Rockford native, self-taught artist, dies in Colorado

By Susan Johnson
Copy Editor

A former Rockford resident, Winifred Carol Wyman, died Dec. 3, 2013, in Roaring Fork Valley, Colo.

In 2009, caught in an unmanageable personal situation, she left Rockford and went to live with her son John in Aspen, Colo. Though partially disabled, she embraced her new environment and even unlocked some long-hidden talents, blossoming as a self-taught artist.

Until her death, Winifred lived with her son, a hairdresser and author, and became proficient at painting highly expressive abstract works, which became increasingly bolder and complex in color and composition. Her work has been compared to that of Miró, Basquiat, Picasso and Van Gogh. Before her death, she was able to attend an opening at the Wyly Community Art Center in Basalt, Colo., a personal milestone in more ways than one.

The last few years, although confined to a wheelchair and diagnosed with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s, Wyman still wanted to express her feelings and found a way to overcome her communication barrier. In the 1960s, she had made ceramics, mainly functional pieces, and later branched out to stained glass. When she came to live with her son John, he first tried to interest her in piano lessons, but this was not what she wanted. But when he brought her some paint, brushes and canvases, an interesting new hobby soon became an obsession. John even had to pry her away from painting and remind her it was time to eat.

Because her physical limitations prevented her from standing at an easel, she found a way to paint by stretching the canvas flat in front of her wheelchair. She would also turn the canvas around as she worked, approaching her painting from various angles.

Her work eventually drew the attention of collectors and curators such as Dasa Bausova, who directs programs at the Wyly Community Art Center in Basalt. Bausova decided to feature Wyman’s work in a retrospective exhibit that opened Nov. 6 and continues until Dec. 19. Titled “The Art of Winifred: A Retrospective,” it serves both to highlight the progress of her creativity over the years and now memorializes her as a woman whose personal struggles called forth a hidden reserve and determination to overcome obstacles. While most such openings draw 100 visitors, this one attracted more than 300 — a new record turnout.

Nov. 5, 2013, just before the exhibit opened, the Aspen Times Weekly published a feature article about Wyman’s life and artistic odyssey. The article said, “The Art of Winifred, as the show is titled, is a display of a fierce inner child’s rebellion against restraint. In her case, it is unwilling restraint of two very different kinds.”

Once the subject of a book by her son titled Against Her Will: A Cautionary Tale, this fearless woman demonstrated that with courage and determination, the human spirit can overcome incredible odds and break through physical barriers to achieve a new freedom that inspires many.

From the Dec. 11-17, 2013, issue

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