Parkinson’s Through the Looking Glass: Q&A with Artist Richard Herdegen

Rainbow of LifeRichard Herdegen of Meridian, ID, sees his creativity as a window of opportunity for life with Parkinson’s disease. Recently, one of his glass mosaics entitled, “Rainbow of Life” (pictured at left) was selected to appear in PDF’s 2016 Creativity and Parkinson’s Calendar for the month of July.

The retired software engineer has been creating art for decades, using glass as his primary medium. But he says that after his Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2011 at the age of 66, the activity became more than just a way to relax and find solace, it also became a way to fight his disease.

Learn more about how creativity impacts his life with Parkinson’s.

Q. Were you always an artist? What led you to work with glass?

I was 21 when I first went to a hobby store and bought a couple of four-by-six-inch pieces of stained glass. I made a five-pointed star, which still hangs in my shop. Since then, I have continued working with glass because there are so many ways to use it and because of the brilliant colors created when light shines through. Besides making stained glass windows, I have worked with other mediums, including neon signs, photographic silk screening on glass, photographic sandblasting on glass and painting on glass to name a few. I have also beveled glass, fused glass and even made glass earrings.

Q. How did your Parkinson’s diagnosis impact your creativity (or vice versa)?

After I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the symptoms progressed to the point where I needed to take early retirement from my software engineering career at the age of 62.

Prior to that time, my tiny glass studio had always been a place to relax and be creative. But after my diagnosis, it also became a place to fight back against the disease.

Making glass mosaics requires planning, color selection and lots of hand-eye coordination, which can be challenging with Parkinson’s sometimes. I had read on PDF’s website that some people with PD report a relief of symptoms while doing an activity they enjoy, and thought, “Yes, that’s me!” While I am wrapped in my hobby, my symptoms are indeed improved. People often ask if Parkinson’s affects my abilities needed for my craft. The answer is yes, things are a little harder sometimes, but I am thankful I can still enjoy my hobby of 40 years! Creative thought helps preserve my brain just as jogging helps to preserve my movement. ‘Use it or lose it’ is the rule of the day.

Q. What does it mean to see your artwork in the PDF Creativity and Parkinson’s Calendar?

I was very surprised and honored that one of my mosaics was selected to be in the calendar. I hope people will enjoy my mosaic, smile and say, “cool!” To me, the ultimate compliment would be to somehow inspire other people living with Parkinson’s through the mosaic. Before the PDF calendar, I had never before been in a position to have one of my pieces viewed by such a wide, national audience. It is exciting to think that somewhere, other people with Parkinson’s will understand the value of having a hobby and might decide to give stained glass a try.

Mr. Herdegen is a retired software engineer. He is one of nearly 400 other artists living with Parkinson’s who have shared their artwork and experiences with PDF’s Creativity and Parkinson’s Project. View more of Mr. Herdegen’s artwork by visiting PDF’s Creativity and Parkinson’s gallery here.

Do you also find creative activities beneficial to life with PD? Share your thoughts below.

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