Bring healing art to children in medical crisis

 
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Art Teacher Sharon proudly modeling the necklace
Art Teacher Sharon proudly modeling the necklace

Here is a tale about true radiance as witnessed at one of CHAP's partner hospitals.  I pass a patient in the hallway who has her hair in the most beautiful twist.  I complement her and she, in turn, tells me she likes my skirt and reveals that she has the same skirt in her wardrobe at home.  I invite her come to the Family Room to do art with us.  She responds favorably, but I don't see her for a couple hours.  When she does return, she arrives with her husband.  He is pushing the wheelchair behind her.  She sits down at the table and quickly dives into a jewelry project.  She has an amazing sense of style.  She starts laying out orange, crimson red and canary yellow beads.  Vibrance seems to be the order of the day.  With great clarity, she describes to me her vision.  Originality prevails and within minutes we are doing amateur wire wrapping.  All the while, she shares little parts of her private story with me.  She wants the look of fringe or a tassel on the bottom of her dramatically long necklace.  We pull out the headpins for making earrings and we tinker and scheme about how to achieve the goal.  This lady exudes radiance and gratitude.  She openly expresses her delight to have this opportunity to make something.  She has sewn all her life, but this is the first necklace she has made.  She beckons her husband to the table.  She encourages him to make a necklace for her.  He works quietly.

At the end of our hour together, she is bursting with joy.  She made a stunning one of a kind piece for herself and she is so proud of her husband.  She, in her hospital gown, wants to document her creation.  She puts it around my neck and asks me if I am willing to pose for a picture.   I tell her I cannot wait to show my co-workers the design she came up with.  She tells me where to stand and directs her husband to move a cart of books out of the shot.  She takes this picture of me.  She was incredible and she was amazing to spend time with.  As I was leaving the floor, I passed her and her spouse in the hallway.  She was seated in her wheelchair, wearing both the necklace she engineered and the purple necklace her husband made for her.  She was sharing her experience with her nurse.  She walked towards me and hugged me good-bye.  This will register as one of the most unforgettable CHAP moments.  It was a powerful intersection of art (in the hospital) and . . . Humanity.

Children's Healing Art Project (CHAP) provides over 9000 unique healing art experiences each year to children and their families in medical crisis, working in partnership with community hospitails and organizations.

We invite you to donate on GlobalGiving's Bonus Day today, Wednesday, May 13th, from 6am PST to 9pm PST.  Your generous donation during this time will be matched ensuring that CHAP can continue to bring our renowned art programs to children and families in medical crisis - always free of charge.

CHAP thanks you for your continued support!

At first glance
At first glance

"Strength, Comfort and Love"        

 On a recent afternoon, CHAP easily recruits a mother-daughter pair to the art table. They decide to start with painting. Within a few minutes, the mother has a game plan. She scrolls through photos on her phone and finds what she is looking for.  About a year ago, her oldest child painted a memorable painting and the mom decides to try and replicate it.  Art teacher Mary offers a deluxe foam core 'canvas' to Mom and another to her little girl, the patient. The mom gets to work quickly, but she keeps referring to the image on her phone. She asks for exactly the same paint colors. Mary notices her reliance on the smart phone and liberates the woman by saying, "Okay, you know what it looks like. Now make your own version." Freed up, the mom works from her impression of the child's painting. She already knows the spirit, energy and the mood of the painting. In fact, she knows it intimately and she simply switches over to a place where she trusts herself. It just took a well-timed nudge from Mary.  Mom paints happily, commenting at one point that she has spent the past 5 years raising 5 children. “I have been busy, no time for art.”  Now here she is with this bizarre idle time in the hospital. She seizes the opportunity. Dives in. Mary engages the young child. The canvases that belong to the mother-daughter pair are essentially back-to-back, raised up on little tabletop easels. They cannot see what the other is doing. Mary and the child are squeezing generous amounts of glitter glue all across the 20" x 20" surface. When both mom & daughter get to a stopping point, mom comes around the table to admire her little girl's artwork. Then it's time for the child to go see what her mom has been focusing on. Together, they walk over to mom's canvas. The look on the little girl's face is priceless. With big eyes and an open mouth, she says, 'Wow. It's awesome!" The mother is giggling and proud. Mom lets it dry a little bit before adding a few finishing touches. When she steps back to regard her painting, she says this to me. "When I look at this - I feel strength, comfort and love." She really is reflecting while she states these words. It's incredible to be there to hear her say it. She debates adding some text to her painting, but she's skeptical about her lettering skills and doesn't want to ruin her masterpiece.  I suggest to her that she can use those words as a title for her piece. She likes this idea and fills out a form to enter her painting in our next hospital art show. She entitles the piece, "Strength, Comfort and Love - in honor of Sarah.

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Art brings together new best friends
Art brings together new best friends

At CHAP’s annual Art Camp, two teenage girls of the same age, both confined to wheelchairs meet and greet for the first time. While making art, their friendship takes off like they have known each other for a lifetime.  They begin to giggle about boys, talk about fashion, preferred colors of nail polish, what music they like, schools they attend, movies and the best pizza in town.  They assist each other in getting materials and talk about ideas.  Their disabilities disappear.

The first two days were full of painting, glittering, beading and mask making, followed by shortstop action videos the next.  This is where I overheard, the now best friends, talk about the bullying they experienced in their lives.  It wasn’t an occasional thing, but a daily harassment that kept them feeling connected to the peers around them.  They commiserate with one another and one begins to cry.  She talked about the cruelty and how it impacted her daily life.  One example she shared was that she was unable to go to the bathroom in a public place without the assistance of her mother or caretaker for fear of ridicule.  Her new friend was quick to respond with love and compassion assuring her that she would find a way.

