Different strokes for different folks. Two dental hygienists, Fran Chuba and Pat Godlewski, share their passion for art.
Art for the challenge and passion
“In the beginning,” says hygienist Fran Chuba of Alamo, Calif., “I worked with my hands. Now, I work with my heart.”
She’s talking about both of her professions - dental hygiene and art. As a hygienist, Chuba experienced burnout after her first 12 years of practice. As an artist, just having the right tools didn’t make her paintings good.
After years of working full time as a hygienist to support her med school husband, Chuba “achieved major burnout and quit. I dropped all five state licenses (Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii, Colorado, and California) to work in my husband’s OB-GYN practice. It was the combined effect of the workload, of working five to six days a week, and of not seeing beyond the technical short-term results of a prophy to the long-term effects of soft-tissue care and management.”
Her artistic life, she says, has really been no different.
“When I started painting, my concerns were what types of brushes to use, what colors of paint, and which surfaces. If I used the same tools as the nationally known artists, why wasn’t I able to achieve the same results? I was painting with my hands. My watercolors improved dramatically when I put my heart on the palette.”
Chuba started her hygiene career in 1966, when she graduated from the Forsyth School for Dental Hygienists at Northeastern University. Her bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene education came from Columbia University in 1968. She intended to teach, but decided to work in private practice instead.
“While at Columbia, I worked two days a week in midtown Manhattan. My Madison Avenue employer said, ‘Be the best you can be. Don’t concern yourself with the money. The money will always come to the best.’ It was good advice.”
After a move to Colorado, Chuba worked for a periodontist who, she says, “honed my desire for excellence.” Today, she works for PAC-Live instructor Dr. Paul Scholberg in Pleasanton, Calif. Now, she says, “I’m in an environment that oozes excellence. What’s that quote? ‘If you do the work you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.’ It’s sheer pleasure to be surrounded by people who choose excellence as a way of life.”
Chuba started painting three years ago and calls art “a passion. I think it was something I always wanted to do, but life got in the way. It’s a nice way to be creative, to just see what happens.”
Many of her designs feature smiles.
“I’ve taken some of my employer’s Smile Designs and painted them using various watercolor techniques. I also find teeth interesting, and I enjoy painting hands. I think you see a person’s life in their hands - young hands, old hands, baby hands. Most artists find hands difficult to paint, but I get so caught up in the process I stop thinking of it as difficult. Hands and smiles are the landscapes of the body - more fascinating to me than trees and hills.”
Her favorite painting is one she did of her boss’s hands, “Every Man’s Work Is Always a Portrait of Himself.”
Chuba sells her work, and has won prizes and ribbons at competitions. She has also donated her art to charity.
“One (painting) was for a summer camp for sick children, and the other was to Amy Nieves’ RDH Listers’ Katrina Relief Fund. That painting, and notecards of the painting, raised about $500 through Lory Laughter and Diann Bergman at the Napa Experience Dental Seminar this year.”
Challenge is a big motivator for Chuba, both in work and in play.
“When I turned 50, I gave myself three challenges: do something for the community, do something for my husband, do something outlandish. For my community, I helped build a house with an all-women’s crew for Habitat for Humanity. For my husband, I took up golf. For something outlandish, I joined the Screen Actors Guild.”
Chuba does background work in movies and television shows filmed in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“I was in lots of ‘Nash Bridges’ episodes. I did Holly Hunter’s ‘Copycat,’ many Robin Williams movies, including ‘Mrs. Doubtfire,’ and a few Eddie Murphy movies. Working as an extra is mostly boring, 12-hour days of doing little or nothing. I was more fascinated with the production side of moviemaking.”
Another challenge Chuba took on was participating in triathlons.
“After watching my older son compete in Ironman Canada in Penticton, B.C., it was just something I had to try. Being twice his age, I decided to do an Olympic-distance triathlon, which is a one-mile swim, 24-mile bike ride, and 26-mile run. I did the Wildflower Triathlon in Monterey County, Calif. Of 3,500 entries, there were only 10 women in my age group. I came in tenth.”
Chuba had learned to swim only 90 days before the event, and she power-walked the 26 miles instead of running.
“My time was five hours, 11 minutes, which was a huge accomplishment. I’ve made it very clear to my family that my obituary photo will be the triathlon photo.”
Chuba’s family includes her husband, Dan, a retired OB-GYN physician, and two sons. Ben is 31 and a graduate of Stanford and the Kellogg School of Business. He works for McKinsey Consulting in Chicago. Ted is 29, a graduate of UCLA, and works for the San Jose Sharks hockey team.
“My younger son,” she says, “taught me passion for sports achievement. He’s a superb athlete. My older son taught me stamina and endurance. My husband is the glue that holds the family together. He supports and encourages all of my crazy endeavors.”
Art for a new lifestyle
Retired hygienist Pat Godlewski of Sterling Heights, Mich., let go of her last license three years ago.
