WATERVILLE — High school senior and artist Margaret Robe, 18, had never devoted much time to painting before, but in the fall she decided to try something new.
So she found a 7-by-4-foot piece of plywood in the gymnasium at Waterville Senior High School, left over from remodeling this summer, and started to paint.
Four months later, she completed a blue and orange portrait that is also a portrayal of the chronic pain disorder reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, which she has endured for five years.
“I thought, why not do something that I’ve never really done before that’s a little bit provocative and try to spread awareness about this disorder that many people don’t know about?” she said.
It turns out more people will see her painting and learn about the disorder than she first expected. She now has an audience of 72,000 students and teachers.
The Maine Department of Education announced Friday that Robe’s painting was one of 20 pieces of artwork selected across the state to be included in the Maine Learning Technology Initiative laptop screensaver for the 2012-13 school year.
The technology initiative provides all Maine seventh- and eighth-grade students, more than half of the state’s high school students, and all middle- and high-school teachers and administrators with Apple laptops. The computers are equipped with a standard set of educational software and the screensaver of student artwork.
A fourth grader at Rangeley Lakes Regional School, Brian Edward Williamson’s piece, “Triceratops,” was also selected.
Robe said she is surprised and happy her painting, “Put Out the Fire,” was chosen. More than 380 students from across Maine submitted images. Students and teachers voted for their favorites and chose two of the 20 featured works. An independent panel of three judges selected the other 18 pieces.
The title of her painting, Robe said, stems from how her body sometimes feels: as if it’s burning. She used the warm color orange and cool color blue because people with the disease often experience changes in skin temperature, switching between warm or cold.
The eyes are prominent in the painting, she said, because her eyes are often the only way for others to know she is in pain.
“There’s no really visible effect that people can see, so it’s hard for them to deal with because often people think that (those with RSD are) faking it or that it’s not real,” she said. “The eyes are a window into what someone with RSD would feel.”
Robe first developed the disorder in seventh grade when she injured her hamstring in track, she said. Though the injury healed, the pain spread.
Her sophomore year, doctors officially diagnosed her with the chronic pain disease, which is thought to result from damage to the nervous system.
Medication didn’t ease the pain, so she turned to exercise. She also learned how to control the pain mentally.
“As time went on, I learned how to deal with it,” she said. “You have to keep your mind in a certain place, and you can’t let the disease be you. You have to be yourself.”
She has applied to 10 colleges and plans to study art, she said. In the meantime, she is aiming to complete a mural dedicated to her mother, Susan Robe, who was diagnosed this summer with breast cancer. Her father is Stephen Robe.
Paintings evoke feelings, Margaret Robe said, and people can relate to them.
“It makes people think. I’m hoping to do that with my paintings,” she said.
Erin Rhoda — 612-2368