Karen Pence will highlight art therapy during the Trump administration

Karen Pence: ‘All of us could benefit from art therapy’

By Darlene Superville | AP

WASHINGTON — Karen Pence, the vice president’s wife, said Wednesday that art therapy, a little-known mental health profession that she has championed for years, is the issue she will highlight during the Trump administration.

She said in a speech in Florida that her goals are to raise awareness about art therapy, help people understand that it’s available for everyone and encourage more people, particularly students, to choose it as a career.

Such therapists are trained to help people use all forms of art to cope with life’s challenges.

“All of us could benefit from art therapy,” said Mrs. Pence, who spoke at Florida State University because it has a respected art therapy program.

She has a master’s in art education, taught for 25 years, including as an elementary school art teacher, and is a watercolor artist. But Mrs. Pence said she didn’t become aware of art therapy until about a decade ago when she visited a program for pediatric cancer patients in Washington. She since has met with numerous art therapists and observed programs in the United States and abroad.

“Art therapy is changing lives,” she said.

She told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview before her formal announcement that she didn’t “think a lot of people understand the difference between therapeutic art and art therapy.” Blabbing to a girlfriend can be therapeutic, she explained, but it is not the same as formal therapy.

As passionate as she is about lifting art therapy’s profile, Mrs. Pence is interested in several other issues.

One is helping military families, especially spouses. Her only son, Michael, is in the Marines.

She’s also interested in honeybees. Mrs. Pence installed a beehive on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory, home to the vice president’s official residence, to help call attention to a decline in managed bee colonies that officials say could negatively affect U.S. agricultural production. When Vice President Mike Pence was Indiana’s governor, she had a beehive at that residence for the same reason.

Since returning to Washington in January (the family lived in the area when Mike Pence served in the House), Karen Pence has accompanied the vice president on tours of Europe, Asia and Latin America, as well as trips to survey recent hurricane damage in Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

She visits art therapy programs wherever she goes. Journalists who travel with Pence often keep an eye out for his wife. She often brings them cookies when he ventures back to the press cabin for small talk.

She’s even done some campaigning, urging Virginians to vote next month for Republican Ed Gillespie in what’s viewed as a tight gubernatorial race.

From her sunny, second-floor office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex, where she and her staff have coveted views of the Washington Monument, Mrs. Pence proudly displayed several of her watercolors, including of a Capitol dome, the vice president’s official residence, a Ball canning jar used as a flower vase, a cardinal bird and a pink peony. The latter two are Indiana state symbols.

She said she turns many of her watercolors into prints and boxed notecards that she gifts to art therapists and others.

Mrs. Pence also started a blog Wednesday to chronicle her visits to art therapy programs.