Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The art of healing at a Minnesota hospital January 28, 2013

TWO YEARS AGO this month, my then 92-year-old artist friend, Rhody Yule, opened his first-ever gallery exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

Six months later, he died.

But Rhody, and his art, live on, this time in a Paradise Center Healing Arts Program Exhibit at District One Hospital in Faribault. The arts center and hospital are partnering on the program.

Thursday evening I attended a reception for that show which features 70 pieces of art created by eight outstanding artists, each of them definitively different: Faribault artists Jody Hanscom, Jorge Ponticas, Pearl Tait and Rhody Yule; Marcus Moller of Morristown; Faribault native Tom Fakler, now living in Basel, Switzerland; Jane Strauss of Minneapolis; and Cynthia Ali of St. Paul.

As Healing Arts Coordinator Elizabeth Jacobs led my husband and me through the maze of hallways and centers that comprise the hospital complex, I thought how Rhody would have felt honored to be part of an exhibit designed to comfort patients and make their hospital experiences more pleasant.

The art selected by a committee of hospital staff fits the program’s criteria as “healing art,” meaning it must be calming, happy and a positive piece of work, Jacobs says.

Three of Jody Hanscom's horse portraits.

Three of Jody Hanscom’s horse portraits.

And you’ll see that, almost experience that positivity, from the minute you walk in the front doors of the hospital to view Jody Hanscom’s sizable horse portraits in the lobby waiting areas. Jody’s oil paintings capture both the gentleness and free spirit of horses, a combination that simultaneously calms and uplifts.

Tucked into a corner by the elevators, the fourth of Hanscom's horse oil paintings.

Tucked into a corner by the elevators, the fourth of Hanscom’s horses.

Just down the hallway, five oil paintings by Jorge Ponticas brighten the walls with vivid scenes from his native Chile and elsewhere. His art evokes happy thoughts. What can I say? I can’t resist the sweet face of a llama.

Pearl Tait's "Aubergine Drift I."

Pearl Tait’s “Aubergine Drift I.”

Moving along to the emergency room lobby, I find Pearl Tait’s moody mixed medium art the ideal choice for a setting often filled with emotion and uncertainty. Her work, which features textures like sand and tape incorporated into a painting, reflects, in my opinion, the intense layers of feelings that come with any visit to the ER.

A photo in a cozy private waiting room fronts Tom Fakler's Swiss Alps photos.

A sofa in a cozy private waiting room fronts Tom Fakler’s trio of Swiss Alps photos.

Around the corner inside a cozy ER room where families are taken to hear bad news (so says Jacobs), the mood totally changes with the soothing photography of Tom Fakler. His black-and-white canvas prints of the Swiss Alps offer a natural world escape during a particularly difficult time for patients’ families.

Likewise, the photography of Jane Strauss in the surgery center reflects that same sort of escapism, especially in panoramic landscape scenes. Jacobs notes that Strauss is autistic, meaning her approach to photography focuses on qualities like texture and detail, aspects others might not consider in photographing a scene.

Faribault native Cynthia Ali's floral pastels are not for sale. Ali, of St. Paul, is primarily a jewelry artist.

Faribault native Cynthia Ali’s floral pastels are not for sale. Ali, of St. Paul, is primarily a jewelry artist.

Also in the surgery center, Cynthia Ali infuses a soft natural beauty with her floral pastels. You can almost smell the heady perfume of her beautiful roses.

Marcus Moller's "Madison Lake Bait Shop" in watercolor.

Marcus Moller’s “Madison Lake Bait Shop” in watercolor. Moller’s art (mostly pastels) hangs in the surgery center waiting area, a place frequented by children. Thus his art is hung quite high, which made photographing it difficult.

Marcus Moller works in pastels, too, and watercolors, covering a variety of subjects from autumn landscapes to a bold rooster to my favorite, “Madison Lake Bait Shop.” Those of you who’ve traveled Minnesota Highway 60 will recognize the kitschy red building backed by the Madison Lake water tower. I cannot even begin to count how many times I’ve considered photographing that building. Moller’s bait shop painting is nudging me to actually stop and take that photo.

Twenty-five of Rhody Yule's oils grace the hall and patient rooms in the cancer center.

Twenty-five of Rhody Yule’s oils grace the hall and patient rooms in the cancer center.

Finally, my open house tour ended in a hallway outside the District One Cancer Center with the oil paintings of my friend, Rhody Yule. I’d seen nearly every one of Rhody’s hundreds of paintings when I worked with his family and friends on the 2011 Paradise exhibit. But, still, it was as if I was viewing his pieces for the first time, appreciating the landscapes, many of them winter scenes in this show, and the other art he created through decades of painting. Rhody was a kind, gentle man with a heart full of goodness, and I remembered that, too.

Examples of Rhody Yules art close-up.

Examples of Rhody Yule’s art close-up.

Most of the artwork in the Healing Arts Exhibit, but not all, is available for sale. (Artwork not featured in photos here is because I did not have permission to photograph it.)  A portion of any proceeds from the sale of Yule’s work will go to the local hospice, per the family’s request.

If you wish to tour the winter installment of the Healing Arts Exhibit, check in at the main desk, 200 State Avenue, during hospital business hours. All areas of the exhibit may not be accessible for viewing at all times. The current show runs through February 28.

If you are an artist interested in being featured in a Healing Arts Exhibit, contact Jacobs at the Paradise Center for the Arts. You will find details and contact information by clicking here.

The Healing Arts program is sponsored by the District One Hospital Auxiliary, which initially proposed the concept.

