All the little pieces not adding up for Arcata’s mosaic muse, Laurel Skye

Janine Volkmar
Mad River Union

ARCATA – Laurel Skye is between that proverbial rock and hard place. The hard place is dealing with lung cancer and its treatment. The rock is certain death. Neither choice is one anyone wants to make.

This is not one of her intricate mosaics, where all the tiny pieces make a whole. This is the hard world where the pieces do not add up to beauty or perfect health.

“If I stop taking the chemo, the cancer will spread,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s either the chemo and the side effects or letting the cancer grow and sure death.”

Laurel Skye, right, with her daughter Marley Goldman.

The chemotherapy Skye is being given to kill the cancer is also killing her. She’s sick and scared. She spoke with me just before starting the chemo again. “The next chemo is in two days,” she said. “I'm terrified.”

Skye was glad to be home in her mosaic-filled house in Arcata, after being in the hospital with pneumonia, dehydration, endless diarrhea, astonishing pain and all the other after effects of chemotherapy.

“I had five chaplains visit in one week,” she said. “I was crossing that transparent curtain, reaching out to people and places that I saw but when I opened my eyes no one was there and I was tethered to the bed.”

Last September, Skye was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, which metastasized to her bones. She is a non-smoker and was shocked by the diagnosis.

“I had gone to Paris for a month and I was feeling fine,” she said. “When I got back, I decided to turn the back sales room into a tea room and moved a heavy table. I went to Mad River [Community Hospital] for an X-ray because of the pain. I thought I had a cracked rib. Mad River said no and St. Joe [Hospital] did an X-ray and said no. Then they did a CAT scan and found that my sternum was broken and that there was a large tumor behind it.”

Skye underwent radiation and bone injections, going from a wheelchair to crutches, but dealing with it because of the help of her friends. “It was hard to be that disabled,” she said, “but my friends all helped.”

Skye’s friend Michele Petno started a GoFundMe page (gofundme.com/help-for-laurel-skye) for her. In the last nine months, 835 people have contributed $64,097 towards the $100k goal. Skye has enormous medical expenses ($5,800 for one bottle of the chemo) and she has lost her income from her popular mosaic classes and her commissioned work. All donations are sent directly to her bank account and to a special needs trust she has set up for her daughter, Marley Goldman. More donations are needed and very welcome.

A recent spot on KHSU was sponsored in an effort to increase visits and donations to the page.

If you visit Skye’s Facebook page, you will see her heartfelt thank you messages to each donor to the GoFundMe campaign. They are as sincere to someone who was only able to afford to give $10 as they are to the large donors. After all, that is the beauty of an online campaign, that it all adds up to help when needed.

Petno wrote on the GoFundMe page that Skye did not ask for this help. “Laurel is very independent and proud and was in the hospital for two weeks without telling anyone except her closest friends. She did not ask for this help but has been convinced that she and Marley cannot fight this battle alone.

“Marley has been her mom’s diligent assistant and travels everywhere with her; rarely have they ever been separated,” Petno continued.

Skye travels back and forth between St. Joseph and Stanford. The two hospitals are coordinating their efforts for her. Travel is difficult, as neither she nor Marley can drive; friends take her but that incurs additional hotel expenses in Palo Alto. If a community member who travels back and forth came forward with an offer of help, that would be one less worry for Skye.

Skye listed all the people in her past who have been visiting and helping during her illness. “An ex-boyfriend from 45 years ago donated to the account. He lives in Oakland and his wife had taken my workshop there. The owner of the studio put it in her newsletter that I was ill and the wife saw it. She asked him, ‘Didn't you know a girl in the late ’60s when you were going to HSU?’ He looked at the picture and said yes.”

Her other ex-boyfriend of 15 years ago from Chico and her ex-husband from New York came to visit. “I thought I am dying – these people are coming out of the woodwork. We’ve all remained friends but when they all show up you feel you are at the end,” Skye said.

Skye’s past is as colorful as her mosaics. She was born in Chicago but came to California as a child, living in Venice and Los Angeles. She remembers the wild and crazy aunt who had a wonderful house that Skye loved.

She came to Humboldt County in 1969, on her way from Mendocino to Alaska. “We found a house in the Garberville area and never made it to Alaska.”

Since then, she’s lived all over this area – Freshwater, Kneeland, Westhaven and Arcata. Her home on 11th Street in Arcata is a local landmark, fascinating passersby with its lush foliage and tilework. Her house in Westhaven caught fire when a hot water heater exploded and she was burned on over 75 percent of her body.

She’s raised three boys and a daughter. One of her sons died after being hit by a truck in Chicago.

Her daughter Marley is an artist in her own right. Now 31, Goldman has been doing mosaic work since she was 11. “I took her out of school to study in Italy,” Skye explained. “Marley was one of the youngest students in Ravenna.” The two have done many shows together and attended conferences all over the world. “Marley’s work sells very well,” Skye said with obvious pride. “I do what I can for her and she does what she can for me,” she added.

“I do a lot of practical things,” Goldman chimed in.

Goldman spent much of the hour and a half interview fielding calls from doctors and nurses, answering questions about treatment, handing her mother medications, and minding the mosaic materials sales counter. She is her mother’s assistant, caregiver, fellow artist and friend as well as daughter.

