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Published: Monday, 4/26/2004

Artist succeeds after beating cancer, drugs

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Vicki Hill is a professional artist with a studio at the Erie Street Market, where she shows off her talent doing portraits. Vicki Hill is a professional artist with a studio at the Erie Street Market, where she shows off her talent doing portraits.
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Vicki Hill sits in her artist's studio at the Erie Street Market and at times wonders how she arrived at this point - but glad that somehow, some way, she did.

Few question Ms. Hill's talent as a portrait artist. Ms. Hill, who draws under the name Vici Hill, sold some of her work in her very first show less than five months ago. She is now commissioned to do as many as 15 drawings for the Dana Corp.

But Ms. Hill's eyes begin to water when she starts to think about where she has been.

In 1999, Ms. Hill was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through 3 1/2 months of radiation treatment.

And, less than a year ago she was sharing a Lima home with a man, surviving off little more than the explosive and addictive high of crack cocaine. Her family stayed in touch, but her sons and mother had had enough.

Her successful rebound began Mother's Day, 2003, when Ms. Hill called her son, John Hill, III, and asked him to drive her to Compass, a Toledo addiction treatment agency. Ms. Hill, 51, had hit bottom; two failed marriages, a life of drug abuse.

"Basically, I lost everything," said Ms. Hill recently at the Aurora House, a transitional home for women and one of her stops to recovery. "I believed I was worthless. My marriages ended and I was depressed, using drugs, and hanging out with the wrong crowd."

Ms. Hill said her mother, Sally Adams, and sons, John and Luther Hill, witnessed some of her most difficult moments when it seemed she would not overcome her personal demons.

"If you told me a year ago she would be here, I would not have believed you," John said. "I can't tell you how proud I am of her and what she's done. She's battling an addiction and I understand now she was an ill person."

Mr. Hill said he and his grandmother had a blunt talk with Ms. Hill before taking her to rehab.

"She would go to the store for my grandmother in her car and that trip turned into five days missing to do drugs," Mr. Hill said. "We told her that we loved her and if she wanted to get help we would do whatever it took, but if that's not what she wanted, she had to take it somewhere else."

Beth Collins, the program director of Women Helping Women, an organization that gives single mothers a chance to restart their lives through education, job skills, and encouragement, said she has seen the transformation before. Ms. Collins said Ms. Hill's talent as an artist, though, took many by surprise.

"I remember we were in this workshop and we're trying to get the women to challenge their skills," Ms. Collins said. "We ask them, 'what do you love to do?' Vicki said, 'Well, I like to draw. It's something I've done all my life.' I asked her if she was any good at it and she said she would bring some of her work over."

Ms. Collins said the next day Ms. Hill walked into the agency with a crumpled grocery bag with some of her drawings and her jaw hit the floor.

"We all here took a collective gasp," Ms. Collins said. "I told her, 'You're a portrait artist.' Vicki just said, 'Yea, all right.' She was putting us off. I asked her if she didn't mind if I showed her work to another artist so they can tell her she was good."

That's when Ms. Collins took Ms. Hill to the Kismet Gallery where she was offered a spot in last September's Women In Art show. The night of the show, Ms. Hill sold one of those drawings for $125.

"They didn't buy it because of sympathy," John Hill said. "They bought it because they liked the drawing. It was good. My mother was rediscovering herself and her talent. She was a completely different person from a year ago. We had our mom back."

Shortly afterwards, she was approached by an art promoter who helped her establish her studio at Erie Street Market and the art project for Dana.

Ms. Hill said she attends Warren African Methodist Episcopal Church on a regular basis and continues to rebuild her life around things that will keep her away from drugs and dangers of her past.

She said organizations like the Aurora House and Women Blessing Women provided the kind of structure and focus she needed to push away from drugs and surround herself with a healthier lifestyle. Her breast cancer has not returned since the original treatment in 1999.

Ms. Hill and others around her say, though, her new journey is just beginning.

"I'm not sure she's finished," Ms. Collins said. "I think she's a work in progress. The only difference between Vicki and other women in her position was that she made that decision to take a second look at herself and fully accepted change. You can't expect to continue doing things that hurt you and expect change."



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