On the fourth day of camp, a miracle of sorts occurred.   The young woman who had cried the day before came in with a newly found confidence that we hadn’t seen in the preceding days. Whether direct or indirect, the connections made while making of art can heal the deepest of wounds.  What we experienced that week will impact each of us for the rest of our lives.

Mother and child
Mother and child

A mother is daydreaming of far away places as she waits for the results of her sick child’s tests.  With some consideration, she picks up a graphite pencil and draws a cluster of ten palm trees on a handmade canvas made of donated foam core painted with primer.  Other members in the room include a teenage boy, parents of an isolated child and two children from another family on the hospital floor.  Most everyone around the table is painting on this day.  The mother drawing the tree had never painted before.  She was nervous, unsure she could transfer what she had drawn with paint.  With encouragement and a pale acrylic yellow paint, she adds the glow of the sun in the corner and then a tree and another.  The resulting effort knocks our collective socks off.  Soon after, on another sunny afternoon, she is eagerly at the table ready to draw.  This time, she uses Crayola crayons to create a entire tropical scene.  Following that, she starts a second painting.  This one is tropical in theme with a slightly more sophisticated composition.  Her palm trees are leaning towards the light and are much more dynamic.  White highlights are added to the trunks of the trees and the crests of the waves.  More detail is added to the sky.  Her progress is already notable.  On Friday evening, she returned to the art table wanting to create a Spirit House the shape of a Tiki Hut, like the ones from her homeland.  Spirit Houses are one of the many engaging projects CHAP offers the families we serve.  Her house becomes a transport, away from the hospital smells and sounds, to a distant land filled with palm trees and white sandy beaches.  She works hard to add a front porch.  I began to notice that her house design mimics the crayon landscape from a few days ago.  The next day, I arrive to an art room that is already joyously animated, except for the mother who painted the trees.  She is sitting in the corner, gazing out of the window, looking lost.  I could feel her sadness the moment I saw her.  The news was grim.  She was taking her precious child back to the island to die, nothing more could be done.  She had come to the art room to finish her painting to take home with her as a physical reminder of her child and all of the “wonderful people that treated me like family”.

The first drawing
The first drawing
The first painting
The first painting
The final painting
The final painting
The Tiki Hut Spirit House
The Tiki Hut Spirit House

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Mary spreading joy!
Mary spreading joy!

Children's Healing Art Project is pleased to present a new monthly feature showcasing our hospital art teachers!  Mary Milly Doyle has been a teacher at CHAP for over 8 years and is the first to be honored in this month's "Teacher Feature."  Mary shares her own personal CHAP journey and the lessons she has learned from the children she works with at the hospital.

Can you share your history with CHAP? In 2007 I was teaching workshops out of my home studio, when I decided I wanted to connect with a group of some sort and reach a needier population.  At the top of my list was Doernbecher Children's Hospital (DCH), as my family had all become aware of a world not known to us before our son had two open heart surgeries before his second birthday. We were the lucky ones, walking OUT of the hospital in record time with successful surgeries and no complications. My son is happily nineteen now and goes for yearly check ups and will probably need a heart transplant at some point, but we thank God, that point is not today.

However, many families are not so lucky and their extended stays in hospitals are emotionally and physically draining in a sterile and foreign world. I had hoped I could bring art into the hospital in some way, but had no idea how or who to connect with. That's when I learned that the "art guy" that had been coming up to DCH needed help. I called and he asked if I could come that day. Mr. Etxaniz, blue haired and in painted clothes, came to collect me and take me up to the oncology floor. I spent one afternoon with the children, and that was that.  I have been happily teaching with CHAP since.

I watched us grow from two teachers and one office person to where we are now: leading over 60 hours of art experiences weekly. There have been many ups and downs, worries and relief, joys and terrible sorrows, but through it all there has been laughter and hope and belief in this vision and this need for artists bringing the healing power of art to these lovely and grateful children. I have always held on because of the strength of these magic connections.

What have you learned from making art with critically ill children?  Working with the population at the hospitals has humbled me and also taught me to let go of many of the details that slow me down. CHAP's founder, Frank, always encouraged us to abandon the rules and create our own. Watching these kids and adults with tubes and poles and pain and drugs under their belts, tuck in to tiny chairs, under tables that are flat and too low, STILL create beautiful work without any excuse about perfect conditions or proper papers or brushes or light, is a gift and a brilliant lesson. In the little time they might get between transfusions or chemo or whatever procedure or bout of nausea is up next, they create with joy and concentration and a sweet peace and appreciation for their escape into the bliss and freedom of light and color.  If I could maintain that attitude in my own work, I would be satisfied that I was giving the best I could give to the world.

In 2013, CHAP grew significantly, providing over 7,000 healing arts experiences to children and their families dealing with critical and chronic illnesses and disabilities.  CHAP's mobile team of teaching artists bring creative, engaging art projects directly to hospital bedsides, playrooms and waiting rooms each week.

Signing up for CHAP's Monthly Giving Program TODAY supports CHAP in the continuation of what we do best - sharing the Healing Power of Art with children and families!

Mary and CHAP Artists having fun!
Mary and CHAP Artists having fun!
Mary and a happy CHAP Artist!
Mary and a happy CHAP Artist!

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Project Leader

Heather Housen

Portland, OR United States

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Map of Bring healing art to children in medical crisis