Kate Gruver found her artistic voice after losing the use of her dominant right arm and much of her voice as a result of a stroke. Her family and friends are celebrating the 85 year old's work and life with a private exhibit and party.

Before 1985, Kate Gruver of Clayton was an energetic mother and nurse. She enjoyed decorating, did a lot of crocheting and kept herself busy. She was rarely still.

In 1985, at age 59, Gruver suffered a stroke as a result of a rare tumor. Gruver’s daughter Cathy Nacrelli said it took doctors a while to diagnose the problem because it was so rare, and after that they told the family Gruver probably wouldn’t make it.

The stroke left her without the use of her dominant right hand and lacking many speech skills. But she did pull through. The family is getting together with friends to celebrate Gruver’s 85th birthday this weekend.

Part of that celebration is going to focus on Gruver’s artwork, which the family put together in an intimate exhibit titled “Profiles in Perseverance.”

For Gruver, it was a long road from the stroke to the paintbrush. After the stroke, she had to re-train herself to do everything. She worked her way up from completing her personal care routine to tasks like peeling potatoes. And she had to do it all with only the use of her left hand.

She still doesn’t speak much. She can say yes and no, and communicate in short sentences, but it’s taxing, as is writing. Gruver and her family members communicate in shorthand that seems almost telepathic.

Yet she kept house for about 15 years following her stroke, until her husband’s health started to falter. He passed away in 2001, shortly after they moved back to Delaware.

It wasn’t long after that the then-77-year-old Gruver threw herself into art while at the Harvest Years Senior Center. Teacher Dianne Bauer worked with Gruver at the center and also at home.

Gruver had never painted before, although her creativity showed by her home’s decor where she was always painting walls or wallpapering. When asked whether she changed her home often, she emphatically nodded yes, “all the time.”

“She was like this ball of energy,” Nacrelli said.

As a painter, she went through phases, focusing on barns, flowers, snowy landscapes. Anything that caught her eye from a magazine or a Christmas card she would paint, and she ended up with more than 50 acrylics to show for it.

One of granddaughter Kristen McGinnis’s favorites is a flower she says was in her grandmother’s Georgia O’Keefe phase. The red and ochre close-up of a flower hangs in McGinnis’s home.

Gruver found herself drawn to the painting while at McGinnis’s house one day. She had created so many works that she was surprised to find out that she was the painting’s creator.

“Those bold colors, to me, that’s my grandmother,” McGinnis said.

When asked if painting was a way for her to communicate, Gruver quickly nodded in agreement.

McGinnis said she doesn’t think of her grandmother as disabled. She thinks of her taking the family to Disneyworld and the ocean. She describes Gruver as a creative, stubborn, bold, loving, no-nonsense person.

Gruver nods, agreeing with those adjectives.

“She’s still the matriarch of our family, that’s for sure,” McGinnis said.

Gruver stopped painting and favors bingo now. The paintings still have a wealth of meaning to the family, though. They often laughingly ask each other if a person is “paint-worthy” when deciding whether or not to give one up.

The word McGinnis uses to describe the art is perseverance.

“Every single painting is a testament to that,” she said.

Email Sarika Jagtiani at sarika.jagtiani@doverpost.com