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”.
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!
She is usually sprite and upbeat, but on this day, that energy was not there. She sits down at the table and confides in us that she threw up her feeding tube yesterday and it was replaced with one that goes in her nose. She hates it and states, “It feels like you are gagging on something all the time.” She’s so sad and the heaviness is palpable.
Reluctantly, the girl, despite her discomfort, starts making a beaded keychain for her mother. A nurse checks the patient’s IV and gently says, “You’re doing a good job. I know you don’t like the feeding tube, but you need the nutrition. It’s just what we need to do at this point in your treatment. Let’s just make the best of it.”
For a moment, we all just sit around with huge, sad eyes. And then it occurs to me, “You know, this might call for some paint throwing. If you’re feeling a little angry about this feeding tube, do you want to get some of that anger out?” The girl eagerly responds, “Yes, I want to get angry.”
Her therapist overhears the little girl and offers to get a feeding tube that she has for the purpose of ‘medical play.’
We set up a huge ‘tarp’ of white bed sheets taped to the Playroom floor. A CHAP art teacher selects one long white scarf and one toddler T-shirt (for the patient’s younger sibling). No sooner are the two pieces placed on the backdrop does the little girl have her paintbrush in the purple fabric paint and starts whipping the brush around. The flexible feeding tube is laid right on the tarp and it is ready for a beating. One of CHAP’s art teachers hands her a huge bottle of acrylic paint to pummel the tube with. It gets squirted with fabric paint.
Our artist is standing up and smiling now. She asks us to go get her mom so she can see what she is up to. Our artist sits down on the tarp and paints her feet and hands. We just keep asking her what color she wants next . She paints everything within reach.
It’s magic. The whole tenor of the afternoon shifted.
Paint is dripped, thrown, squirted and splattered. At one point, the 10-year old comments that her stomach hurts, but she keeps on working. I don’t know how long this session lasted, but it seemed like a long time.
When the flurry comes to an end, I gently wash the girl’s feet in a green hospital-issued basin. We start to clean up. The paint has leaked through the sheets and the floor is undeniably a mess. The little girl offers to help us clean up. We both exclaim, “No!” as we spend the next 30 minutes on our hands & knees wiping up the floor and adjacent surfaces.
The young artist wants the bed sheet, too, so we tape it up on the wall to dry. The feeding tube is lost in the chaos of colorful paint. I help carry the T-shirt down to the patient’s room. I place it on the windowsill and I say to the girl before I exit the room, “I will remember this day forever.”
Later when we are ready to leave the floor, the nurse says to us ,“Wow. That was amazing. Thank you. We all saw it happen. We saw the story change right in front of our eyes.”
Children's Healing Art Project (CHAP)
A huge THANK YOU to our donors for bringing the healing power of art to children and families! As one grateful mother expressed, “After experiencing CHAP at [the hospital], we went to the art studio several times. We were inspired to create our own sequin-covered tray, a gift for my husband from [his children]. They used their handprints and filled in around them. The accompanying photo is the result, a one-of-a-kind serving tray. Thank you for the inspiration and all you do to bless our children.”
In 2013, CHAP (Children’s Healing Art Project) provided 8,500 unique art experiences, a 30% increase over 2012. We are grateful for your support as it provides art experiences and supplies to children and families dealing with disease, disability or loss. CHAP’s teaching artists, along with volunteers, lead art adventures in hospitals, studio ‘Art Clubs’ and in outreach opportunities. Known for our sequins, glitter and paint, CHAP provides a creative space for an individual to express oneself without the limitation of a diagnosis or disability.
For those of you who live in the Portland, Oregon area, please join us for a Night of Healing Art on Friday, March 28, Tiny’s MLK Coffee (2031 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd) from 6-8 pm. The CHAP-art will be displayed for the month of March and is for sale. CHAP will provide an art activity for all who attend the closing reception.
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