Flesh-eating virus attacks "energy artist" Julia Watkins -- but she will paint again

When the small bump appeared on artist Julia Watkins's hand, she dismissed it as a pimple. But after a couple of itchy weeks, her hand swelled, sending her to the emergency room -- where she discovered the bump was a symptom of Methicillin-Resistant Staph Aureus, which could result in amputation of the artist's hand if the flesh-eating infection wasn't cured. Watkins had to have emergency surgery, and the life-threatening experience had the self-professed "energy artist" turning to art, family and God for guidance and hope.

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During this crisis, a lot of thoughts streamed through her mind, Watkins says: "It's funny how our thinking is programmed." For example, she worried that she would never paint again -- unless she could train her left hand.

And she also worried about how she could pay for treatment. "During the recession," she says, "we lost our health insurance, so the thing that I kept thinking was, 'How will I ever pay for this?' Spencer, my husband, just kept telling me that 'God always takes care of us,' which relieved the worry." So right now, she's focusing on her healing and art rather than finances.

Watkins pioneered what she termed "energism" when she moved to Vail after finishing art school in 1994. Energism incorporates colorful swirls that represent a flow of energy between all things, she explains; tai chi, a form of Chinese martial arts, inspired her method of painting. Masters of tai chi believe that in order to find balance, one must find tao, a common rhythm with water and the sky. Watkins's paintings test a viewer's rhythms; if the viewer is relaxed and at ease, she says, hidden images can be found within the swirls.

Watkins believes her life-threatening experience will affect her art in a positive way. "While I'm recovering, I'm learning to do things with my left hand," she says. "I think it has caused me to use a different part of my brain. I actually find that I am more creative. I'm making connections mentally that I wouldn't have made otherwise."

"Right now," she continues, "things are swimming around in my mind, but in general I am getting kind of a mystic feeling. It is like I have deeper and more meaningful dreams and thoughts when I consider what I will paint next. Also, I really see how precious good health is."

See more of Julia Watkins's art on her website. Spencer, Julia's husband, will post updates on her recovery on her Facebook page.

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