Nov 12, 2017 | Events

Leading up to the 8th Annual TargetCancer Foundation Gala, we will be sharing stories and perspectives on the gala from many of the people who make up the TargetCancer Foundation community. 

At the 2017 Gala, we are incredibly fortunate to have a special guest joining us: Jonathan Zuker, also known as Jonathan the Painter. Jonathan will be live painting a scene at the Gala, and at the end of the night we will auction off the completed painting. 

In this post, TargetCancer Foundation Advocacy Council member Kim Balkus tells Jonathan’s story. Our sincere thanks to Jonathan for donating his time and talent, and to Kim for writing this profile. 

Like so many, Jonathan Zuker’s life was touched by cancer. His dad, Michael Zuker, who was his best friend, was diagnosed with late-stage non-small cell adenocarcinoma in September 2003. Jonathan took some time off from his architectural career when his dad was diagnosed to help him get to appointments at Mass General. During this time, Jonathan spent a lot of time with his dad and had many conversations that remain close to Jonathan’s heart. Michael reminded Jonathan to always stay positive no matter what. He told him there would be highs and lows in life but to “just stay positive.” Michael just wanted to know that Jonathan would be all right no matter what.

When Jonathan accompanied his dad to daily treatments, he brought his painting kit with him.  He would paint with acrylics so that he would be able to start and finish a painting while he was with his dad at Mass General for treatment. In Jonathan’s gallery in Rockport, he has a watercolor replication of the painting he started when his dad was diagnosed that he intricately painted the entire four months his dad was sick.

His dad passed away four months to the day of diagnosis. One of the paintings that Jonathan painted while his dad was hospitalized was a painting overlooking the Longfellow Bridge. Dr. Tom Lynch, Michael’s oncologist, came to visit Michael around 8 or 9pm one night in the hospital. He took the painting that Jonathan had done and taped the painting to the hospital wall as a reminder for the doctor to always look at things from a patient’s perspective.

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That heartfelt act expanded Jonathan’s thinking on the effect his art can have on others. Jonathan then painted another painting, which was a silhouette of his dad fishing. He hung it on his dad’s hospital door to remind anyone that entered the room that when you look at the person in the bed think of “my dad as a person.” When Michael passed away, Jonathan gave two of the doctors that cared for his dad paintings that meant the most to him. Dr. Lynch received the picture overlooking the Longfellow Bridge. In addition, Dr. Chris Lathan received the watercolor painting that Jonathan delicately worked on the entire time his dad was sick. At an event recently, Dr. Lynch shared with Jonathan that every time he looks at the picture it reminds him of Michael. Dr. Lynch joked with Jonathan that over the years of painting “he’s getting a lot better” with his painting.

“It’s not about the loss, it’s about what we’ve gained in the process.”

This experience changes perspective and priorities and reminds us how important the “moment” really is.

After Jonathan’s dad passed away, he went to Rockport to spend time by the water and opened an architectural office. He decorated his office with many of his paintings and noticed people coming into his office to ask him about his work and how much his paintings were to buy.  With encouragement from his loved ones, he moved down the street by the water in Rockport and opened his art gallery.

Jonathan has a sign that he displays in his gallery that reads, “Everything in here is inspired by my dad and our journey and is a part of the fight against all cancers.” Meg Carleton, who runs an art program at Mass General called Illuminations, noticed his work when she was in Rockport visiting family. Meg asked Jonathan if he would be interested in donating artwork to Mass General West in Waltham for a 10-painting series in their cancer center waiting room. Jonathan entitled this series, “Safe Harbor.” He said that “no matter how bad the storm was raging around us when we got to Mass General it was always our safe harbor.”

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Meg saw first-hand the impact of his work in Rockport and that of his paintings at Mass General so she asked Jonathan if he would like to do a pop-up gallery at the hospital. Over the last year and a half, Jonathan paints weekly at Mass General Cancer Center in Boston as well as Boston Medical Center Cancer Center. He also paints at Mass General Cancer Center in Danvers once in a while. This program is part of the Painter Without Borders program, which is part of Conquer Cancer Coalition of Massachusetts.

In May of 2004, Jonathan, ­­ his mother Susan and his brother, Matt started Conquer Cancer Coalition of Massachusetts. Their strong desire to get more involved led them to call the American Cancer Society to find out what the process was for creating a presence of the Conquer Cancer license plate in Massachusetts. With many applications for license plates, they presented them to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. As license plates continued to sell, they needed a place to donate the money so they started Conquer Cancer Coalition of Massachusetts. As a result of their fundraising, they are able to support other organizations by offering free or accessible services to cancer patients and their families. In 2009, they began working on a project to create the Garden of Hope. The Garden of Hope opened at Boston’s City Hall Plaza in 2010 with Mayor Menino participating in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Zuker’s are constantly finding new ways of bringing people together. They realized the biggest impact is with a community and that there is more power when a community comes together.

“People we love, lost, the doctor’s, the nurses, the caregivers…we are all together when going through it and you realize you’re not alone.”

After Jonathan’s dad passed away, someone shared something with him that remains with him today. Someone told him that the worst thing that could happen was being forgotten. Jonathan makes sure that his dad’s legacy lives on forever in all of his work.  He makes sure his dad is “not only not forgotten but makes them want to do something nice for someone else” because that is the type of person his dad was.  Michael Zuker always did the right thing. When Jonathan paints, he says that he paints “10% of what he sees and 90% of what he feels.” He takes all of the good energy and stories that he hears and uses that as his inspiration to fuel his paintings.