suffer from tardive diskinesia, the result of decades of medications aimed at treating her illnesses. She also suffered from several serious physical conditions, all of which contributed to the breakdown.
But in the months that followed, Jensen gradually retaught herself how to draw and write even with her bad hands, and over time, she has regained their use. With encouragement from many of the professionals in her life, who could clearly see both her artistic talent and the joy that her art brings her, she is now ready to try her hand as a freelancer.
Jensen will call her business Red Rose Fine Art and Text. Now, she jokes that her biggest challenge is figuring out how much her art and her services are worth.
“I’m learning how to price things — I’m not used to that,” she said. “I’ve been giving things away as gifts for years.”
For Jensen, an art business is something she’s always dreamed of. Until now, her health has gotten in the way, but now she believes she’s ready to start a business. She credits her caretakers for making sure she takes all her medications, and says she likely wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for them.
“Before coming here, I wanted to have my own art gallery,” Jensen said. “I had dreams of my own studio. But when I started slipping physically, I couldn’t hardly walk any more. It was very hard, but I wasn’t going to give up.”
Jensen’s mental health issues likely go all the way back to childhood, when, as a 6-year-old, she suffered abuse at the hands of some older boys. Later in life at 22 years old, she needed to have a total hysterectomy, despite the fact the mother of three says she wasn’t ready to stop having children.
Jensen said the result of that surgery sent her into mental turmoil. She struggled to control or make sense of her emotions, and by the time she was 24, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I didn’t understand all my emotions,” she recalls. “They were like a roller coaster, and I was normally a very calm, placid person. All of a sudden I had all of this inside me, and I was just rumbling, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I almost tried to be a super mom and a super wife, and I had to try 10 million times harder just to try to cope with daily life and chores and taking care of my family. After about a year, it was just starting to spin.”
Jensen’s mental and physical health continued to struggle over much of the next three decades, and was at least the partial cause of her divorce. Ultimately, though, she says her life’s hardships led her closer to God and to her faith, which is heavily represented in both her art and her writing. Many of her drawings depict Jesus, the Pope, the Virgin Mary, and other religious figures.
Jensen said that although she’s dealt with a number of tough circumstances in her life, she doesn’t really view her art as a coping mechanism. Instead, she sees her art as a way to express herself as an individual.
“This is more an expression of me, where I differentiate that I’m independent from my illness, and my illness does not define me,” she said. “I think it’s possible to still be happy, and find happiness and joy despite a difficult situation in your life.”
Jensen also said she hopes her art can be inspirational for others who suffer from mental disabilities and illness.
“Sometimes people think that people with mental illnesses are all gone inside, but they’re not,” she said. “The core of them is still there. I’ve gone through periods, years ago, when I was very, very quiet. I just didn’t know quite what to say because there was such a stigma (attached to mental illness). My hope is to melt some of that stigma, so people can see that some beautiful things can be made and appreciated, and a quality life can still be lived, in, of all places, an assisted living facility.”
Jensen will be displaying her work in the lobby of the Westwood Place Apartments (209 Jefferson Ave. SW, Watertown) on Oct. 16, 17, and 18 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. One of her more intricate pieces will be sold in a silent auction, with half of the proceeds going to the activity department at Westwood Place. Other works will have set prices, and Jensen will also be selling cheaper prints.
Jensen will also be spending those three days drawing in the lobby, pieces that will be raffled off. For Jensen, Westwood Place might not be quite the studio that she used to envision, but she’s certainly willing to make the most of it.
“For people with both mental and physical disabilities, I want to show that you have abilities also,” Jensen said. “When one door closes, another one can open. There’s always something unique in a person. They may not know they have it, but it’s there in the core of a person, in their heart, mind and soul.”