Lyn Horan

Posted by: Charlotte LaPlante and Hannah Vieira

Lyn Horan


Lyn at the Holyoke Surfaces art show

Lyn Horan is an artist who currently lives and works in Holyoke, MA. She has been working as an artist for 35 years. She has experimented with drawing, painting, watercolor, sculpture, and collage. She teaches drawing and other art classes in the area, including the Holyoke Surfaces Project for high school students, and considers herself a social activist through her work.


Why Holyoke?

Lyn Horan’s studio is about 5-10 minutes from the center of the city of Holyoke. Lyn, who has multiple sclerosis and uses braces to walk required a one-level home that had room for an art studio. This need led Lyn to the Holyoke area. Covering all the walls of her house are pieces of Lyn’s artwork. The artwork shows the path of Lyn’s artistic career over the 30-odd years she’s been working.


Lyn's studio in Holyoke MA

Lyn’s studio in Holyoke, MA

Lyn first started showing her artwork in the D.C. area. More recently, she moved to the Holyoke area to work as an artist, after living in Easthampton from 2004-2008, when she was introduced to the Holyoke area by friends who had studios in Holyoke. Lyn’s career has been dramatically shaped by the fact that she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 27. This diagnosis led to a huge change in her career as an artist, as it limited the materials she could work with. When she was first getting used to the diagnosis, she found a lot of artistic inspiration with watercolor. 

Lyn’s Impact on Holyoke

Lyn was drawn to the old buildings of Holyoke as an artist, wanting to find a way to represent them in her work. This fascination with the history of Holyoke through architecture led Lyn to become a part of the Holyoke Surfaces Program. This is an Upward Bound program for high school age students in Holyoke to encourage them to pursue higher education. Lyn took 10 kids and encouraged them to think in an artistic way about their city. They went from building to building, looking around, noticing things, and taking pictures. Lyn encouraged the students to think about the possibilities around them. They were used to seeing the old, and often falling apart, buildings around them every day- maybe even for their entire lives- but she wanted them to see their surroundings differently. Instead of the old buildings being associated with a broken city plagued with economic problems and unemployment, she wanted the students to see those buildings for the possibilities they held, or what they could become. From here, Lyn and her students began an artistic study of the surfaces of Holyoke.


Some of Lyn’s photographs of Holyoke’s many surfaces

Lyn confessed that many artists like to work alone. Being an artist tends to be a pretty solo career, and she enjoys the independence she has had in her career to do her own projects and choose her own directions. But she also admitted that it can get lonely. Lyn has noticed that, unlike many older artists, younger artists, the new generation, tend to be better at working together and collaborating, which she found to be true with her students in the Holyoke Surfaces project. The students got to see what was involved with putting on an art show, because they organized and created their own show, with Lyn and the other teachers’ help.

The collage that Lyn's students created for the Holyoke Surfaces program

The collage that Lyn’s students created for the Holyoke Surfaces program

For the program, the students were required to create a collage that included all the students and the teachers and that captured the message behind the program. To do this, the 10 students had to work together cooperatively and collaborate, a skill that is very important in life, which Lyn observed they did extraordinarily well. The students also adopted a whole new perspective of their city. They visited the theater in Holyoke that is being renovated, and got to see old remnants of film. Lyn said that though the theater was falling apart, one could see the grandeur it once held, and the kids really picked up on that. Lyn taught her students how to see the world around them, saying “the more you look, the more you see,” and taught them about having good vision and a good eye. She noticed how her students took what she taught them to heart, striving to get the perfect angle, frame, etc. when taking each picture, wanting it to be perfect.

Industrial buildings along power canal feed by Connecticut River, Holyoke, MA

Industrial buildings along power canal fed by Connecticut River, Holyoke, MA. These are the types of buildings featured in Holyoke Surfaces program photos.

Artists’ Role in Social Activism

Lyn spent some time at the Vermont Studio Center during the start of the Iraq war. While she was there, she was inspired to create water colors that reflected on the war and her opinions of it. Lyn believes watercolor is often perceived as being a less serious medium to work with, as many watercolor paintings often depict old-fashioned, prissy women just sitting around; serious topics often aren’t considered using this medium. Lyn wanted to change that, to create images that become propaganda, using watercolor. This led to the creation of more serious watercolor pieces: a piece about the Iraq War, and another about 9/11, that hang on Lyn’s wall’s. Lyn feels a social responsibility to advocate for her community and take a stance on issues as an artist. Another way she carried out these feelings, besides through her artwork, was by joining the Holyoke Residents Against the Holyoke Casino movement.  

