Recent BGSU graduate chosen for inaugural fellowship in support of female artists with chronic illnesses
Crystalyn Hutchens '22 brings attention to unseen health conditions through her art
By Laren Kowalczyk '07
Crystalyn Hutchens ‘22 doesn’t look sick or like she's in pain. There’s no indication of her daily challenges or how her chronic illness dictates nearly every aspect of her life.
“People will often say, ‘You look fine today,’” she said. “They don’t know how much I’m struggling internally just to be there. There’s a lot of frustration in that. It causes a lot of anger.”
As a contemporary semi-realistic artist, Hutchens, who lives with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), uses her art to bring attention to people like her with unseen yet debilitating illnesses.
POTS causes Hutchens’ heart to race. She struggles to maintain steady blood pressure and can’t always find her balance. She is at risk of fainting often, so she can’t stand or walk for long periods. POTS has also impacted Hutchens’ ability to work full time.
Hutchens, who holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in two-dimensional studies from BGSU, was recently awarded the inaugural Marian Treger Fellowship for Enduring Creativity, which supports female artists whose creative paths have been detoured or hindered by chronic health conditions or disabilities.
Creating awareness through art
Hutchens' fellowship is at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), one of the leading artist communities in the world. During her nearly three-week residency, Hutchens plans to create a series of mid-sized drawings of the body, similar in style to work she’s done in the past that portray the struggles of living with a chronic illness.
Her current research is on bodily gestures within art history and their expressions of internal emotions and physical pain. She's drawing inspiration from those poses and combining it with her and others' experiences with unseen pain.
“My drawings are very much about trying to be present, that struggle to be seen by people,” Hutchens said. “You can no longer fit into the molds of society and what it expects of you, and you have no choice. I’m fighting a system that thinks less of me, and that’s dehumanizing.”
VCCA hosts more than 400 visual artists, writers and composers annually in Amherst, Virginia, and Auvillar, France. Hutchens will be at the Virginia campus from Dec. 4-20 and is looking forward to being among a community of artists in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“For me, art is about connection, a connection between individuals about a life experience,” she said. “When we, as artists, put our art in the world, we let other people have opinions and take things away from it. The opportunity to have other artists such as musicians or writers look at my work at this residency is really exciting for me."
Mille Guldbeck, professor in the BGSU School of Art, worked with Hutchens during her graduate studies and suggested she apply to VCCA.
“As a student, she was always willing to take on responsibility, worked very hard and was always supportive and generous to peers and her students,” Guldbeck said. “It is wonderful that she will now be on the receiving end of nurturing in an intellectual environment that supports all worthy individuals based on their work, despite their physical limitations or chronic illness.”
Adapting to life with POTS
Hutchens’ life was seemingly normal until one day in 2017 when she fainted while shopping and struggled to remain conscious. That single occurrence led to countless doctors' appointments and medical tests before being diagnosed with POTS in 2019.
Although POTS has significantly affected Hutchens’ life since, she refused to let it stop her from pursuing her passions.
She began teaching as an adjunct art professor at BGSU this fall.
“No matter what you’re doing, you have to show you’re passionate about it,” she said. "I love teaching and the idea of not being able to share that love of creating with my students is sad. That's why I push myself.”
Updated: 09/27/2022 01:52PM