Health Check: PeaceLove Studios

An art studio in Pawtucket is creating a positive symbol for mental illness because its creators are using art to promote mental wellness.

"We started with a big vision and lofty dreams," said Jeffrey Sparr, co-founder of PeaceLove Studios.

That was four-and-a-half years ago when Sparr, who had suffered from depression for most of his life, began PeaceLove.

"How this thing started was I painted. It made me feel good and I felt it would help others. That's it," Sparr said.

And over the years it has.

PeaceLove is located at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket.

Shawn Olswold got involved with PeaceLove last fall.

"I retired from the Navy after 24 years, and I'm a disabled vet," Olswold said.

She said she was in a deep, dark place. So was Heidi Geisler, retired from the Army.

"After starting PeaceLove is when people said they started seeing me smile again," Geisler said.

It all starts with a paintbrush or a colored pencil, maybe some glue, tape or all of the above.

"We work with all types of different populations -- kids, adolescence, adults. And really art is very powerful and healing and it builds community," said Matt Kaplan, co-founder of PeaceLove Studios.

Geisler can attest to that. The first mask she painted shows a frown decorated with the word "nobody."

"It was just a really, really depressed time. I felt I was nobody, nobody cared. I couldn't say what I was feeling," she said.

As she became more involved with art and the healing process, her masks reflected that.

"I have hope," she said.

Olswold created a picture that starts with a darkness below.

"And then the grass represents my roots coming out of the deep, dark place," Olswold said. "The heart represents love."

And now Olswold's keeping an art book.

On page one she writes: "I am my own future. I can see it clearly now. Remembering only the good times from the past, forgetting the bad times prevents us from moving on in the future. I shall overcome."

And that's what PeaceLove is all about: reaching out to veterans like Geisler and Olswold, and reaching out to any and all who've lost hope so they can, in essence, paint for peace.

Geisler and Olswold plan to go back to school and major in art therapy. They'd like to someday run a PeaceLove studio in Boston. A PeaceLove studio is soon to open in Las Vegas.

PeaceLove will be hosting a day-long mental wellness speakers' series on Thursday. There is a cost but the studio is offering scholarships to attend.