Healing Art, Healing Hands

By Katie Brown

 

For chiropractors, working with their hands has become second nature. From palpating subluxations to correcting them, chiropractors must continously be in tune with a patient’s body through their hands. In essence, a chiropractor’s care can often be compared to a form of art, carefully and meticulously targeting specific areas with refinement in the hopes of creating a fully functioning body.

So with such well-trained and fine-tuned hands, it’s no wonder many chiropractors have begun using their hands in a new venue—art. From photography to painting to sculpting, artists find themselves pushing their limits and testing their creativity through a variety of techniques and mediums. While Chiropractic may have been their original profession, these chiropractor artists have combined their chiropractic background with inspiration and creativity to produce their own one-of-a-kind artwork.

Jon Sarkin, D.C.

Today, Jon Sarkin is a world-renowned artist. His life almost seems surreal—he’s had interviews featured in GQ and Vanity Fair magazines, a book about himself called “Shadows Bright as Glass” written by Pulitzer Prize-
winning author Amy Ellis Nut, art featured on the cover of the American alternative rock band Guster’s 2010 album “Easy Wonderful” and the rights to a screenplay about his life bought by Paramount Pictures.

While his art now consumes his life, Sarkin had to pay a high price to discover his artistic talent. In 1989, after undergoing surgery to help relieve the ringing in his ears from the tinnitus that he had developed the year earlier, Sarkin suffered a stroke.

Prior to his stroke, Sarkin was a chiropractor. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in environmental science from Rutgers University, in 1980 Sarkin received his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic. In 1982, Sarkin owned a chiropractic practice in South Hamilton, Mass. While Sarkin continued as a chiropractor for a few years after his stroke, he decided to sell his practice in 1994 due to difficulties he experienced with properly caring for his patients and also because of his new-found love of art.

For Sarkin, his transition from Chiropractic to art was an evolving process. “The transition was not a then-and-now transition,” he says. “The transformation for me was very challenging because I had a certain skill set as a chiropractor, and all of a sudden I wasn’t able to do it anymore.”

Sarkin says that the most challenging part of his stroke was not being the same person he once was, especially for his wife and children. But once Sarkin committed to his new profession, he noticed one glaring difference between being a chiropractor and an artist—the people. He notes that as a successful chiropractor, he was constantly busy and surrounded by people. However, as an artist, he spends most of his time alone, listening to talk radio to simply hear voices around him.

From album covers and photographs to wood and plastic, Sarkin uses an eclectic mix of materials and products on which to draw and paint. While some of his artwork can be found on more conventional backgrounds, like paper and canvas, Sarkin’s colorful, unfiltered artwork is sure to make a statement. “The primary thrust for me in visual arts is using permanent markers, colored pencils, paint and pastels,” he says. “Anything you can imagine drawing on, I draw on.”

While Sarkin’s artistic capabilities were not fully realized until he sold his chiropractic practice, art has always been a strong part of him, even as a chiropractor. “I’ve always been interested in art since I was a little kid,” he says. “I took art classes and liked going to museums, but I always considered it a vocation. I brought that same artistic sense to Chiropractic and thought about my practice in a holistic sense. In retrospect, I think what made me a good chiropractor is that I was able to look at Chiropractic differently.”

Even though Sarkin, whose artwork often sells for as much as $10,000, is now more focused on shading techniques and improving his work than adjustments and caring for patients, he says that it was his artistic mind that made him an effective chiropractor and continues to propel his success as an artist. “I brought my artistic sense to Chiropractic, and now I’ve simply retooled it,” he says. “What I’m doing now is not that different than what I was doing as a chiropractor. It’s the same brain, and I’m still the same person.”

Roy Halpern, D.C.

Like Sarkin, Roy Halpern’s beginning as an artist was somewhat accidental. About 10 years ago, Halpern, a chiropractor from Sebastopol, Calif., went to Alaska to watch the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, a two-week-long, 1,150-mile journey from Anchorage to Nome. Working with the Iditarod Trail Committee as a chiropractor for both the dogs and mushers (the people relaying commands to the team of dogs), Halpern was able to see things others would never be able to experience.