Lyn's watercolor painting about the Iraq war.

Lyn’s watercolor painting about the Iraq war

Lyn's watercolor painting about 9/11

Lyn’s watercolor painting about 9/11

Lyn noted that Holyoke has been building up extensively recently due to the efforts of the new mayor. There are more spaces for artists to work and live. Lyn believes artists are incredibly important to cities, so creating workspaces for artists in developing cities is especially important.  People who become artists don’t often do it for the money, as they know they most likely will not make a lot of money. They have open minds, allowing them the ability to move and adapt to new areas and communities. Artists often migrate to cities, and often developing cities or poorer regions of cities because they can find cheaper spaces to work. They are open to other cultures and customs. In Holyoke specifically, the mayor has been planning for the past few years to encourage artists to migrate to Holyoke by creating cheap places for artists to live. Lyn believes that artists often lead to the comeback or revitalization of an area because artists attract people to cities by creating communities and things for people to do. Holyoke has been finding ways to attract artists since 2004.

Lyn believes artists can actually help cities in difficult economic situations to come out of those hard times. Artists in an area can dramatically change the perception that others have about that area. This often attracts people with more money to that area. The problem with this, although it helps cities going through difficult economic times, is that it often leads to gentrification, which will push the poorer people out of an area as property prices rise. Lyn believes Holyoke should try to mitigate these effects, should they arise, but also expressed an admiration for the progress the city has made over the last few years. Lyn considers herself a part of public activism. As an artist, she sees part of her job as being part of the community through community involvement. She sees issues of social justice as really important to her career. The history of art and the movement of artists has shaped cities and areas, and Lyn sees social activism and justice as problems that artists are responsible for and play a huge role in. Lyn cited the fact that art can cross all barriers and that it is an extremely powerful force among common, everyday people. Even though art is sometimes considered upper class, Lyn doesn’t believe this is so; she strives to touch all people with her work and make it accessible. 

Art and Teaching

Lyn thinks that her career and her work has been largely based on nature. Lyn considers nature to be an analogy for human life. Nature, like human life, has to endure and adapt. Lyn has used nature in her art career to make points about human life. Lyn is also fascinated by optical illusion and depth. Since art crosses all barriers, one can see beyond what one has experienced. People absorb a lot of information their not even aware of every single day, and Lyn says that all one has to do it tap into that information, to move it from subconscious to conscious. She thinks that that is what drawing is. Sometimes, we don’t know we know things until we create art, and those things come out in the artwork. She teaches some adult art classes, and she thinks that this is where the mentality comes to life. She says, as a teacher, that when a student says they can’t do something, like draw, it just means that they haven’t really tried. Everyone observes the world around them, and it’s just a matter of practicing and trying to really internalize your surroundings that allows someone to draw.

Lyn created this series of paintings by looking at the shadows of trees without the tree in the picture. Lyn finds these interesting because different people see different shapes in them.

Lyn created this series of paintings by looking at the shadows of trees without the tree in view. Lyn finds these works interesting because different people see different shapes/figures in them.

Making Art Personal

Lyn’s personal experience is very strongly represented in her artwork, especially her experiences with her health. Lyn has created many pieces of artwork based on her experience living with multiple sclerosis, and more recently, she incorporated her struggle with breast cancer into her art. Lyn created a piece of artwork that incorporated her many brain scans with photographs of her throughout her life, creating a photo journal of her entire life as her multiple sclerosis shaped it, writing the number of years before or after her multiple sclerosis diagnosis on each photo. Lyn plans for her next project to include the topic of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to adapt and change over the lifetime.


A chronicle of Lyns life, incorporating her many brain scans as well as photos labeled with when they occurred in relation to her MS diagnosis.

To contact Lyn Horan, her email address is:

For more information on her Holyoke Surfaces Project, see:

Or see the Facebook page, featuring some student artwork: