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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Healing through hard work and art: Shiree Nishimori-Cosgrove works to stop cycle of domestic violence in her own life, help others through art

Shiree Nishimori-Cosgrove left a domestic violence situation a few years ago and became homeless. She now owns Pyrofine Arts on Trent and is photographed with one of her sculptures on March 26.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

Editor’s note: For Sexual Assault Awareness Month this April, The Spokesman-Review asked survivors to share their healing journeys. Each Sunday, we will profile a survivor and share resources in the Inland Northwest.

Two things have been constant in Shiree Nishimori-Cosgrove’s life: violence and art.

One wounds, the other heals.

Kneading the clay, centering it on a wheel, cutting out a sparrow to fly across the handcrafted mug, each step is a meditation, a pathway to a new future.

Nishimori-Cosgrove, 34, entered into the cycle of abuse as a child. Ever since, she has struggled to break it .

Each time she makes progress – attending college, opening a tiny pottery studio, selling her art – a violent relationship knocks her back.

Now, just divorced from her second husband, she’s in stable housing and has operated Pyrofine Arts for the last six months.

“I’ve always been very artistic,” Nishimori-Cosgrove said. “And it feels like so many life circumstances have tried to stop that, and I’m very determined to keep it going.”

A tumultuous childhood

Growing up in Hayden, Nishimori-Cosgrove began getting mental health diagnoses at just 7 years old, with medication following soon after.

She went into foster care not long after following multiple attempts to run away from home, Nishimori-Cosgrove said.

As a teenager, she was hospitalized at a behavioral health center in North Idaho and medicated.

“The medications just, like, really clouded my brain,” she said.

That experience, Nishimori-Cosgrove said, left her vulnerable and open to victimization.

“It’s just like a snowball effect,” she said. “It opened up all these doors for the world to come in and just, like, damage … a lot of damage.”

When she was about 16, her grandparents, Joe and Patti Cosgrove, stepped in, moving Nishimori-Cosgrove to Yakima to live with them. They introduced her to Christianity, Nishimori-Cosgrove said. Her faith has continued to give her hope in hard times, she said.

“They were always bridging the gap for me,” Nishimori-Cosgrove said. “If I didn’t have them, I would literally have no concept of normalcy.”

Data shows that women who witness or experience domestic violence as children are more likely to be victimized by their spouses.

Intimate Partner violence affects about 41% of women and 26% of men, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

A violent world

She began working to get her GED, and her grandparents enrolled her in a boxing program sponsored by the Police Athletic League.

Nishimori-Cosgrove was still struggling to live a normal, structured life and was wary of authority figures after being mistreated by them, she said.

Boxing was empowering, she said.

Things were looking up until her boxing coach raped her, Nishimori-Cosgrove said.

“I was just shocked,” she said.

The next day, she told a friend, who pushed her to report it to the program’s secretary. The coach was arrested and charged with sexual misconduct with a minor, but the case was eventually dismissed. Nishimori-Cosgrove said she was told the coach was deported.

During the investigation, it came out that the coach’s criminal history was not screened as it should have been, and that he had pleaded guilty in 1996 to fourth-degree assault, after originally being charged with child molestation, according to reporting from the Yakima Herald at the time.

“It was really frustrating, because that could have been prevented,” Nishimori-Cosgrove said.

She wasn’t allowed to continue at the boxing program while the incident was under investigation, which made her feel to blame for the assault, she said.

When she was 17, Nishimori-Cosgrove began dating a 33-year-old, she said.

Not long after, she got pregnant and had her son when she was 18.

“He changed my life,” Nishimori-Cosgrove said. “I wanted to get him away from that world.”

The relationship with the older man had turned violent. He was an alcoholic and an addict, she said.

“I finally got away from him,” Nishimori-Cosgrove said. “When I left him, it was like an overnight shift.”

She enrolled in Yakima Valley Community College to study art, moved back in with her grandparents and started working out again. Things were looking up when she found out she got approved for low-income housing back in North Idaho.

Nishimori-Cosgrove transferred to North Idaho College and continued pursuing art. She founded the North Idaho Aspiring Artists club and got an agent.

She also met her first husband, a fellow artist.

“He was amazing and he was horrible,” she said.

Nishimori-Cosgrove got pregnant about nine months into the relationship. Not long after, her husband was arrested and charged, and then he pleaded guilty to child molestation.

During this time, Nishimori-Cosgrove continued to push forward in her art career, despite instability. She was an artist in residence at the Northeast Youth Center, teaching children different forms of art.

She was unsure what to believe and stayed with him while he was in jail. They had another baby after his release. He too was violent with her in front of their children.

Eventually, the pair got divorced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before COVID, Nishimori-Cosgrove had been working at a jewelry store and operating her own small pottery studio called Pyrofine Arts in the Perry District, but she lost her job due to the pandemic.

She ended up homeless with her children, living in an abandoned building off Trent Avenue in Spokane Valley.

“At that point, that was the safest place to me,” she said.

Approximately 38% of domestic violence victims become homeless at some point in their lives, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

She moved back to Yakima and into the YWCA shelter there. Despite becoming homeless, she kept her pottery supplies in a storage unit with the hope she could one day reopen her studio and support her family with her art.

Things looked up when she met a sushi chef and fellow artist. They quickly got married and moved in together.

“He’s wanting to get us out of the situation,” she said. “He had a really good job.”

It was a huge lifestyle shift, with a big house, fancy cars and stability, Nishimori-Cosgrove thought at first. The pair worked to open a restaurant in downtown Coeur d’Alene.

Nishimori-Cosgrove made the ramen bowls and managed the restaurant, while her husband was the chef.

But things quickly soured when he became violent, at one point attempting to strangle her, she said.

She left, seeking refuge at Safe Passage, a nonprofit that helps survivors of domestic violence in North Idaho. She reported the incident to police but, like so many other women subjected to domestic violence, went back to her partner. She dropped the charges.

“It was, like, crippling fear thinking about being homeless again,” she said of what kept her in the relationship.

The violence continued and again she reported the situation to police. Her now-ex-husband pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disturbing the peace.

‘Outside of survival mode’

As she looked for a place to go, Nishimori-Cosgrove said she leaned on family but found them less than supportive.

Eventually, Safe Passage connected her to the Angel Arms program through St. Vincent de Paul that provides free housing for chronically homeless families.

“It was like everything I needed,” she said.

Having stable housing and not being tied to a violent partner, has been life-changing for Nishimori-Cosgrove and her three sons. Instead of making decisions focused on having a safe place to sleep that night, Nishimori-Cosgrove can now be more forward thinking.

She was able to re-open Pyrofine Arts in the building next door to the now-vacant lot where the rundown building where she squatted while homeless once stood.

The art studio offers both wheel- and hand-building pottery courses, bringing items to groups to turn into their own works of art. Six months after opening, Nishimori-Cosgrove said business is going well with a few large contracts on the horizon.

“I’ve had the ability to make decisions outside of survival mode,” she said with a smile as she began working in her studio.