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Artwork lives on after daughter's suicide – SC Times

On Dec. 11, 2010, Heidi Dodge died by suicide, hanging herself with a jump rope at a mental health treatment facility in Central Minnesota.
To her family and friends, Dodge is not defined by that final action. Nor will suicide be Dodge’s legacy.
Instead, her decades-long struggle was chronicled in the artwork she loved to create. Her subjects — and even the paintings themselves — changed depending on her mood, where she was in recovery and what was happening in her life.
Several of her paintings hang on the walls of the art therapy room at Recovery Plus, a dual-diagnosis chemical dependency and mental health clinic in St. Cloud. It was just one of the many facilities where Dodge tried to find peace and wellness.
The paintings are her legacy, owned by her daughter, Jordan Rose, who will turn 13 years old this fall. Heidi’s mother, Sheila, is lending the pieces to the clinic so that others in early recovery may feel comforted in their struggles and kinship in their turmoil.
Sheila was a witness to Heidi’s struggle, even as she tried to help her daughter recover and advocated for her as she witnessed the gaps in the mental health care system.
Heidi struggled with mental health and chemical dependency issues since the age of 16. She was committed for treatment several times over 16 years, including Recovery Plus.
At age 36, Heidi completed suicide while at a mental health treatment facility.
What follows are snapshots of Heidi’s life, paired with her paintings. Her mother offers her interpretations of the art, coupled with discussions she had with her daughter, observations of her life and Heidi’s journal writings. The titles, for the most part, are Sheila’s, as Heidi did not like to give them titles.
“Kneeling Angel” 2010
Sheila says this was Heidi’s last painting.
“Heidi was fascinated with and believed in angels,” Sheila wrote. She worked on the piece on and off over a year, asking often for her mother’s input. Sheila thinks the angel looks depressed.
At first, the angel was painted softer pinks and blues. The orbs were also a lighter shade of blue.
Over time, she painted each darker, making the orbs more pronounced. Before the hospital, she added gold spray paint over some parts.
“When she was angry, she would ruin the image with splatters of paint and said she hated it,” Sheila said. But then she would fix it.
Now, the large painting — four feet by a little more than four feet — hangs in a prominent place in the art room.
“Jordan’s Mobile,” 2003
Heidi wanted to get married and have a child more than anything in her life, Sheila said. She got married in 2002. Unfortunately, she married someone with issues similar to her own, which made it difficult to sustain the relationship.
“Guys loved her. She was very beautiful, a very creative person, and very funny,” Sheila said.
Heidi did get her other wish. She had her daughter, Jordan Rose, in 2003.
Two years later, she got divorced and maintained visitation with Jordan.
She painted “Jordan’s Mobile” when she was pregnant.
“She wanted Jordan to have a colorful and interesting painting, instead of a typical mobile to look at above her crib,” Shelia wrote about the painting. “She was very happy and hopeful during this time of getting ready for birth.”
Also in the painting, Sheila says, a large circle and small eye look like the egg and sperm at conception.
Jordan Rose served as motivation to get better.
Heidi experienced a series of losses: visitation with her daughter, her ability to drive after a second DUI and the loss of employment. Her beloved grandfather died, and Heidi felt guilty about not being there for him.
She went back to drinking.
“That just led to the whole spiral,” Sheila said.
Heidi ended up in inpatient treatment again in September 2010.
“St. Paul’s Cathedral” 1992-1994
After graduating from Apollo High School with honors in 1992, Heidi went to the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul. Heidi had always loved drawing, coloring and making things with her hands, Sheila said. In high school, she took a variety of art classes, using many media. She favored watercolor painting and created a variety of still-life paintings.
At art school, she developed the abstract style you can see in the paintings at Recovery Plus. She also loved working with acrylics and making large paintings, almost as large as herself, Sheila said.
“I was really so hopeful for her, that she would go on and be this artist she wanted to be,” Sheila said. “Sometimes I overlooked the bad stuff during that time.”
Heidi had a dream to open a coffee shop combined with art space.
St. Paul’s Cathedral was one of Heidi’s favorite places to visit.
“The painting is very dark and eerie, and seemed depressing to me,” Sheila said. “But she said she liked the mood of it.”
Sheila asked about the eyes and the white figure in the painting. Heidi told her they were the ghosts she saw sometimes.
Heidi also sprayed gold over sections of the painting, probably around the same time as she did so with the angel.
Heidi quit art school after two years. Sheila didn’t know the full story of why Heidi quit, beyond the financial hardship that came with paying for college.
“I just knew she was unhappy. And when your child is unhappy, you want to, you know, help out,” Sheila said.
It wasn’t until then that Sheila started to notice something was very wrong with her daughter.
“The first thing was the anger,” Sheila said. “When she came home, the anger escalated.”
She acted out at home, having parties with underage kids.
It wasn’t easy. There was anger, fights and frustration. Sheila was overwhelmed with the stress of dealing with out-of-control behavior that happens with chemical use and mental health issues.
Mental illness has a way of getting incrementally more disruptive. By the time people notice, or overcome denial, the situation can be out of control.
“I couldn’t see, in front of me, that my wonderful daughter was having issues,” she said.
After one fight, Sheila ended up calling police.
“She was really upset. I did not know how to deal with somebody like that except to call the police,” she said.
The first time Sheila really saw the mental illness was when she went to the St. Cloud Police Department, and saw her daughter. It was bad. That night, she had taken off all her clothes and was running around the jail. Everyone could see she needed help.
That was Heidi’s first trip to the emergency room for mental health. At that point, doctors didn’t address chemical dependency, only distress from extreme stress.
At the time, with commitments for mental health issues, patients were put on medications to deal with out-of-control behavior, but didn’t necessarily deal with the root of the issue.
At a treatment facility in Willmar, Heidi spent her time swimming and going to church, but she never looked within herself.
“So once she got out, the same things were there,” Sheila said.
She was on an anti-psychotic and she was drinking, and had other bad influences.
“You can’t stop bad things from happening, though I tried many times,” Sheila said. She tried to protect her daughter.
She was only in her 20s, but she had serious health issues associated with substance abuse, like cirrhosis and serious delirium tremens related to alcohol withdrawal.
“Roses” 1992-1994
This is one of Sheila’s favorite paintings. Heidi loved roses, even giving the name Rose to her daughter as a middle name.
“She would save roses she received from her boyfriends and press them between pages or keep them dried in vases,” Sheila said.
“I think she wanted the memory to last forever,” Sheila said. Heidi always had a vase of red fabric roses.
Heidi expressed her feelings through her art. She loved to contrast colors and use white to give a veil-like feel to them.
“She seemed intrigued with the eye and emphasizes it in several paintings,” Sheila said. Several of her paintings have eyes hidden throughout.
One set of paintings from 1996, creates a pair of eyes when put together. She gave them to her brother. Depending which sides you join together, the eyes have a different expression.
“I thought they looked owl-like … or bloodshot. Her grandmother thought they looked alien,” Sheila said. “It is very clever how the edges fit together, even when you turn them around.”
People need skills to heal, she said. And they need support from people and the tools to do so. For Heidi, it was art.
“I was very happy that they had art there. … That to me was the healing part,” Sheila said.
“Her creative spirit will be missed,” Shelia wrote, “but she lives on in the art she left behind and in all the people that she touched during her life, with the gift of art.”
Follow Stephanie Dickrell on Twitter @SctimesSteph, like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sctimessteph, call her at 255-8749 or find more stories at www.sctimes.com/sdickrell


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