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Dec. 2, 2021

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Child abuse survivor hopes her artwork calms others

Piece donated to Children's Justice Center dedicated to man who helped give her support

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published:
2 Photos
A whimsical detail of Clancy’s artwork features the children’s justice center therapy dog, Tabitha, reading a story to children.
A whimsical detail of Clancy’s artwork features the children’s justice center therapy dog, Tabitha, reading a story to children. (Natalie Behring/ The Columbian) Photo Gallery

While she was creating a piece meant to calm children who have been abused, artist Sue Clancy didn’t have to try very hard to imagine what her audience would be experiencing.

The 47-year-old Vancouver woman is a survivor of childhood abuse. She said that donating one of her pieces to the Arthur D. Curtis Children’s Justice Center was an honor.

“When I was a kid, I would look at whatever was on the wall and that would help calm me down,” she said. “I’m hoping it helps with that. I desperately needed something to help me feel OK. I hope that it provides that function.”

The bright, colorful piece on display in the center’s lobby was unveiled Monday. The artwork depicts a cat playing with a bus and a dog — the center’s therapy dog, Tabitha — reading about modes of transportation. Sprinkled throughout the piece are symbols that hit on the theme: Life is a journey and this is a stop along the way.

“It’s more than just a gift to the center,” Executive Director Mary Blanchette said. “This is something special because it’s something very personal as a survivor of abuse.”

Blanchette said that Clancy’s story is inspiring because it shows that survivors of child abuse can go on to be incredibly successful.

“What we’re trying to do for kids is give them a chance,” Blanchette said. “If you give them a chance — I mean look at her. I find it inspirational knowing her, and I love it when I see that people do escape these circumstances.”

Clancy’s story starts in Norman, Okla., where she experienced a childhood full of verbal, emotional and physical abuse. When she was 5 years old, she was shoved down some steps and hit her head, losing her hearing.

Many more years of abuse followed, escalating when she came out as gay.

Through it all, she kept faith that she wasn’t an abomination, and even eyed college — even though her strict, religious parents would have preferred her to marry a boy before she left high school.

“The women I knew that were in that religion, they didn’t even change a light bulb without a man’s involvement. I didn’t want to be like that,” she said. “I wanted to go to college that bad; I was just desperate to do it.”

Clancy left home at a young age, living in her car and on other people’s couches. She graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of Oklahoma to study fine art.

She finally found an ally when she met Dr. Bob Hoke and his wife, Penny Hoke, at one of her student art shows. The couple commissioned Clancy to do a piece and quickly took her under their wing.

“(Bob and Penny) became mom and dad. They became my chosen parents.”

The Hokes helped Clancy find a therapist who didn’t try to force her to “go straight” and helped her navigate the legal system to get a victim’s protection order. She met her future wife, Judy Sullens, a supportive woman who liked to visit the Pacific Northwest area every chance she got. Sullens brought Clancy along and Clancy said she remembers when she knew Vancouver was home.

She was in the passenger seat of a car staring at a map when Sullens poked her.

“She said, ‘Look, everybody’s smiling,’ ” Clancy said. “I looked around. and every pedestrian, every person on a bike, every person in a car — everybody’s smiling. We were just floored. I’d never seen so many smiles in one spot.”

When the two planned their move, their real estate agent told them about the children’s justice center — a place where investigators, social workers, advocates and medical and mental health personnel work together to help victims of child abuse.

Clancy didn’t hesitate to donate one of her pieces for an upcoming fundraiser.

“I loved it,” Clancy said. “The fact that there is a place that tries to make it as non-labyrinth-like as possible, given how many agencies need to be involved, that was just amazing.”

In the year it took to make the piece, Bob Hoke passed away.

“Talk about having your heart ripped out,” she said.

She found that the best way to honor Hoke was to dedicate the piece to him — the man who provided her support like the kind provided by the children’s justice center.

On display at the center’s lobby, the piece includes a plaque, which reads that Hoke “taught her that life was a journey and that the best response to bumps in the road was to go on and live well.”

“Art is another way to respond to difficulties in life, a way to go on and live and respond well,” Clancy said. “So I hope that my artwork can help comfort the children as they come in the CJC doors. I also hope that my art will help support and encourage the adults who work there as they do their important work.”

Columbian Breaking News Reporter
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