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Artist's strength, living with incurable illness, will be an inspiration forever


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POSTED: Thursday, December 25, 2008

“;A celebration of life”; - that is the phrase we use to take the edge of sadness out of a funeral. But when services were held for artist Peggy Chun on Dec. 5, it would have been hard to call it anything but a celebration.

               

     

 

 

THE HONOREES

        This year's choices:

       

Monday:

       

Manti Te'o, Punahou football star

       

Tuesday:

       

Christina Hemming, Maui activist

       

Yesterday:

       

Panos Prevedouros, UH professor

       

“;Mourners”; wore butterfly wings, antennae atop their heads; a few dressed as penguins - and although tears were shed, smiles and laughter were in abundance as well.

Chun died on Nov. 19 at age 62 after a six-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease - although “;battle”; might not be the right word. Even as the disease robbed her of all power of movement and speech, Chun seemed to view each progression as inspiration, not degeneration.

“;I'm happier now than I've ever been,”; she said in 2003, a year into the disease and already traveling by wheelchair. “;It's been one hell of an adventure after the diagnosis.”;

In 2008, although she could communicate only by directing her eyes toward letters arranged around an alphabet frame, Chun supervised the completion of a mosaic of Father Damien, made of thousands of tiny squares of paper that were painted by students at Holy Trinity School.

Although well respected for her art, the indelible mark that Chun leaves is in the example she set, finding purpose and fulfillment while coping with a devastating illness. She rallied hundreds of people around her - a volunteer army called Peg's Legs who shared her care and who were certain that her mind remained active and her spirits high until the end.

“;She was a force of nature,”; said Lynn Cook, who became the family's spokeswoman in the final days of Chun's life. “;If she didn't want the gallery to get wet, I swear she could deflect storms.”;

Chun prepared for each stage of her illness so that she could keep painting. She used her left hand when her right failed, then held her paintbrush in her mouth, then used a computer program that allowed her to paint through eye movements. She treated each adaptation not as a compromise, but as a new skill that added texture to her work.

Next year, Cook said, three books will be released bearing Chun's name: “;The Tin Roof,”; written by Nona Beamer with illustrations by Chun and her son Eric; “;Zooper Girls,”; written by Chun when she could still direct a computer with her eyes; and a collection of art with captions by Cook.

Chun's husband, Elroy, is looking for space in Chinatown to move her art gallery so that her work can continue to be seen and purchased - including reproductions of the Damien mosaic.

Cook said Chun's spirit remains with all of Peg's Legs. The volunteers still work the same shifts, helping Elroy make the transition. They plan to stay together, perhaps passing on what they learned about sharing long-term care.

“;The very first thing we did was go to a symphony concert, all of us wearing antlers,”; she said.

Chun's impression was indelible, Cook said. “;I feel like one of the great gifts in my life was Peggy.”;