To view information on the artists with an online presence, click on their highlighted names.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on art as a “healing” tool? Have you seen similar exhibits? Please share.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


19 Responses to “The art of healing at a Minnesota hospital”

  1. Clyde of Mankato Says:

    Institutional art of all sorts depresses me: motels, businesses, schools/colleges, healing places. The two major medical outlets here are full of safe neutral, dull institutional art, which was not cheap, but is not original and has nothing to do with this area. They no doubt paid a person (I know someone who had that sort of job for awhile and got paid very well for it) to come in and fill the place with bland factory art. It does not come cheap. Yet here in Mankato are lots of good local artists whose work would have been cheaper by far and would have put a light into the soul and care of the patients and clients. Studies show that people heal faster and better in rooms out of which you can see lots of sky and green and nature. Would seeing living breathing art not do the same?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Excellent, excellent comment, Clyde. I never really thought about all that “dull institutional art,” as you term it versus original local art. Listen up, Mankato, and other communities. But I have often thought about how individuals will shop at a Big Box retailer and purchase a manufactured work of art rather than supporting local artists. Sometimes those store-bought pieces are more costly than local art. Actually, my favorite places to buy original art are thrift stores and rummage sales. Oh, and I’ve gotten some great pieces at the Paradise Center for the Arts’ recycled art sale.

    • Beth Ann Says:

      I had to respond to Clyde’s comment—Very true. My brother in law is 43 and has Down Syndrome. One of his “jobs” during the week is working in an art studio at the local “sheltered workshop” and the public is able to purchase their artwork. A lot of pediatricians in the area have bought paintings to decorate their offices with and I think that is an amazing thing and so much better than the boring artwork that many health care offices have!!!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        This is fabulous, this arts program in a local “sheltered workshop.” Another great idea that other communities could embrace.

        The whole concept of a healing arts program seems like a win-win situation for so many: patients, artists, families and the healthcare setting in which the art is displayed.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    I felt like I was there!!! Great job documenting a wonderful exhibit and how wonderful that folks are being soothed by these images as they are in an unfamiliar and unsettling setting as they await news of loved ones. I loved them all and can see why you were so fond of Rhody—the pictures speak volumes and are fabulous windows into the world of a wonderful man and friend, I am sure. Thanks for sharing!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Every time I view an exhibit like this by multiple artists, I am impressed by the sheer talent out there. And, yes, I was quite fond of Rhody, just one of the kindest individuals you could call a friend.

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    Several years ago Winona Health (Winona, MN) held a contest for artists. There was extensive remodeling to make all hospital rooms private and artwork was needed for each. Area artists were invited to enter and the public determined which ones were chosen by votes. The “healing” theme prevailed in this case, also, as it had years before when the hospital did a major addition incorporating the Winona Clinic and new surgery suites. Likewise, Gundersen Lutheran(La Crosse,WI) has on-going displays of various area artists who wait on a list for their “turn” to be featured. The arts and music have such a powerful impact on the positive healing experience and such institutions are just recently recognizing such. Great post!! Thanks so much!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank for you sharing details about these healthcare facilities in southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin that are embracing local artists and their art. This is great to hear. I know that you’ve played piano in the Winona hospital, which is also a great idea to incorporate music into a healthcare environment.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        Music reaches even those who seem to be in a state of “far away”. I especially notice that when I present music at our local long term care facility.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        My husband does Sunday morning church services at a local nursing home once a month and he would tell you the same. He also notices that no matter what the condition of an individual, reciting The Lord’s Prayer comforts and comes with natural ease for each of them.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        I so understand! Can’t over emphasize the importance of all those words we “hide in our hearts”……..

  4. cecilia Says:

    My godmother in NZ who is in her eighties now paints and hangs her work in the hospitals in NZ. She is so proud when she walks the corridors and sees her work there. I especially loved these horse paintings. What a talent that man had! and such variety on the walls, what wonderful admin to have that kind of exhibition in a hospital.. great post audrey! c

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      That is just grand of your godmother to share her art in New Zealand hospitals.

      I am not surprised you appreciate the horse paintings especially given your appreciation for animals. Jody is a woman, BTW.

      The members of the hospital auxiliary really deserve the credit for getting this healing arts program in place at District One.

  5. Very nice. I especially like the painting of the horse with its mane flying. I did wish I could see the llama painting though. It’s wonderful to have “real art” in the hospital rather than the generic stuff you so often see in institutions and hotels.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, I certainly wanted to show you those llamas, too, because Jorge’s art is fabulous. But not all artists allow their work to be photographed.

  6. Clyde of Mankato Says:

    I love dogs and cats in nursing homes. Not all do.
    Our mother’s nursing home in Sioux Falls had (hopes still has) a large bird cage with a dozen or so little twittering birds flitting about in it. My mother would stare at it for hours. But my sister hated it, said birds are dirty, which they are, but these were in that cage and carefully cleaned. My mother the gardener and fabulous quilt maker was not allowed a plant (as opposed to cut flowers) and allowed to have only one of her quilts. And it was a wonderful place, really. My mother ignored the dog and cats, but many residents waited for the dogs to come around to them.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Ah, yes, one of the nursing homes in Faribault has birds also, or did the last time I visited quite a number of years ago. The dog and cat visits are also becoming more commonplace. All help really in making residents feel more comfortable, more loved. A blogger I follow in Illinois took her lambs to a nursing home. You can imagine how very exciting that was for the residents.

  7. Beautiful Artwork and just makes a place you do not want to be sometimes a little more inviting. Happy Monday:)

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