Delphine Peller never could have anticipated the news she got shortly after graduating from N.C. State University.
Peller had studied natural resource management and planned a career in the field.
But she also played tennis for the Wolfpack and had suffered a series of health problems throughout college – severe shin splints, a blown shoulder, thyroid trouble – that made little sense until a doctor figured out what was behind it all.
The symptoms, she learned, were caused by lupus. People with the disease have an immune system that wreaks havoc on other body systems. Some have trouble with their joints or skin, others with their kidney function or blood cells.
When Peller was diagnosed in 1992, the outlook was grim. She was told she had 10 years to live.
In the months and years that followed, she could not pursue athletic interests and her professional career was hampered by short-term memory loss and other symptoms of lupus. So Peller fell back on a longtime hobby of painting and artwork as catharsis.
Peller has far outlived her initial diagnosis, and improvements in treatment have been substantial enough to give people afflicted by the disease a normal expected lifespan; she and husband, Ric, have an 11-year-old daughter, Zoe, and 8-year-old son, Zach.
And what originally was a hobby has grown into a full-blown passion.
“It started out as a survival skill for me, and now it’s a huge part of who I am,” she said. “It’s cliche to say, but my art really is who I am.”
The Raleigh-based artist has recently joined Sunflower Studio & Gallery in Wake Forest as a resident painter. Her work will be featured at the 214 E. Jones Ave. gallery during Art After Hours from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday.
She will display recently completed collages that are made through a unique, work-intensive process that combines multiple paintings.
Peller says much of her work has a dark flare.
“Sometimes you’ll see a painting of a barn that has sun shining on every side,” she said. “I like to see the darks too, because that’s real life. I carry out the shadows and use heavy, dark lines even if I’m drawing flowers.”
The collages show off those elements.
“Collages are nice because it gives a disassembled kind of look, but I can show a nice pretty picture on top for contrast,” she said.
A recent project that stands out, aside from the collages and her work with acrylic, digital and watercolor painting, was time Peller spent working with an Alzheimer’s patient to visually re-create memories of the woman’s life.
Peller held the woman’s hand as she exacted a few paintings.
“It’s not big in the art world, but it’s big to me,” she said. “I remember what it was like to have short-term memory loss.”