Sharon Axelrod, top left, showcases her watercolor illustrations, top right and bottom right, as well as her nature photographs, bottom left, at the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival on Sept. 16-17. Courtesy images.

Learning that you’ve been accepted to exhibit in the prestigious Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival is incredible news for any artist.

But for local resident Sharon Axelrod, “incredible” doesn’t quite do justice to her emotion at the moment she found out that she’d be showcasing her watercolor illustrations and photographs at the 2017 edition of the iconic event, set for Sept. 16-17 in Old Mill Park.

“It really was a life-saving moment,” says the 34-year-old Axelrod.

She was at Stanford Medical Center, seeing her neurologist amidst a mind-numbingly complex, years-long medical struggle, first to find a diagnosis for the condition that had changed life as she knew it, and then to understand how to treat that condition and manage its debilitating symptoms. 

“Those neurology visits feel very futile sometimes,” she says. “And I got the (MVFAF) call right after. I’ve gone to this event every year since I was a kid. I LOVE Mill Valley. I had wanted to apply and do the festival because it has been a very literal life-dream-bucket-list-item for me since I was a little kid. I am so very honored and excited to be showing at the 2017 Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival. It is another dream come true.”

One could argue that Axelrod was more than deserving of a dream come true, as the past two years have been quite the opposite. She was diagnosed with Autonomic Neuropathy, essentially a failure of the Autonomic Nervous System to function properly. The nervous systems that control heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and digestion, among others, “have failed to function correctly in me,” she wrote in a post on a GoFundMe page created by friends in in October 2015, a campaign that has raised nearly $25,000 to assist with Axelrod’s medical care.

In an odd twist, Axelrod’s condition incited her to apply to participate in MVFAF for the first time. She’d been a longtime, widely revered art director at Kumara School in Tam Valley, and though she’s been artist in a variety of mediums for years, she always thought she’d apply to the festival when her teaching career was in the rearview mirror. That occurrence came much sooner than expected, however, and she decided to make the leap.

Axelrod calls her paintings watercolor illustrations, as they incorporate both watercolor painting and ink drawing. Her photos primarily focus on nature around Marin County, often from a macro perspective, that she’d taken on her once regular hikes.

“I’m jumping in the water here with my eyes closed,” says Axelrod, who moved Mill Valley nearly 10 years ago and whose grandparents lived here for 35 years. “I’m very nervous and excited.”

The 411: Sharon Axelrod is showcasing her watercolor illustrations and photographs at the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival, set for Sept. 16-17 in Old Mill Park. Follow her on Instagram @sharonaxlerod. MORE INFO.