Pamela Hedden picked up a paintbrush and began painting buildings some five years ago. The subject matter of her watercolor and pen-and-ink is no surprise; Hedden is an architect. Now she also is an exhibiting artist, with a café gallery show through the end of the month at the Belfast Co-op.

Nineteen years ago, Hedden was aware of neither vocation; waking up from a weeklong coma, she thought she was 10 years old.

“Oh, that was really strange, to find out I had children! And to be in the hospital so long,” she said the day before hanging the Co-op show.

In 1999, Hedden lived in Birmingham, Ala. Married to a doctor, she had three children, “a gorgeous little house” and an architecture practice.

“I had everything, I really did. I had it and I was living it,” she said.

Then she lost it all.

Stricken with what she thought was a bad migraine one night, she went to lie down while her husband took over getting the children bathed and into bed. Later, when she tried to get up and take a walk, he observed she was starting to lose all motor function.

“I flat-lined for two and a half minutes, the hospital later told me. Then I was in a coma for seven or eight days,” she said. “When I finally woke up, I didn’t have any speech, didn’t have any memory, couldn’t do anything.”

Hedden had had an AVM stroke, caused by an arterial venous malformation in her hypothalamus, a congenital defect hidden in her brain until it revealed itself that night. She lost the use of her right arm — she walks with the help of a brace on her right leg — and she lost half her vision … literally.

“It’s called hemianopsia. To the right of me, I’m blind. When I read, I only see half of each word, and half of each letter! What’s amazing is, when I look down, all I see is the ‘good’ side,” she said. “It’s like a protection.”

It was hard to see much good ahead those first months. Hedden had to relearn how to talk, walk, do everything with her nondominant hand. She was in the hospital for 40 days, and when she went home, there was more loss to encounter. Her husband had “shut down,” she said, and wanted the nanny to do everything for her. When her parents, who had retired to Wayne, came down and “saw the hurt and the horribleness of it all,” they insisted on bringing their daughter back with them to Maine.

“So I went and I stayed at home, but I did intense physical, occupational and speech therapy for a year and kind of came back to life. I was 36,” Hedden said.

With the help of business counselors at CEI’s Maine Small Business Development and Women’s Business centers, Hedden began to move towards reopening her architecture practice. She traveled to Alabama both for work and to see her children, who spent summers in Maine. Although their marriage dissolved, she credited her former, now late, husband with being “an incredible father.”

“It was a tough time, to come back and figure it all out,” she said. “I had to just put the pieces of my life back. And it kind of worked.”

Prior to her stroke, Hedden had drawn architectural renderings for future clients, always in black ink on white paper. But when she started painting, it was all about the color. Her emergence as an artist began around the same time she connected with her current partner, master “tile guy” Mark Mentz of Monroe; some of the first paintings she did were in Bayside, at his job sites one summer.

“I thought, as a watercolor painter, you had to be done in two hours; I don’t where I had this idea! I plein air painted everything,” she said.

From her first series of town buildings in Wayne to paintings of her extended family's homes to the colorful cottages of Bayside, Hedden learned how to draw with her left hand and, a harder challenge in many ways, to work around her distinctive visual deficit.

“When I see a piece of paper, I see half of it, so I constantly have to scan and move my eyes to learn the perspective and the depth,” she said. “It seems amazing to me, sometimes, that I can get a building to look like the building!”

When she first started painting, Hedden said the results were less than satisfactory. She had to remember to continually scan her eyes to the right, in order to see the full image in front of her.

“I’ve learned to make them move, so I can do it. It’s a really difficult thing. But after a while, you just kind of get it in your head to always think about it, be aware of it, and it works,” she said.

Sometimes, though, she lets that visual vigilance go, with intriguing results. Hedden talked about a dinner party her mother threw in Wayne, with the main course served in a round, pasta bowl-like dish. Hedden was having a good time, conversing and laughing and enjoying the meal, but her mother was shocked when she said she was done.

“She said, what?! Because I had exactly half-mooned the plate — ate all the pasta and everything to an exact line down the middle of the plate, because I didn’t see the other half,” Hedden said.

The artist’s work reflects her ability to see and celebrate architectural elements and how they can shape the visual character of a town. She begins with light pencil sketching, then applies watercolor paints and finally uses a fine Faber-Castell marker to ink in the details she finds so satisfying.

The discipline required has proven to be good training for Hedden’s professional work; she draws with her left hand, then has a draftsman put it into CAD (computer-aided drafting). And once she discovered there was no arbitrary time limit on watercolor painting — Belfast’s The Gothic building was the breakthrough — her work progressed to a level that had it hanging on the walls of Meanwhile and gracing notecards that were snatched up as soon as she put them out.

One of her favorite paintings is of the Frost House in Belfast; other city subjects include the Post Office, the downtown Masonic Temple building and Consumers Fuel.

“I have such a love of houses, because that’s all I did as an architect,” she said, adding that she is looking forward to painting in Camden and Rockland, as well.

She also loves doing commissions … and would love to have some architecture projects on the Midcoast, as most of her practice’s projects are still based in Wayne. She and Mentz stopped making that regular 65-mile drive after he invited her to live in his Monroe homestead one summer.

“I did and fell in love with it – and him, all over again. He’s an artist in his own right,” Hedden said, pointing to the home’s inlaid hearth and walk-in shower, as well as framed photographs and, well, the house itself.

Mentz also is an expert framer, and once an expected Fed-Ex delivery of picture frames showed up this day, the couple would be working together to frame a number of the 15 to 18 paintings to be hung. Meanwhile, on her sunny worktable, there was a first attempt at “painting something alive” — a portrait of a deer. Hedden said she doesn’t think she’s done her best work as an architect yet and “my best near as good” as a painter. But she appreciates the gain that comes through experience, tough going as it can be to earn.

“It’s fun working with watercolor,” she said. “It’s hard, and I like that.”

Hedden will be on hand at the downtown Belfast Co-Op for a meet-the-artist session Friday, Jan. 12, from 3 to 6 p.m. For more information about her artwork, and her architecture, email or call 242-9901.