Mind, Body & Spirit

Despite Parkinson’s, local artist continues to create

(L-R) Dr. Scott Sherman, Dr. Elihu Boroson and his wife, Sarah, with Boroson’s ‘Excalibur’ sculpture, which he donated to the University of Arizona College of Medicine in honor of Sherman, a Parkinson’s researcher. (Photo courtesy AHSC Biomedical Communications)

For some people it takes a lifetime to find their passion. Dr. Elihu Boroson, a veterinarian for 23 years, found his when he became a full-time artist in 1980. He and his wife, Sarah, a librarian, lived in Stamford, Conn. She became the breadwinner. “When I stopped working I became an artist and a chef,” quips Elihu. “When the breadwinner comes home, dinner has to be ready.”

Since then, Boroson has created sculptures, ceramics, paintings and even musical instruments, including a harpsichord and five guitars — many of which adorn the couple’s 1,400-square-foot home in Marana’s Sunflower community. Before the Borosons moved from Pomona, N.Y. to Tucson in 1997, to be near one of their four children, they sold more than half of Elihu’s artwork.

Two years later, Elihu was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Unable to handle heavy tools, he still paints. “Since having Parkinson’s I’ve ended up doing what I could do, not what I wanted to do,” Elihu, now 83, told the AJP at the couple’s home last month. From his wheelchair, he proudly led a tour of years of his artwork.

“Combining materials like wood and steel is one of my passions, materials that wouldn’t necessarily be put together,” says Elihu, noting that it would take him about a month to plan a large sculpture and another month to create it.

One of these pieces, “Excalibur” — a sculpture depicting the legendary sword in the stone — was installed and dedicated on Nov. 18 at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine, in the lobby of the medical research building. The Borosons donated the sculpture, carved from a single piece of white marble that was quarried in Lee, Mass., in honor of Dr. Scott Sherman, a Parkinson’s researcher at the university.

The text on the plaque accompanying the sculpture refers to Sherman’s “efforts to increase the quality of life for Parkinson’s patients, and his ongoing work to understand the disease and find a cure.”

Sherman, who has been Elihu’s physician for the past decade, has also toured the Borosons’ home/personal art museum. Patients with Parkinson’s “are a very creative group of people,” says Sherman, also a UA associate professor of neurology. “It’s been fun over the years for them to share their art and music with me.”

Elihu has received “standard treatment with medication” for his Parkinson’s, says Sherman, adding that “Parkinson’s doesn’t go away. Artistic pursuits and exercise have a definite positive impact, whether it’s visual arts, writing or poetry.”

Sherman and his research team at the UA Parkinson’s Research Laboratory conduct pharmaceutical-based trials for patients just diagnosed with the illness, whom, he says, “we hope will have a slow progression.” Researchers “also do pre-clinical research. We just hired a stem cell specialist to look at how to treat Parkinson’s by taking stem cells from patients and turning them into brain cells.

“The public doesn’t realize,” explains Sherman, “that one of the difficulties studying Parkinson’s is we don’t have access to brain cells directly because only humans get [the disease]. The bottom line is we have to study human cells.”

Another clinical study at the UA research laboratory involves molecules that are “somewhat related to caffeine,” says Sherman. “People who drink a lot of coffee, or smoke cigarettes, have an inverse relationship to getting Parkinson’s. I’m not advocating that people with or without Parkinson’s drink more coffee or smoke cigarettes.”

There are other factors involved “in whether people get Parkinson’s or not,”

he affirms. “My personal impression is that

patients I have with Parkinson’s are

disproportionately professional people.”

Making the most of a disability seems key to the Borosons’ lives. Some people who were previously too busy with careers who now have disabilities have found opportunities to express themselves artistically, says Sarah, adding that her husband “always had projects and lots of drive. He was always curious and wanted to learn new [ways of doing] art.

“He’s not as focused as he used to be,” she concedes. Still, she says, “We’re gadabouts,” staying busy dining out a lot with friends, going to the theater, movies and concerts, especially chamber music. “It’s not good for people with Parkinson’s to stay at home,” says Sarah. “We take classes at Pima Community College and at the UA Humanities Seminars Program. Socializing keeps the brain active and is very good for people with Parkinson’s,” says Sarah, 81, who’s a part-time librarian at Pima Community College, and has started a Parkinson’s support group for members of the Sunflower community.

“I’ve gotten very interested in gardening,” says Elihu, with Sarah adding, “He goes to the gym daily, which stimulates the growth of brain cells.”

And, there’s no doubt that continuing his artwork still gives Elihu satisfaction. Sitting down at the table for some tea, he points out the uranium glaze he used on the teapot. Smiling, Elihu asks, “Who knew you could make something so beautiful out of something so terrible?”

For more information about monthly tours of the UA Parkinson’s Research Laboratory, call 626-2319 or visit http://medicine.arizona.edu/news/ua-college-medicine%E2%80%99s-parkinson%E2%80%99s-research-lab-holds-monthly-tours. For individual home tours of Elihu Boroson’s artwork, call 579-6852.