Recreational therapist. Painter. Volunteer. Madison Art Guild former president (and current member). Mother. Louise Joyce has worn a lot of hats in life, but her earliest memory of art involves oil paints and a canvas her mother purchased for her in third grade.

“You should paint the background in first and let it dry, then paint over the top of it,” Joyce says But Joyce didn’t know that quite yet. The young Joyce worked carefully to try and fill in after painting the foreground.

That simple start inspired Joyce to pursue a childhood with art and a lifelong career as a recreational therapist, most recently at Meriter Hospital, while painting. She completes commissioned work, attends the Colonial Club art club’s sessions, and paints as the inspiration hits these days.

During a visit to her eastside Sun Prairie home, with her dog Molly at her side, Joyce shows off a glass door that she’s incorporating flowers into for a commissioned wall hanging. “I’ve never painted on glass before,” she says of the opportunity, noting she’s worked in oil, watercolor, and pastel extensively.

As a Catholic school student, Joyce also remembers drawing in religion class and Father Kocinski asking her to stop. “I must have given him it (the drawing) and years later I visited Father’s office and it was hanging up,” Joyce recalls.

A relative inspired her career path? “I remember being 12 and admiring my aunt,” Joyce said. Her aunt didn’t have children and traveled the world as a recreational therapist.

Joyce tested her chops teaching an art after-school program as a teenager.

“I realized we had to be inclusive. One kid had trouble with his leg and tried so hard,” Joyce said, explaining they’d work on projects and might have a bike race afterward. Once, she convinced the other kids to let him finish at the top of the race. He came in second.

“I still have a letter from his mother,” said Joyce, “and I realized that’s what I wanted for my career.”

Living in the Twin Cities, Joyce spent a summer riding to downtown St. Paul for art classes but Joyce describes herself as mostly self-taught.

Joyce attended the University of Minnesota, with her parent’s encouragement that although she loved art, she “needed to find a job that will pay.”

Joyce attended the University of Minnesota and finished a Bachelor of Science recreation therapy degree in four years. After graduation, she moved to Germany to serve as a recreation therapist to soldiers during the Vietnam War. It was the early 1970s when soldiers were training with tanks and guns before departing for Vietnam, and a number of men were returning from the Vietnam War for a respite.

Joyce worked at the Veteran’s Hospital (VA) in Milwaukee after returning to the United States. Photography, woodworking, and the arts became an outlet for the soldiers. Joyce said beyond physical rehabilitation, there was drug use, alcoholism, and other mental issues. Because the war was controversial, Joyce said she wasn’t welcomed home because she worked with soldiers.

Throughout her career, Joyce worked in Colorado, Cincinnati, Ohio, Milwaukee, and Danbury, Conn. before landing in Sun Prairie in 1994, when she became a recreational therapist with Meriter Hospital until 2011. In 2008, she served a two-year term as president of the Madison Art Guild and is a member.

“I loved the people I worked with,” she says of the hospital. The entire team in the Day Rehabilitation Program had to be certified to care for head injury patients, a training that distinguished the group and the hospital as a whole.

Joyce explains that she used art with her patient stroke and head injury victims. Her job was to prepare them to go back to living at home, with their lives completely changed. Since the patient may not have use of their left side or right side, she could have them paint to expand use.

“We called them ‘survivors’, not victims,” she said about those who had suffered a stroke.

Joyce also facilitated the Animal Assisted Therapy Program at Meriter and was a speaker at many conferences over her career.

“Therapists would sign up to have one of the trained dogs and they were trained to work as an assistant during physical therapy, occupational therapy, and recreation therapy,” Joyce said.

Joyce has two sons, Josh, who lives in Sheboygan with his family and works as an advertising director for a brewery, and Mike, a painter himself in modern art using oils and acrylics. His art is displayed at the Dane County Resource Center on Aberg Avenue.

In retirement, Joyce has found no shortage of things to do around Sun Prairie. At the Colonial Club art group on Tuesdays and Thursdays, about 10-12 students gather, including Richard Schierloh, a former designer with Ford Motor Company who inspires Joyce.

Taking it as it comes, Louise Joyce has lived an artful life indeed.

Joyce’s work is displayed at the Country Café in Sun Prairie. Her work can also be viewed at www.madisonartguild.com.

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