WASHINGTON — When Karen Pence learned that an art therapist in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico couldn’t afford the clay her clients needed, she sprang into action.
A trained watercolorist and advocate for the little-known profession of mental health, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence went to the Virginia art supply store she frequented when they lived in the state during her tenure in Congress, bought 120 pounds of self-drying clay and packed it aboard Air Force Two for its flight down to inspect the damage.
“She cleaned it up,” the vice president said of the store owner.
Mrs. Pence has made art therapy her cause since she first found out about it more than a decade ago. She has visited numerous art therapy programs, both in the US and abroad, and on Wednesday in Florida, nine months into her administration, she planned to formally announce the goals of her art therapy initiative.
She wants to help people understand the difference between art therapy and arts and crafts, and understand that art therapy is a viable option for dealing with trauma, injury, and other life experiences. He also wants to encourage young people to choose art therapy as a career.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand the difference between therapeutic art and art therapy,” Ms. Pence, a trained watercolorist, told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview before the announcement at Florida State University in Tallahassee. The school has an art therapy program that she described as “terrific.”
Talking to a girlfriend can be therapeutic, she explained, but it’s not the same as art therapy, which has three elements: a client, a trained therapist and art.
READ MORE: Vice President Pence’s wife aims to raise awareness of art therapy
As passionate as she is about raising the profile of art therapy, other topics help make Karen Pence tick, too.
One of them is helping military families, especially spouses. His only son, Michael, is in the Navy.
There is also his interest in bees. Mrs. Pence set up a hive on the grounds of the US Naval Observatory, where the vice president’s official residence is located, to help draw attention to a decline in managed bee colonies that officials say could negatively affect US agricultural production. He had a hive in the Indiana Governor’s residence for the same reason.
Now 60 and married to the vice president since 1985, Mrs. Pence has long been seen as one of her husband’s most trusted political advisers. They are often together on trips, at the White House or at the observatory, almost always holding hands.
Since returning to Washington in January (the family lived in the area when her husband served in Congress), she has accompanied the vice president on goodwill tours of Europe, Asia, and Latin America, as well as trips to survey damage. recently from hurricanes in Texas. Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. She tries to visit art therapy programs wherever she goes. Journalists traveling with Pence often keep an eye out for his wife; she often brings them cookies when he ventures back to the press box for small talk.
READ MORE: Devastated Puerto Rico needs unprecedented help, says governor
He has even campaigned a bit, urging Virginians to vote for Ed Gillespie next month in what is seen as a close gubernatorial race.
“It really makes a difference, I assure you. Nobody thought we were going to win,” she said, in an apparent reference to the Trump-Pence ticket.
The vice president often refers to his wife as the “prayer captain” of the family. He has led congregations in prayer during his hurricane-damaged travels.
“We’re people of faith, so we try to approach everything prayerfully,” Mrs. Pence said from her sunny second-floor office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, where she and her staff enjoy coveted views. the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. Free art therapy drawings adorn the outer office.
He proudly displayed several of his paintings, including the dome of the Capitol, the vice president’s residence, a ball mason jar turned vase, a cardinal bird, and a pink peony. She turns many of her watercolors into prints and boxed note cards that she gives to art therapists she knows.
Except for a myriad of pets, including two cats, a dog, and a rabbit named Marlon Bundo, pennies are empty nesters. His son and two adult daughters are alone.
“I think for us this is a good time in our lives for this role because our children are no longer in college. They are living their own lives,” Mrs. Pence said.
He will also launch a blog in conjunction with Wednesday’s announcement to chronicle his visits to art therapy programs.