While her brother lay in intensive care in a Georgia hospital several years ago, Mary Barnes of Forsyth County decided to take a walk to get away for awhile. When she stumbled across a wall of bright, colorful artwork, what started as a dark day turned into a beautiful day for her.
“Every day, this artwork makes a difference to patients and their families. It gave me hope and reminded me that miracles do happen,” she said.
Barnes was among more than 300 North Carolina Cooperative Extension volunteers who helped create colorful murals, canvas paintings and painted ceiling tiles for Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. She is second vice president of Forsyth’s Extension and Community Association, which sponsored the event.
For four days in late August, the volunteers came to paint the butterflies, fish and other bright paintings drawn by artist John Feight of the Hospital Art Foundation. On larger scenes, paintings were color coded with a drop of paint in each area, creating a kind of giant “paint-by-numbers” project.
Polly Caudle, immediate past president of Forsyth ECA, had also seen the artwork of Feight, whose Hospital Art Foundation brightens hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities around the world. Caudle became acquainted with Hospital Art while in Australia last year and decided this was a project for the Forsyth County group.
She contacted the art foundation and booked Feight to come in August, but there was one catch: The project would require $15,000. With only about three weeks’ notice, Caudle wrote a grant proposal in December to the Winston-Salem Foundation, asking for $14,000. The group planned to use $1,000 of its own funds for the project. In March, she learned they had received the grant.
The ECA of Forsyth County has been active in a number of hospital projects, according to Martha Isenberg, family and consumer education agent in Forsyth.
“I really felt good about the painting project for two reasons,” Isenberg said. “As a community service project, it will have a real lasting impact for years to come on patients and their families who come to the hospital.”
Secondly, Isenberg said, the project served as a highly visible marketing tool for Forsyth ECA. Local TV stations and newspapers covered the event, along with the hospital newsletter. And several hospital staff members and other volunteers have inquired about ECA since participating in the project.
Hospital patients and staff also participated in the effort, even bringing their own ceiling tiles to decorate. The painters were entertained by live harp music.
The painting was done in the newly created Sticht Center for aging. There were colorful fish on the ceiling of the swimming pool, a parrot mural on the wall of a horticulture therapy room and a pink dogwood mural on the ceiling.
Children’s and adolescents’ wards also benefitted from the project with large murals in common areas. Patients were able to help with the painting as well.
“This is incredible for us,” said Pamela Wilson, assistant director of recreational therapy and child life at the medical center. “It helps us meet our patient goals for treatment and gives patients something to focus on that is soothing.”
Feight, the artist who creates the Magic Marker drawings that become colorful paintings, said he started painting at the age of 26, “out of frustration.” At an art show in Paris in 1974, he realized that his painting was benefitting no one but himself, and he thought of his grandfather, a country doctor, who often gave away his medical services.
“Art needs to be functional; it needs to do something of value,” he said.
While volunteering at a Paris hospital, Feight decided that something should be done to improve the environment. Today, Feight’s colorful paintings appear in 165 countries around the world.
“People shouldn’t have to heal and die in a hard place,” he said. “Art is often found in hospital lobbies but tends not to be in treatment rooms. We try to be in treatment rooms.”