Skye is not able to work much now but she shared photographs and memories of her last two large works, both in Trinidad. One is the rock and tile wall of the Seascape Restaurant entry way and ramp. “They wanted arrow points in a border. I told them that was kind of boring, after all, what are you bordering?  I took them across to see the fish on the Wildwood Music building. It sold them on the idea but they wanted indigenous fish.  It challenged us, so we did salmon and rock cod.”

The work is breathtaking and monumental, incorporating the rock bottom of the ramp as if it were rocks on the ocean floor. Fish swim between seaweed and other creatures surprise the viewer.

Skye’s other Trinidad piece was a headstone for the late Sidney Dominitz, the well-known teacher, journalist, and editor of the EcoNews, who died in 2015.  One side of the stone has a mosaic of Dominitz's favorite beach, College Cove. The other side has mosaics of his two passions: a poker hand of cards and a basketball. His son, Zachary, commissioned the work, along with his mother, Sydelle.

Her web page, laurelskye.com, has photographs of those and other work by the artist. Plazagoers may now know they know her work, her transformation through mosaic of the prosaic trash cans on each corner.

Skye was incredibly forthcoming and open during this interview. Even though in obvious pain and filled with worry about the upcoming onslaught of the chemotherapy, she still found humor in sharing stories and grace in the telling of those stories. I left as several visitors came in, not wanting to tire her. Her words stayed with me. “Life will go on until it doesn't. Sometimes I am OK and accepting and sometimes I'm not.”

“Laurel is very independent and proud and was in the hospital for two weeks without telling anyone except her closest friends. She did not ask for this help but has been convinced that she and Marley cannot fight this battle alone.

“Marley has been her mom’s diligent assistant and travels everywhere with her; rarely have they ever been separated,” Petno continued.

Skye travels back and forth between St. Joseph and Stanford. The two hospitals are coordinating their efforts for her. Travel is difficult, as neither she nor Marley can drive; friends take her but that incurs additional hotel expenses in Palo Alto. If a community member who travels back and forth came forward with an offer of help, that would be one less worry for Skye.

Skye listed all the people in her past who have been visiting and helping during her illness. “An ex-boyfriend from 45 years ago donated to the account. He lives in Oakland and his wife had taken my workshop there. The owner of the studio put it in her newsletter that I was ill and the wife saw it. She asked him, ‘Didn't you know a girl in the late ’60s when you were going to HSU?’ He looked at the picture and said yes.”

Her other ex-boyfriend of 15 years ago from Chico and her ex-husband from New York came to visit. “I thought I am dying – these people are coming out of the woodwork. We’ve all remained friends but when they all show up you feel you are at the end,” Skye said.

Skye’s past is as colorful as her mosaics. She was born in Chicago but came to California as a child, living in Venice and Los Angeles. She remembers the wild and crazy aunt who had a wonderful house that Skye loved.

She came to Humboldt County in 1969, on her way from Mendocino to Alaska. “We found a house in the Garberville area and never made it to Alaska.”

Since then, she’s lived all over this area – Freshwater, Kneeland, Westhaven and Arcata. Her home on 11th Street in Arcata is a local landmark, fascinating passersby with its lush foliage and tilework.

Her previous house in Westhaven caught fire when a hot water heater exploded and she was burned on over 75 percent of her body. She’s raised three boys and a daughter. One of her sons died after being hit by a truck in Chicago.

Her daughter Marley is an artist in her own right. Now 31, Goldman has been doing mosaic work since she was 11. “I took her out of school to study in Italy,” Skye explained. “Marley was one of the youngest students in Ravenna.” The two have done many shows together and attended conferences all over the world. “Marley’s work sells very well,” Skye said with obvious pride. “I do what I can for her and she does what she can for me,” she added.

“I do a lot of practical things,” Goldman chimed in.

Goldman spent much of the hour and a half interview fielding calls from doctors and nurses, answering questions about treatment, handing her mother medications, and minding the mosaic materials sales counter. She is her mother’s assistant, caregiver, fellow artist and friend as well as daughter.

Skye is not able to work much now but she shared photographs and memories of her last two large works, both in Trinidad. One is the rock and tile wall of the Seascape Restaurant entry way and ramp. “They wanted arrow points in a border. I told them that was kind of boring, after all, what are you bordering?  I took them across to see the fish on the Wildwood Music building. It sold them on the idea but they wanted indigenous fish.  It challenged us, so we did salmon and rock cod.”

The work is breathtaking and monumental, incorporating the rock bottom of the ramp as if it were rocks on the ocean floor. Fish swim between seaweed and other creatures surprise the viewer.

Skye’s other Trinidad piece was a headstone for the late Sidney Dominitz, the well-known teacher, journalist, and editor of the EcoNews, who died in 2015.  One side of the stone has a mosaic of Dominitz's favorite beach, College Cove. The other side has mosaics of his two passions: a poker hand of cards and a basketball. His son, Zachary, commissioned the work, along with his mother, Sydelle.

Her web page, laurelskye.com, has photographs of those and other work by the artist. Plazagoers may now know they know her work, her transformation through mosaic of the prosaic trash cans on each corner.

Skye was incredibly forthcoming and open during this interview. Even though in obvious pain and filled with worry about the upcoming onslaught of the chemotherapy, she still found humor in sharing stories and grace in the telling of those stories. I left as several visitors came in, not wanting to tire her. Her words stayed with me. “Life will go on until it doesn't. Sometimes I am OK and accepting and sometimes I’m not.”







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