“I loved hygiene,” she says wistfully. “It was so easy to work and raise my kids. I could set my own schedule and work part time, any time. I worked in all kinds of dental offices, pedo to perio, doing just about everything except oral surgery. I even worked at a handicapped school. I taught a 12-month dental assisting course at Lake Michigan College too. I was always one to try something new. It was terrible to leave. My friends from school are still working. I didn’t take it well.”
Godlewski’s hygiene career began in 1964, when she graduated from the University of Detroit with a certificate in dental hygiene. She married her husband, Phillip, and they have three children four years apart - Angela, Stephanie, and Judith (Jodie).
As her family grew, Godlewski discovered an absorbing new hobby.
“With children, I began to get interested in arts and crafts, which led to other disciplines. I tried drawing, ceramics, and pottery. I even owned a kiln for a while. When I returned to college for my bachelor’s degree, I finally took a formal art class.”
The family moved to South Bend, Ind., and Godlewski taught at Lake Michigan College and continued her studies at Western Michigan University.
“I earned a master of arts degree in educational leadership. While I was taking graphics arts classes, my interest in the arts reemerged.”
She was also active in the Michigan Dental Hygienists Association.
At one point, Godlewski accepted a research position to add a dental assisting program to the University of Las Vegas. She was also active in the Nevada Dental Hygienists Association. Her husband didn’t find a job in Nevada, so the family eventually returned to the South Bend area.
“Although,” she recalls, “I really did like the desert with its beautiful scenery to paint.”
As her children left home and she had more free time, Godlewski discovered watercolors and began to dabble in different art media. The family returned to the Detroit area, where she was again active in the MDHA.
Ten years ago, Godlewski was as busy as she had ever been.
“I was enrolled at UDM for another master’s degree in health organization maintenance, worked 40-plus hours at Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and two or three Saturdays a month in dental hygiene. Two or three times a week I went to the other side of town to visit and feed my father in a nursing home.”
It was at that point that Godlewski was involved in the car accident that would end her career and change her life. She was sitting still in traffic when a car hit hers from behind at 60 mph.
“There was severe memory loss for a while after the accident. Now I have constant pain in my neck and hip. I’d had shoulder surgery just before the accident, and it had to be redone. I had a pacemaker implanted. And I have stress-induced fibromyalgia.”
Godlewski tries to be as proactive as possible with her disability. She wears Lidoderm patches, and uses pain rubs and a TENS unit.
“I’ve tried reiki, acupuncture, biofeedback, meditation, acupressure, Arthritis Foundation self-help courses, chiropractic therapy, and special diets. I even tried a system for using different muscles to do things. It all helps a little with the pain. If I use everything I have, it’s OK.”
She and her husband use Meals on Wheels because she is unable to cook. Her computer time is limited because she can’t look down at a keyboard for long. If she has to sit too long in a doctor’s waiting room, she’ll lie on the floor for relief. She has used a wheelchair occasionally, and carries a quad cane outside her home.
“I even have my own key at Kroger for the electric cart.”
Though she had to resign from her hygiene job, Godlewski has been able to continue with her interest in art on a limited basis.
“I’ll never give it up. If Grandma Moses started painting in her 80s, and other disabled artists hold brushes in their mouths or with their toes, I can find some way to continue. Nature is such a thing of beauty to me. That’s where my numerous subjects are found.”
One unique form of art that she loves is Mrs. Lee’s Paper Art from Korea and Japan, for which she is certified as an instructor.
“The technique is tedious and time-consuming, because each flower petal and leaf must be colored, shaped, dried, and assembled on top of one of my paintings.”
Portraits, she says, are her least favorite type of paintings.
“People don’t see themselves as I see them. Their characteristics are what make them so interesting, but they are often a detrimental feature. The person ends up hating the picture. So I leave portraits to other painters and concentrate on flowers, trees, animals, and birds. They can’t talk back. In better weather, you can find me wandering outdoors to look for subjects to draw.”
Godlewski uses small increments of time to paint.
“I can’t sit or stand for long. I have a clipboard mounted waist-high so I can paint a little at a time without looking down too far.”
Godlewski calls impressionistic painters Monet, Manet, DeGrazia, and Lynch her main influences. She says that she loves her paintings too much sometimes to sell them, but she does make gifts of them.
“I rarely consider a painting finished because I always want to add something to enhance it.”
Because she can never be what she was before, Godlewski has had to scale down her idea of the future.
“My goal is to enjoy life. I try everything I can, but it’s still difficult, especially when I see my friends out working. It’s so hard. The mind is never the same after a closed head injury.”
She would love to exhibit her art more often, but finds that difficult as well.
“I don’t get out to meetings because I’m too tired and in pain in the evenings. I can’t go out and sit at an art fair, and I don’t advertise or try to get out and show my work in galleries. Will I ever be able to do more? I might. I know I’ll never stop painting.”