Zajicek, like other SSOM program coordinators, is an integral part of achieving the mission of training exceptional physicians and excels in being detail-oriented, resourceful, organized and creative.

It’s safe to say that Zajicek advances that creative characteristic a few steps further than most.

Like many artists, Zajicek discovered art at a very young age. Growing up in Rapid City, she loved creating things and often doodled and drew small landscapes. In high school, she found her way into photography, even garnering some awards for her snapshots. South Dakota State University brought the Rapid City Stevens High School graduate to the east side of the state, and there she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in art education with an emphasis in fine art. She’d planned to be an art teacher.

Though she doesn’t teach art today, she’s found a passion in her career that parallels the satisfaction she gets from making art. “I love my day job. I don’t think I’ll ever leave it,” Zajicek says.

Ever since that early life in Rapid City, she has never stopped expressing herself, drawing inspiration from her mother, who at 82 years old still creates, weaving textiles and making mosaics from glass or clay. “She has never slowed down,” Zajicek says. “It’s just her nature, and it inspires me to think that way, too, to continue to do what I love.

“Over the years I’ve gone through so many different media that have been obsessions,” she continues. “I was into glass at one time – staining, fusing and carving, which I loved, but working with glass is difficult to maintain and not always practical. I’ve done acrylic and oil painting, ceramics, clay construction, metalsmithing, silversmithing and jewelry making.”

A painting of a man and a young baseball player standing next to him. There are splatters of colorful paint in the background as well as a shiny gold graphic that looks like a beam of shining light coming from behind the man. These days her focus is mixed media abstract and lately expanding those media to include fused plastic, an art form she is teaching herself. She layers plastic shopping bags on top of one another and uses a clothing iron to fuse them together in shapes that complement her painting, a practice that also speaks to her passion for the environment. “I care a lot about recycling and reusing, and it makes such pretty pieces that then become part of a painting,” she says.

What makes Zajicek’s passion unusual is the fact that she has a visual disability.

In 2015 she contracted an infection in both eyes, with blurry vision and sensitivity to light. After spending six weeks with her eyes closed or wearing dark glasses, the infection cleared, but her vision still hadn’t improved. For four years, a litany of specialists struggled to find answers.

Zajicek finally learned that the eye infection most likely caused her to have visual snow syndrome (VSS), a rare neurological condition. The primary symptom of VSS is persistent flickering dots varying in color and transparency across the whole visual field, sometimes resembling snow or static. Some liken it to constantly seeing a shaken snow globe.

For Zajicek, having VSS means she experiences 18 to 20 different types of visual disturbances, such as those dots, every day, occurring all day. To her, either with her eyes open or closed, the disturbances appear as water sprinkles, floaters, sparks and recurring images. “Sometimes I will see a certain image and it will be in my vision for the next 24 hours,” she explains.

VSS halted her from driving eight years ago, and she is no longer the voracious reader she once was. Zajicek has some trouble navigating stairs because she cannot see or accurately comprehend the motion of her feet. “I don’t see fluid movement,” she explains. “When something moves, I see it stop and go like a bad flip book. I do well in familiar places, but if I go anywhere new by myself, I use a white cane.”

However, Zajicek doesn’t lament her condition.

“It’s chaotic, but it’s really beautiful,” she says. “I feel lucky to be an artist because it came naturally to me all my life to note the beauty in things. What things look like inside my head is different and beautiful. I have an appreciation for it.”

Many might be surprised to learn that among the challenges Zajicek identifies as an artist, none include her neurological condition.

“There are a lot of challenges for me being an artist in Sioux Falls. It’s hard to work full time and be a full-time artist. In my mind I am both, and it’s difficult to find time for both of those things,” she says. “And then the business of art is challenging. It’s hard to find time for the part that leads to sales: marketing yourself, networking, pricing your work. There are some artists and pieces in Sioux Falls that fetch premium prices, and maybe someday I’ll get there too.”

An abstract painting with large, black, organic shapes in the center and splatters of yellow, white, and red paint across the canvas.Her favorite piece of her own creation is a large abstract painting that hangs in her living room, a 4’ x 5’ mixed media acrylic on canvas titled “Jack Had Sh*t Luck.” “As I paint, images crop up, and sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t. I may keep it and foster it, or I may cover it up,” she explains. “As I was painting this one, a jackalope started to come out and I was reminded of memories with my dad. He used to take me fly fishing and when he needed to get me out of his hair, he’d tell me to go look for jackalopes. I even have a tattoo of a jackalope.”

Zajicek is currently fervently working on pieces now for a solo art show with the Brookings Art Council and the Washington Pavilion Visual Arts Center, both in 2025. Some of her available pieces are viewable at Sioux Falls restaurant Bread and Circus Sandwich Kitchen, periodically at design firm Houndstooth House, as well as at several other Sioux Falls businesses. Her current piece on display at the Washington Pavilion is a painting that will be auctioned off in June as part of a fundraiser for the Pavilion Visual Arts Center, her fifth year of donating a piece to that cause. She also won a 2023 Midwest Award for Artists with Disabilities from Arts Midwest, a Minneapolis-based organization that supports the Midwest arts and creativity.

“The magical thing about art is that when someone looks at it and says it speaks to them enough that they bring it home, that’s an indescribable feeling to me,” Zajicek says. “I feel the same way about my job. I get to help residents and fellows get to where they want to be. What I love the most about being part of the journey they are on is knowing that I am helping create good physicians. My hope is that someday they consider me someone who had a positive influence on them as they look back.

“Art is a similar thing – I create art because I need to, but the outcome is something lovely for someone else. It becomes woven into that person’s life.”

As an artist, Zajicek wants her viewer to take away experiences from looking at her creations. It’s important that her art inspires welcome feelings, beautifies a space and grabs the viewer into contemplating the message she hopes to convey.

“I like to make people happy,” she says. “I love when people look at my art and it becomes part of their lives as well as mine. That is the biggest gift. Being able to give in that way to people is lovely.”

Zajicek and her husband, James, share three children: Sydnie, 30, a microbiologist; Elsie, 25, who works for Best Buddies; and Aidan, 25, a medical coder. All reside in Sioux Falls.

You can see more of Zajicek’s art pieces by searching “Paytonology Artwork” on Instagram and Facebook.

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