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Library a quiet, serene place for Grand Island man during struggle with disease

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John Galbraith

Artist John Galbraith discusses 'Mars Guardian, one of the pieces on display at the Grand Island Public Library. The piece shows Galbraith's interest in planets by portraying Mars' landscape overlapped by an MRI of a brain aneurysm to symbolize how the planet was once a functioning organism, but overtime deteriorated, like a brain aneurysm. 

Interwoven between quiet, modest introspection about his art, John Galbraith tells of the years he searched for answers for the mysterious condition that ailed him.

“You know, you think about life and death when you don’t know if you’re gonna live,” Galbraith said, pausing before one large canvas.

It depicts Mars, pocked with craters and crevices maybe once holding water, with segmented, wormlike twists in the foreground — his interpretation of a brain aneurysm MRI.

Galbraith himself suffered no aneurysms during his illness, but Masters disease, left undiagnosed for years, caused him his own type of suffering.

John Galbraith

John Galbraith's exhibition can be found at the Grand Island Public Library until May 31st. The exhibit is free admission for the public and an open house will be hosted on Wednesday from 9am-12pm. 

Masters disease (also known as “southern tick-associated rash illness [STARI]”) is similar to Lyme disease, though more recently discovered. It can cause fatigue, headache, fever and muscle pains, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Galbraith had those, and then some.

He remembers little about the time between 2004 and 2011, when STARI stealthily attacked his body and mind.

His mother, Patty Galbraith, said it was like her son was in a coma.

“When he tried to wake up, it was like, where am I and what’s going on in the world? And how do I live?”

Art was Galbraith’s life — it had been since he was a child, his father, Harry, also an artist.

Following his diagnosis in 2011, Galbraith took on the art of getting his life back. In addition to back-and-forths with various antibiotics, he attended meditation seminars and employed more homeopathic techniques.

John Galbraith, Patty Galbraith

John Galbraith poses by his exhibit with his mother Patty, who along with John's father Harry, has been instrumental in his artistic and health journeys. 

STARI could have easily stolen his gift, his right hand nearly incapacitated by the disease. Galbraith’s perseverance, plus help from a physical therapist, kept the tick-borne thief at bay.

Still, Galbraith seems a bit dissatisfied with his work closely following his diagnosis.

“I’m gonna redo because it was just flat. I didn’t have any dimension,” he said. “But I liked doing it.”

Galbraith’s spirit has the power to keep death at bay. His art has the power to bring the dead together.

A trio — a drummer, guitarist and bassist — are splashed in primary colors with deep brush strokes.

“This guy’s from Metallica, one of their first bassists,” he said, gesturing towards one of the figures. “This guy’s Dimebag Darrell from Pantera.”

John Bonham appears as drummer-in-spirit.

“I thought they were really good, and I could have been there also, deceased. So I thought, well, let’s put them in a perfect band.”

While recovering, Galbraith found the perfect place.

John Galbraith

One piece in Galbraith's exhibit is titled, 'Rock Trio'. The painting depicts three late rock legends that are admired by Galbraith. The musicians featured in the painting are Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrel, Led Zeppelin Drummer John Bonham, and Metalicca bassist Cliff Burton. 

“I needed to get out of the house and get adjusted to the society, but I didn’t really want to have the pressures of a job,” he said.

He had been an avid reader before struck with STARI.

“I can read now. But when I was sick, I couldn’t read and I couldn’t really understand it.”

The Grand Island Public Library was a familiar place to him, quiet and serene. It made sense. It was the perfect place to volunteer.

Galbraith started at the welcome desk, becoming a familiar face to library-goers as COVID waxed and waned. Recently, he became Grand Island Public Library’s newest Library Page.

It was also recently that his art merged with his newer spark.

“(The library) gave me this opportunity to show art,” he said, standing in the library’s Art Alcove, surrounded by three walls of his work.

Library Director Celine Swan approached Galbraith about displaying his work.

“We came up with a plan to do an art show,” he said. “It was a good opportunity to get my art out there.”

John Galbraith

Artist John Galbraith gives a quick demonstration on how he goes about creating one of his art pieces. Galbraith's work is currently on display at the Grand Island Public Library until May 31st. 

Handwritten messages from visitors on his display bio express surprise — some had no idea he had such a gift.

“I’ve done shows, but not really in Grand Island,” said the Grand Island Senior High graduate. “When I graduated from college, I had a show, and I had one in Holdrege of my prints.”

A type of print he does — woodcut art — is hung on the Art Alcove wall.

“The Buddha guy giving a blessing is cut in wood, and then you print it off in black. They’re really cool.”

Patty Galbraith notices a new depth to her son’s art in the aftermath of his battle with STARI.

“It’s a whole different …” Patty Galbraith trails off, sighing and looking at the well-lit walls, softly shaking her head.

“You know, any great artist has gone through their dark night of their soul. John has, and I think what’s coming out now is even more meaningful than drawing a picture.”

jessica.votipka@theindependent.com

Jessica Votipka is the education reporter at the Grand Island Independent. She can be reached at 308-381-5420.

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Jessica Votipka is the education reporter at the Grand Island Independent. She can be reached at 308-381-5420

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