Evelyn Matthies does not remember the sudden fall that shattered bones in her right arm.
"I'm still not really sure what happened," Matthies said. But she does know the incident was not part of a stroke, heart problem or an aneurysm. It may have been dehydration.
On July 3 last year, Matthies was registering people involved in the Race for the Cure for cancer along with a group of American Association of University Women. It was a warm day and dehydration may have played a role. After working since early morning, Matthies was walking across the street with a friend about 11 a.m. And her life changed in an instant.
Evelyn Matthies worked on smaller projects, such as an angel woodcut, after her accident and was unsure if she could return to her signature large canvas painting. After extensive physical therapy, Matthies is now hopeful she will be able to paint on a large canvas again. (Dispatch Photos by Renee Richardson)
Her friend noticed a blur of movement. And Matthies went from walking to a dead fall in a matter of seconds. She severely fractured her right elbow and would require a metal plate and six metal screws. The force of the fall knocked out her teeth.
"I don't remember falling and I don't remember hitting," Matthies said. "I remember arriving at the hospital."
After a 10-day hospital stay, surgery, numerous tests and reconstruction, Matthies found herself in physical therapy two to three hours a day. A sensitivity to toxins after a career in art meant she had to rely on ice instead of pain killers.
Born in Albert Lea, Matthies moved to the Brainerd area in 1959. She taught at the high school from 1959 until 1962 and then moved to Baxter Elementary until 1965. The following year she became art director and instructor at Brainerd Community College. Matthies retired from CLC in 1995. She owns the Evelyn Matthies Studio and Gallery on Washington Street in Brainerd.
Matthies received her bachelor's degree from Mankato State University. She earned a master's degree at St. Cloud State University and continued with advanced studies from the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University.
She founded the Minnesota Community College Fine Arts Festival for college students and served as art coordinator and instructor for seven college art study tours in Great Britain and Europe.
Last year, Matthies received the Outstanding Arts Award at an American Association of University Women convention in Duluth. The award, in part a recognition of Matthies' efforts to assist other women artists, came as a surprise.
The retired Central Lakes College art instructor brought more than 8,300 area students to appreciate art and their own abilities in clay, paint and pencil.
She still cannot straighten her right arm totally and the arm is probably as good as it will get. Some muscle control was affected and when Matthies first attempted painting she could not hold a brush or a pen even when her mind told her she had a firm grip. In the beginning, Matthies could not touch her face or head with her right hand. Her arm was in one position so long, her shoulder froze in place.
She experienced a 20 percent loss in hearing from the force of striking her head on the pavement. And long into her recovery, symptoms from vertigo kept her from driving or climbing stairs.
"It was crazy," she said. "That was probably the strangest for me."
Symptoms from the vertigo continued as recently as December.
"I had such good support from all our friends," Matthies said, noting friends who brought food for herself and Bill, her husband of 43 years. One day a week friends offered to provide transportation. "I'm so grateful for all the kindness. You can't even imagine."
Matthies credits her doctors for help in the recovery and her Christian faith with her ability to feel calm.
"In the back of my mind I knew I could do small things," Matthies said of art projects. "I never thought I'd do big ones again. ... But now I do."
Ironically, the very love of teaching and of art has been part of Matthies other health problems. Many stem from a time when art instructors were unaware of the poisons that may affect their long-term health. Lead was used in glazes in the 1970s and asbestos was used in paints and inks. Exhaust systems failed to bring in fresh air. Lungs were scarred.
Now Matthies' system is so full of toxins that her breathing capacity is reduced. Being around strong cleaners, fumes from items like new carpets can make her lose her voice, turn purple and struggle for breath.
"Every thing in time returns," Matthies said. "It's just a challenge. ... I think attitude has a lot to do with recovery."
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