A couple of years ago, it was unclear whether artist Sherry Sullivan would paint again.
The 80-something Clear Lake resident had broken both hips, separately, in one year and was forced to endure surgeries, extended hospital stays and a monthlong rehabilitation in a nursing home followed by home therapy.
Despite those setbacks, Sullivan was able to restore a series of paintings she created decades ago and donate them to Casa Juan Diego, a Heights-area ministry for immigrants, refugees and the poor.
Since then, her support for the ministry has become an impetus for several area physicians to start donating services to Casa Juan Diego's part-time clinic, which serves immigrant women who can't get help elsewhere.
Recently, Sullivan joined the physicians at the opening for the Art Car Museum's 2011 open-call exhibit, where she is the featured artist.
"We're very excited to be showcasing Sherry's work," said Mary Forbes, the museum's assistant director. "She's an amazing artist and very inspirational."
Sullivan, who is exhibiting her paintings at the museum for the fourth time, is thrilled to be the featured artist in the show, which has free admission.
"It's a great honor," Sullivan said. "It's really a feather in my cap at this time of life."
The exhibit, Reconstruction, opened Dec. 17 and will continue through March 2 at the museum, 140 Heights Blvd. It features the work of 125 local and regional artists.
The museum selected eight pieces by Sullivan. Several, including "Ode to the Wetlands," "The Sea Beneath" and "Dancing with Mama," have a naturalistic theme.
"I just started painting, and the subject matter didn't evolve until later in the process," Sullivan said. "I used really fine colors and was pleased with what occurred."
Lifetime of art
Sullivan describes herself as "an abstract artist always with some subject matter."
She has been creating art since her childhood in Chicago and studied art at Northwestern University, Marycrest College and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Her Stations of the Cross series comprises 14 paintings painted more than 50 years ago.
She completed the project as part of a three-member artists' coalition affiliated with St. Mary Church in Park Forest, Ill.
The paintings remained at the church until 2010, when Sullivan learned the building was being remodeled, and the art had been taken down to make room for new pieces.
With help from her children, she had the paintings moved to Houston so she could begin cleaning and restoring them.
She chose to donate them to Casa Juan Diego, 4818 Rose St., after learning about the ministry at her parish.
Sullivan said she remains in awe of its founders' mission and their selflessness.
"They had no money themselves, and they opened this small facility in the Heights. To think they had given up everything, no material possessions and truly opened their hearts and souls," she said. "They're just exceptional."
Sullivan was pleased to learn the ministry gained the support of several more doctors after a fund-raising exhibit for the ministry about a year ago that was organized by Sullivan's daughter, Molly Sullivan Levitt, and that featured works by Sullivan.
The physicians' commitment to help will go a long way in helping Casa Juan Diego realize its mission, said Mark Zwick, who founded the ministry in 1980 with his wife, Louise.
"They give their work as a gift," Zwick said. "It allows us to reach out to a community that doesn't have support or insurance."
"We're doing what we've been doing for years," Zwick said. "We're providing hospitality for immigrants who've been abandoned or have no place to go."
Dr. Pedro Ramirez, an oncologist with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, first learned about Casa Juan Diego about a year ago, when his wife asked him to join her at the Hope Dies Last fund-raising exhibit organized by Levitt for the ministry. Sullivan sold three paintings to benefit Casa Juan Diego at the event, and the Zwicks sold copies of a book they wrote on the ministry.
"I immediately asked myself how I could potentially help this organization," Ramirez said.
He arranged to provide weekly gynecological exams. He typically sees eight to 20 patients a day.
"It's an opportunity for women to see a physician without going to hospital systems within the city," Ramirez said.
The women learn about preventative health and how to look for cancer symptoms.
Also contributing time to the clinic is Dr. Eric Berkman of Greater Houston Orthopaedic Specialists, Dr. Jeffrey Berliner of TIRR Memorial Hermann and Dr. Sunil Kothari of TIRR Memorial Hermann. Kothari has assembled a rehabilitation team for Casa that includes physical therapists, nurses and occupational therapists.
For more on Sullivan, visit www.sherrysullivanart.com. Details about Casa Juan Diego are available at www.cjd.org/index.html, Hours for the museum, www.artcarmuseum.com, are 11 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday with free admission.