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Nancy Hellebrand documents her mothers Alzheimers progression with photographs of her journal
Exhibit Mom: Writing with Alzheimers on display at Leo Castelli Gallery at Brenau University
Artist Nancy Hellebrand photographed her mother’s journal as the woman was losing her battle with Alzheimer’s. Hellebrand’s pictures are now on display in the exhibit “Mom: Writing with Alzheimer’s ” in Leo Castelli Gallery in the John S. Burd Center at 429 Academy St. NE in Gainesville.

‘How She Was’ exhibit
When: Through April 20
Where:  Leo Castelli Gallery, John S. Burd Center, Brenau University, 429 Academy St. NE, Gainesville
Cost: Free
More info: 770-534-6263 or

When Nancy Hellebrand’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a caregiver suggested the woman put pen to paper to keep track of her thoughts.

“My mother never kept any diary or journal when she was well,” she said in an email. “This journal came about because her caregiver thought it might help postpone the progression of her illness.”

Now, Hellebrand is using the journal in an exhibit titled “Mom: Writing with Alzheimer’s,” which are photographs of her mother’s handwriting in last few years of her life as she lost conscious awareness because of Alzheimer’s. The photograph series is titled  “How She Was.” It is on display until April 20 in Leo Castelli Gallery in the John S. Burd Center at 429 Academy St. NE in Gainesville.

“The writing was my mother’s, and is frequently more like drawing or calligraphy than legible script,” she said. “I find a devastating beauty in this expression of life’s fragility.”

Hellebrand sent her exhibition proposal to Brenau two years. The university’s exhibitions committee found her pieces “visually and conceptually engaging,” said Nichole Rawlings, gallery director of Brenau University Galleries.

Hellebrand was asked to show her work since Brenau University’s tie to health sciences made it a perfect fit. Rawlings said in an email the photographs show the progression of the disease.

“This exhibition can appeal to a wide range of viewers,” Rawlings said. “While Alzheimer’s as a disease usually physically affects a certain generation, its ripple effects can be felt by many.  And apart from the specific disease represented in this exhibition, the photographs can evoke a sense of empathy within any viewer who has experienced the loss of a loved one.”

The exhibit was a nice homage to Hellebrand’s mother.

“In her healthy years, my mother founded one of the first art galleries that specialized in outsider art,” Hellebrand said. “Ironically, at the end of her life, it was almost as if she was making her own outsider art on the pages of this journal.”

Rawlings said she thinks the exhibit will inspire empathy and reflection.

“While the visual aesthetic of the show is appealing, the content may well speak to people who don’t typically visit an art gallery,” she said. “The artist derived some sense of peace in her mother’s last days photographing this journal, and invites the viewer to feel the same.”