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Colorful bodice project deeply meaningful for Quad-Cities artists. Their creations will aid the fight against ovarian cancer
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Colorful bodice project deeply meaningful for Quad-Cities artists. Their creations will aid the fight against ovarian cancer


Talk about bodies of work.

Twenty-four area artists have decorated bodices provided by NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Initiative, and they will be on display throughout the region until Tuesday, Oct. 15.

On Saturday, Oct. 26, the bodices will be gathered in one place at the annual girlpARTs fest at River Music Experience, 129 Main St., Davenport. The fest will feature an artists’ market, art raffle, and live music.

An online auction of the bodices will begin Friday, Nov. 1, to raise money and awareness for NormaLeah, a Rock Island-based organization that focuses on early detection education, patient support services and research funding for ovarian cancer.

The organization honors the memory of founder Jodie Kavensky's mother, Norma Yecies Shagrin, and her aunt, Leah Yecies Hantman, whose lives were cut short by this deadly disease.

The girlpARTs project was designed to create awareness about the connection between ovarian cancer and other cancers. NormaLeah chose 24 local artists and paired them with community leaders who paid them a stipend to create artistic works.

Artist Susan Wahlmann of Rock Island created a bodice using free-form crocheting in shades of teal. It's called "For Jane," and it's named for the mother of a sorority sister and good friend from Augustana College, who is fighting ovarian cancer.

“My grandmother taught me when I was in fourth grade, and I've been crocheting ever since,” Wahlmann said this week, adding that she's taught crocheting to her teenage daughter, Emma, who also loves it. She used the Zentangle method to create designs on the platform base for the bodice, which is being displayed at Rock Island's downtown library, 401 19th St.

The high bidder for the bodice Wahlmann created last year donated it back to the NormaLeah office, and it is being used to promote the effort, she said.

Teal is the color chosen to represent NormaLeah, and artists were encouraged to incorporate it in their designs. 

Cherish what's important

Artist Julie Smith of Dewitt, Iowa, said two of her friends died of ovarian cancer. "They found out after it was too late. Earlier detection is very important," she said.

For her bodice, Smith was inspired by cherished memories of family heirlooms. While the bodice and the accompanying accoutrements signify inheritance of family jewels, the message is much deeper than material items, she said.

"Family genetics are the biggest risk factor for ovarian cancer, and women need to cherish what is most important — their health," Smith said, noting her benefactor, Dr. Rita Aronson, has been helping women stay healthy through The Group Obstetrics & Gynecology Specialists at 5350 Eastern Ave., Davenport, where her bodice is being displayed.

'Emotionally fulfilling'

Artist Elizabeth Dean of Geneseo works at Village Home Stores in Geneseo, where her bodice is being displayed.

"As a studio art major, I was thrilled when I was given the opportunity to complete a bodice for a cause I am so passionate about," she said. "The creation of my bodice was very personal and an extremely emotionally fulfilling project for me."

"It felt really crucial for me to be working on a project to be used to support the encouragement of women's reproductive and hormonal health," Dean said.

"As a young woman, I received treatment for pre-cancerous cells on my cervix, and I have a long and complicated history of ovarian cysts. About a month into the project, I had an ovarian cyst burst in my left ovary.

"After an ER visit and multiple ultrasounds, it was determined that I have multiple suspicious ovarian cysts between my two ovaries. It has been a phenomenal experience dealing with the process of illness, diagnosis and treatment for polycystic ovaries while using the creation of this bodice for personal emotional healing," she said.

"The work this organization does for our community is huge. Until women experience a reproductive health challenge, they don't recognize just how important it is to have individuals in their local community who will support them, help them heal, and who are willing to be guides through the process," Dean said.

All women are at risk for ovarian cancer, even if they no longer have their ovaries, according to NormaLeah. Women with a family history of breast and other cancers or who have a history of gynecologic issues may be at increased risk.

Body painting to bodice painting

For many years, artist Kimberly Kruse of Rock Island has specialized in painting on people's bodies, and this is the first time she has created a bodice. Owner of her home-based Celestial by Design art business, she'll also do live body painting at the Oct. 26 event.

"I have a close friend of mine who is a cancer survivor; she's also an artist," Kruse said this week of Diana Kreider, who had ovarian cancer and also created a bodice that is on display at the Genesis Cancer Center, 1351 W. Central Park Ave., Davenport.

“I always love giving back when I can,” Kruse said. Her bodice is being displayed at Pain Centers of Iowa, 5515 Utica Ridge Road (#600), Davenport. She based her creative vision on some of her favorite artists, including Vincent Van Gogh and Georgia O’Keeffe.

On her bodice, women from around the world hold hands and another woman holds the world in her arms to represent unity and equality for all, Kruse said.

"We wanted to show women in unity, with all the different cultures coming together," Kruse said.

She started her body-painting business in 2015, and she creates canvas pieces by having photos done of her subjects. One is on display at M.D. Green's, a bar in downtown Rock Island.

She will be doing body-paint demos during this weekend's Rock the Arts festival at The ARTery, 1629 2nd Ave., Rock Island.

More information

NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Initiative was established in 2008, and its  programs empower women to become vigilant self-advocates for their gynecologic health. Educational materials and sessions focus on understanding early warning signs, assessing genetic cancer risk, and working with medical providers for better health outcomes.

For more information, call 309-794-0009, email, or visit


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