Cancer chronology

Hood River artist chronicles her bout with treatable breast cancer.

Build it and they will come.

That's a motto that permeates most things in the lives of Stan and Sarah Starr. The couple are building their professional practices -- Stan is a licensed massage therapist, Sarah an art therapist. They're building their dream of living and working in Hood River. And most recently, they've built something tangible that helps on both those fronts: an addition to their house that provides studio space for both of their practices.

"We had this dream," Sarah said, "of a home business where we're both working out of home doing our respective trades." The Starrs have been working toward their goals since they moved to Hood River nearly 8 years ago. That's when they fell in love with the place -- both the community and the lifestlye it offered. Since then they have been making ends meet with a variety of jobs, some related to their professions and others not.

But the completion of their new home studio brings them closer to their ultimate goal of a successful home business. It also provides their clients with a unique -- and, in their view -- more beneficial experience.

"The end result is that people feel more comfortable and more relaxed," Stan said, referring to the home setting. The couple juggle time in the studio, which is big enough for Stan's massage table and for Sarah to spread out some of her art implements.

"We schedule our clients at different times," Sarah said. The studio is situated to offer added benefits for both Stan and Sarah's practices. It opens through French doors into the dining room, which Sarah uses when she needs more space. On the other side, it opens onto a garden -- the inspiration behind the name of Stan's business, Moon Garden Massage.

"Stan's a Master Gardener," Sarah explained. Among the prolific flowers and plants outside the studio door are a variety of herbs that Stan infuses into oils he uses in his massage practice.

Stan has been a licensed massage therapist for seven years and specializes in deep tissue Swedish massage.

"The basis of the technique is to increase circulation," Stan said. "I do that through long, flowing strokes and lots of intricate movement with the fingers." The goal is to relax muscles by applying deep, penetrating pressure and to increase the flow of blood from the extremities to the heart.

"If you do it correctly and long enough," Stan said, "you create hyper-circulation."

Stan has worked for salons that offer massage (and continues to see clients at A Salon on Oak Street) but feels that his home studio allows him more flexibility.

"My massages focus on being thorough," he said. "It's important for me to only do three or four massages a day." The homey, garden setting of his studio also provides a "less clinical" feel for his clients.

"I'm certainly more in control of the environment here," he said. "I feel like -- for both Sarah and I -- we're more connected working out of home. I like to share that sort of creative home energy with my clients."

Sarah, too, finds that melding her practice into her home studio has been beneficial to her and her clients. She was trained as an art educator at Boston University, then received her master's in art therapy from Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego. But finding work in the fledgling field of art therapy was often frustrating.

"Most of the programs I was involved in were always dependent on funding," she said. "It was hard to get consistent work."

When she and Stan decided to build the studio, she felt it would be a perfect place for her to pursue her practice on her own terms.

Sarah -- one of only a handful of certified art therapists in the Gorge -- works with both adults and children in what she calls "healing art."

"My approach is to first understand the client's concerns and situation while learning what their strengths and motivation for growth are," she said. "Then we work together on goals and course of action through art and discussion."

Art therapy has been more widely used and accepted in Europe and Australia, according to Sarah. But it's slowly gaining recognition in the U.S. as a viable form of therapy.

"Many of my clients are people who maybe want to make a change in their life but they don't know how," Sarah said. Often, she added, they are in a stage of transition -- going through a divorce, perhaps, or facing an empty nest.

"They remember that their artistic side is what helped them through something before, or maybe they always had an interest in art but never got to pursue it." Sarah's goal, through art and discussion, is to get people to look at themselves and their lives more closely.

"I encourage people to use their creativity as a way of bringing meaning to their lives," she said. She also helps cultivate clients' creativity as a tool.

"Along with healing, it's a preventive measure," she said. "Once you get in touch with that -- once you have some of those tools -- you tend to use them. It helps people to look within and realize that they are the ones who have the answers."

Since having her first child five years ago (she and Stan now have two children, Miranda, 5, and Isabelle, 1) Sarah has found herself a "natural" in doing art therapy with children.

"Art therapy is amazing with kids," she said. "You start doing some art with them and before you know it (issues) are out there but they're not threatening." She hopes to increase her work with children as she builds her practice. "It's very empowering," she said.

In addition to seeing clients on an individual basis, Sarah teaches a weekly "open studio" class for adults and a children's art class one afternoon a week.

"My classes focus on personal expression and encouraging creativity and spontaneity, not on skills," she said. "As a result, students realize which media they prefer to work with and develop skills naturally, through exploration."

Having her art therapy practice and art classes at home also has allowed Sarah the time -- and studio space -- to pursue more of her own art and interact with the growing artists' community in Hood River.

"It's been a synergistic sort of experience," she said.

The Starrs plan to continue their individual pursuits of their alternative healing practices, but feel that massage therapy and art therapy complement each other.

"Stan and I hope to integrate some of our treatments and classes for clients and students," Sarah said, adding that their individual therapies focus on the mind/body connection.

"My work is more dependent on the student or client channeling energy within themselves," she said. "It complements what Stan does and vice versa."

For his part, Stan feels that Hood River is the perfect place for their studio -- and the burgeoning field of alternative medicine and therapies in general.

"Hood River has a population of people who are athletic, sports- and health-minded -- and forward-thinking," he said. "We're all looking for a feeling of connectedness that a small town environment can provide. It might be easier for us to make a living in a city, but the whole putting together of a healthy lifestyle is harder."

Sarah agreed. "As healers, you have to live that example," she said. And that's exactly what the Starrs are doing.

"The more you integrate your life into healing, and into helping others," Stan said, "the more people who need that are drawn to you."

Stan and Sarah Starr's massage and art therapy studio can be reached at 387-2526, or by e-mail at

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