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Art on show .. Rebecca Holland has picked up a paintbrush after 20 years, and is exhibiting her works for the first time. PHOTO: CLAIRE ALLISON

by Claire Allison

An infection that robbed Rebecca Holland of her short-term memory has not taken away her artistic ability.

The 43-year-old is holding her first exhibition at Timaru’s Arthur St Cafe, featuring 12 to 15 works ranging from oils to acrylics and watercolours.

Twenty years ago, parents Christine and Mark Holland would never have imagined it was possible.

Growing up in Auckland, Ms Holland always had a love for the ocean, and as a teenager, she, her parents and two younger brothers sailed from New Zealand around the Pacific Islands, to Hawaii and on through to Vancouver, Canada.

As a qualified deep sea diver, she explored much of the Pacific under water and, on her return to New Zealand, she sat for her boat master certificate and gained senior scholar with a BSc in marine science at Auckland University.

She translated many of her experiences into art and painting, often of aspects of the sea and creatures associated with it.

A Rhodes Scholarship followed, and Ms Holland studied environmental change management, and gained a master’s in business administration.

She had accepted a position with the Boston Consulting Company in Sydney when her life changed forever.

Ms Holland became unwell, and was having tests in hospital in London when she contracted an infection that damaged her brain and left her with severe short-term memory loss. She was left to learn to walk, talk and other skills all over again.

While her long-term memory remains intact – she is quick to answer questions asked on The Chase – she would not, Mrs Holland said, be able to tell you when she last ate.

Mr and Mrs Holland flew to London and brought their very ill daughter home.

It has been a long road to recovery, including an escape from the hustle and bustle of Auckland to a small lifestyle block in the rolling South Canterbury hills of Claremont a year ago.

With support from carer Christine Moffatt and tutor Wayne Patrick, Ms Holland has once again picked up a paintbrush.

Mrs Holland said Mr Patrick, who was also a community support worker, had been exactly the right person for the task.

“He’s been the perfect person for Rebecca; he’s just got the right approach with her.”

Mrs Moffatt said she could see the benefits of the one-on-one sessions.

“I can watch her mood change the longer she spends in the art class.”

Mr Patrick said it had been great to work with Ms Holland.

“It’s been a journey for me, too. I learn off everybody who comes into my sphere. If you don’t, you stay stagnant.

“We’ve had so much fun working with the different mediums. One day she might be a watercolour artist, some days it might be oils. You’ve got to pick the medium for the mood.”