“I saw wonderful places—the Northern Lights and the animals,” Halpern recalls. “I became obsessed with Alaska, and I would go during the winter and summer. I would be in the Arctic, looking for polar bears, walking with a moose and her baby or watching grizzly cubs nurse from their moms. I realized I was seeing things that people would never see, and I felt I must capture these moments. People need to see nature and appreciate the wild, so I started shooting pictures.”

While being a chiropractor led to the discovery of his passion for wildlife photography, a lower back injury in high school originally led him to Chiropractic. “I was taken by my father to the family chiropractor,” Halpern says. “I remembered him telling me, ‘Roy, this is a great profession, and you should consider being a chiropractor.’” Because he was not concerned with making a lifelong career choice at 14 years old, Halpern dismissed the idea and went to college with the hope of working with animals.

When he realized that his chosen career path may not provide the standard of living he was seeking, Halpern began searching for a career to better fit his personality and lifestyle—which at the time revolved around bodybuilding and nutrition. Soon, his childhood chiropractor entered his mind. After graduating from Palmer College of Chiropractic West in 1982, Halpern started his own practice, focusing on the diversified technique and utilizing chiropractic radiographs. 

While he now works part-time four days a week, Halpern aims to split his time between Chiropractic and photography. Whether it is a 10-day-long excursion or a quick weekend trip to a local destination, Halpern has learned to wait patiently for the perfect shot. “Bear photographs are my favorite, but I was very excited to get my wolf shot,” he says. “I waited for six days in the rain. I took loads of bear photos, but I wanted that wolf. They are the hardest animals to photograph because they hate people and are elusive.”

For Halpern, nature photography is all about becoming one with nature and searching for “moments of grace,” or the timeless blending of humanity into the primal, untouched wilderness. “I was concerned that taking pictures would take me away from my true goal of being one with nature, but I was wrong,” he says. “It did not separate me from nature, but allowed me to focus on the other details I was missing—things like light, color, movement and composition. I started to realize that the camera allowed me to slow down and focus on my subjects.”

Uma Mulnick, D.C.

For the past 21 years, Mulnick has been running a successful chiropractic practice, Back County Chiropractic and Wellness Center in Idaho, with her husband Irwin. While she originally planned to become a midwife, Mulnick says a voice inside her told her not to limit herself and to care for the whole body. She received her Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Western States Chiropractic College, and a few years later, she and her husband opened their own general chiropractic practice, which also performs acupuncture, allergy care and sports medicine.

While healing through chiropractic care has been a major part of Mulnick’s life for the past 30 years, she recently discovered the healing power of art through mandalas. Meaning “sacred circle” in Sanskrit, mandalas are known for their meditative and healing energies due to the art form’s wholeness, which can be seen in its powerful center and symmetry.

Even though Mulnick began creating mandalas, which are colorful circles with an intricate geometric pattern, less than three years ago, art is not new to her. “As I look back through my life, I’ve always been doing something with art,” she says. During a Chopra Center retreat with her husband in September 2009, Mulnick came into contact with the work of Paul Heussenstamm, a famed mandala artist. “It touched the depths of my soul,” Mulnick recalls of her first encounter with Heussenstamm’s work. Upon hearing that he was coming to nearby Boise to teach others how to paint and create mandalas, Mulnick decided to take her first workshop. 

Today, Mulnick not only creates mandalas, but she also holds monthly workshops, which typically last 10 to 12 hours in order for students to create a finished 12-by-12-inch mandala. “When I do workshops, it is very clear that I am not the teacher—the mandala is the teacher,” Mulnick says. “So for me, it works wonderfully with my chiropractic practice because it is another form of letting the patient heal.”

But creating an intricate, detailed mandala isn’t only for adults, as local fifth-grade students have been able to reap the benefits of the art of mandalas as well. Last year, as part of a program and grant through The Idaho Commission on the Arts and the Shelton Family Fund in the Idaho Community Foundation, Mulnick was given the opportunity to teach the healing power of mandalas to fifth graders at the Meadows Valley School in New Meadows, Idaho. “It was amazing to see the transformation of the kids and how they experienced the mandala’s calming effect,” Mulnick says.

Above all, Mulnick says what makes mandalas so special is their ability to not only help the artist achieve tranquility and peace, but the viewer as well. “The best thing I can say about mandalas is that they are a healing form of art,” she says. “We have them in our clinic, and people hang them in their homes or office—it is really healing. And when I paint, I am truly in a healing state of love.”