Feb 10, 2014
08:27 AMHealth & Science
Channeling Cancer for Art at Yale's Smilow Hospital, With Stunning Results
Arnold Gold/New Haven Register
“Motions of Love” by Sally Jo Nanfeldt on exhibit at the show, “Abstract Notes,” an exhibition of abstract paintings by Smilow Cancer Hospital patients and a family member on the fourth floor of the hospital in New Haven.
The fourth-floor corridor of Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven is perhaps one of the city’s best-kept secrets. It’s not only the main route taken to and from the parking garage by patients and staff, but it’s also a mini-art museum.
These days, hanging on the hallway walls, is an exhibit, “Abstract Notes,” that is almost breathtaking for its simplicity and meaning.
Ten people affected by cancer — nine patients and one family member — have painted pictures that express their deepest feelings about the impact of illness, and in some cases, the freedom of recovery. Working with teaching artist Nell Bernegger of Westport, a member of Westport Arts Center, the patients met for five two-hour sessions at the hospital, where they were given paper and paints and urged to express their feelings through art.
“It wasn’t art therapy,” explains Sarah Kelly, the education manager at WAC, which works in partnership with the hospital. “It was an opportunity for patients to create a series of 10 paintings very quickly, without overthinking them. It was a little bit about living in the moment and letting go.”
The patients arrived at each workshop to find long tables set up with supplies: sheets of heavy watercolor paper, new brushes, water, mixing trays and gouache. They listened to Bernegger talk about her own process of painting — and after a brief meditation and breathing session, they began to work. Completed works were taken to a drying area, and at the end of each session, the artists shared their favorite works with the group and talked about what the colors and shapes meant to them.
The curator, Helen Klisser During, chose one painting from each participant and had them framed and put on display. (Above, "Vibrance” by Cheryl Thomas.)