A special sale this weekend at Taste at Oxbow may help a local teacher and artist to get back on her feet and return to the work she has done for nearly half a century.
Lynne Tuft is known to many Napans through her art and or her teaching. What is not generally known is that Tuft had polio as a young girl.
She survived, recovered and went on to play competitive tennis, to ride horses, ski and hike in the mountains, and to become an artist.
About 20 years ago, however, Tuft discovered she was having difficulty holding her paintbrush in her right hand. She would start any activity with strength and enthusiasm, only to find her stamina ebbing.
She was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome, a degenerative neurological condition. Little was known at the time about post-polio syndrome. She was told try to guard her energy and strictly ration it.
Nonetheless, Tuft, who studied at Cal Arts, California Art Center, Chicago Art Institute and the San Francisco Art Institute and earned her elementary and secondary teaching credentials from California College of the Arts, continued to teach in Napa.
“I taught through Community Ed for 18 years, and for 24 years I’ve been teaching, sometimes through Arts in Education Program and independently at Bel Aire Elementary,” Tuft said.
She also illustrated three children’s books, including “The Grapes Grow Sweet: A Child's First Harvest” with text by Tessa DeCarlo. Tuft introduced “The Grapes Grow Sweet,” about grape-growing family and vineyard workers, at Bel Aire Park Elementary School. “All the characters in the story are real people in our community and Julian, then 4 years old, is now 20,” Tuft said.
She also recently created an art studio on campus for the Bel Aire Elementary students and teachers, a first in Napa.
Tuft accomplished all of this while dealing with her post-polio syndrome, but recently she was told her options would soon be a wheelchair or a motorized scooter, neither of which would be practical in the mountain cottage where Tuft and her husband, Robin, live.
Then Tuft met another Napan, Karla Stromberger, a retired physical therapist who also has post-polio syndrome. Stromberger’s mobility had become even more limited than Tuft’s, until she discovered an innovative new design in leg braces made by Dynamic Bracing Solutions These braces are made of lightweight carbon fiber and provide a resilience that people coping with the syndrome lose.
“They are life-changing,” Stromberger said, of the custom-made casts. Because of that custom fit and their alignment and support, she said these casts are able to do the work of stabilizing muscles, freeing up the wearer’s energy for other things like walking to the mail box, not to mention holding a paintbrush.
With the promise of being able to teaching again, Tuft decided to invest in a pair of the braces, despite the uncertainty that Medicare would pay for any of the cost, which are considerable. “The initial casting and bracing for short (braces) is $6,200 each,” Tuft explained, “and then there will be costs of fittings and physical therapy training as my muscles grow.”
This is where Tuft’s legacy as an artist and teacher comes into play. To defray the cost of the leg braces, Tuft has decided to sell her art, and former students and friends who know of Tuft’s work are rallying around to help her.
“(We are hoping) that the fruits of her past can buy her a brighter future,” said a friend Marcy Nielsen-Berruezo, who has distributed a letter throughout the city.
“If you know Lynne, you know that she is a kick to spend time with,” Nielsen-Berruezo wrote. “She is a fountain of ideas and enthusiasm, and is one of the most vibrant people I know. It’s so hard to see all that juice and fire limited by physical barriers, but that’s the situation.
Brent Shortridge at Taste at Oxbow has offered the tasting room and wines for an Afternoon of Art Acquisition, a sale of Tuft’s art, including the original illustrations of her children’s books, large format canvases, life drawings, watercolors and monoprints — a rich display of a lifetime of work.
The work is being offered at a fraction of gallery prices, and prices, style and subjects cover such a wide range, Nielsen-Berruezo said.
“Lynne has had a far-reaching effect through her work with the schools.” Nielsen-Berruezo said. “I’m constantly amazed at how many lives she has touched, and how many who don’t know about this development but would be pleased both to contribute and to add her art to their walls,”
The art is ready to be hung, Tuft wrote in an email on Wednesday morning. “Today is the day I’ll be fitted for the braces. The community response has been a beautiful thing.”