'This is what my grief looks like': The healing power of art a reality for York man

Bill Kalina
York Dispatch

When Parker James Hooker’s daughter, Patricia, 31, the youngest of his five children, died of a brain tumor in January  2020, Hooker went into a depression that lasted a year.

It was a culmination of a series of life challenges — two back surgeries, a divorce, his daughter's illness and a developing relationship.

“I didn’t want to do anything,” he said. “There were months that went by that I don’t even remember.”

At the time, he was living at the home of Robin Robinson, a fellow artist and good friend. After Hooker sold his house, Robinson offered to have him share her York City house while he was recuperating from surgery. She knew the rigors of recovering from the surgery, having gone through it herself.

Artists Parker James Hooker and his partner, Robin Robinson, stand for a portrait under a wall of bike tire wheels at their York City home, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. They make upcycled art by using discarded or inexpensively acquired materials. Bill Kalina photo

She also knew the pain of losing a family member to a brain tumor. Her sister, Kay, 29, died in 1993.

“She’s been my helper,” Hooker said. “I don’t know what I would have done without her.”

The retired builder built a shed on the property, and many artistic projects for the home and yard followed. The two sought out discarded or inexpensively acquired items and turned them into their own brand of upcycled art.

“When I ‘came to,’ it was the beginnings of this whole yard,” Hooker said.

“It was my way of just making it through another day. To make something, create something,” he said.

Today, the property is a neighborhood landmark in the east end of York City.

Outside is a 15-foot-by-30-foot sculpture made of bicycle tire rims that serves as a rear arbor entrance to the yard; various decorated mannequins; hand-painted birdhouses; and wind vanes. Painted window frames and signs decorate the grounds.

A swing hangs from “Tricia’s Tree,” with a trunk featuring welcoming arms and an inset woman’s face. It is a memorial to Hooker's daughter.

"Tricia's Tree," with a trunk featuring welcoming arms and an inset, woman's face, is a memorial to artist Parker James Hooker's daughter Patricia, who died of a brain tumor in 2020. He and artist/partner Robin Robinson display their upcycled artwork in their yard and home interior Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Upcycled artwork is made by using discarded or inexpensively acquired materials. Bill Kalina photo

Indoors there are murals on the walls, unique lamps made from discarded items, a sculpture featuring a broken cello they call “Cello Ma’Bella,” original paintings and an array of objets d'art, once destined for the landfill.

“The Shack,” an addition to the shed he built, serves as Hooker’s working studio.

Robinson and Hooker call their artistic property “self-evolutionary.”

“There’s not a plan,” Hooker said, but the couple presents several worthy considerations for future artwork for their home.

Artist Parker James Hooker paints a discarded frog planter in the yard of his York City home Wednesday, March 16, 2022. He and his partner, Robin Robinson, make upcycled art by using discarded or inexpensively acquired materials. Bill Kalina photo

A large frog made of sheet metal sits on a table outside The Shack. It was once a friend's planter that had rusted and was crumbling. Now sanded and primed, Hooker sprays paint around its smile.

“This is what my grief looks like,” Hooker said. “We’ve taken something that is as dark as you can get it and made something bright and beautiful.”