Healing Through Art

Posted On July 8, 2018

Some of Columbia’s most influential art was created for therapeutic purposes. Art therapy soothes and inspires viewers – and the artists themselves. Read how their work came to be and how it has influenced others.

By Rachel Haynie

Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital

Things are looking up in the Children’s Hospital and eyes are drawn to the ceiling gallery where young patients express themselves through art.

Patients at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital are using their artistic talents to help them cope with hospitalization. The child life team and nurses are empowering children to express their feelings through painting and displaying ceiling tiles. Transformation to finished art begins with commonplace 18” x 18” ceiling tiles.

First, patients design their subject (oftentimes, their health care journey,) in pencil, then render it in paints that were safety-checked by the hospital’s engineering and facilities team. “Patients can create their ceiling tiles any way they wish, and can work on their project any time they wish, when their energy levels are optimum,” explained Christy Fink, certified child life specialist.

Fink said the choice of timing for work on the ceiling tile art may match the time family members are visiting “so it brings families together in the creative process. “Once the paint is dry and the ceiling tiles are installed in the hallway ceilings in the nurses’ station, patients take pride in showing the work off to those who come into the unit.”

The Shalom Mural Project

The Shalom Mural Project already has resulted, since 2008, in symbolic, colorful murals painted by groups of seniors, military units, USC students, youth groups, and support groups.

Lyssa Harvey, teacher, therapist and artist, initiated this project as a giveback art therapy program for special groups in Columbia, donating her services and materials. As the owner of The Art and Play Therapy Center of SC, a Licensed Professional Counselor, and Licensed Art and Play Therapist, Harvey specializes in working with children, adolescents and families. The mural project falls outside her clinical arena, providing a collaborative, bonding experience for each participant, and creating social action.

“Creating the murals gives special groups a voice and a lasting image,” Harvey explained. Once completed, the murals are encouraged to be donated to a nonprofit group or agency to be hung in the spirit of Shalom. Shalom, the Hebrew word meaning peace, hello and goodbye, can also mean wholeness and wellness. For instance; at Fort Jackson a special unit of individuals who have had brain injury or PTSD painted five murals with patriotic themes. The paintings now hang in various locations on the military base, as well as in government offices in Columbia. This group, called Creative Journey, meets monthly at the City of Columbia Art Center and is coordinated by City of Columbia City Arts Center director Brenda Oliver. They recently painted a beautiful mural of The City of Columbia, which is on view at The City of Columbia Art Center

“The Sun Still Shines” was created by the Joe Niekro Foundation, a support group of survivors of brain aneurysm survivors that meets monthly at Palmetto Richland Hospital Together, the group painted a large colorful graphic sun; “The Sun Still Shines” will likely be displayed on the neurological unit at Palmetto Richland Hospital.

Other examples of the murals are exhibited at Sistercare, The Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, The Atria assisted living facility, The Rice House, and at the Jewish Community Center. For more information about The Shalom Mural Project go to the Programs page at LyssaHarvey.com

Lee Malarich recalled, “The work created during the time of my battle with cancer was both a physical act to deal with the problem at hand, and a record of the engagement. Very early on, I realized that sitting back and solely letting others determine the design of this medical fight was something I could not do. I pushed to start chemotherapy as early as possible, when the doctors wanted me to recover from surgery for a longer time. I created an image of my disease, and dealt with it, blow by blow in my narrative embroideries. Take THAT! And THAT!”

According to Malarich, “When one's work and one's needs become a single force, a mighty revolt, true art occurs. There is a singular clarity in the endeavor. No compartmentalization. ‘Take physical steps against the disease’ is always my response to those who come to me with questions. The years of images created as a result of cancer represented an exorcism of that devil from my body. After that, I waged other wars. It was as important to leave the cancer work alone once the cancer had left me.”

Malarich knows that aside from her personal benefits, viewing the embroidered narratives also was found to be therapeutic by those who visited the exhibition curated for the patient lobby at the Mayo Center for Humanities in Medicine in Jacksonville, Florida, or who purchased individual pieces for institutional or private collections. “I have seen viewers cry in my presence as they, or loved ones, battled cancer. Other artists have told me they could not describe the process like I did.”

Two exemplary pieces are part of the current art exhibition at the South Carolina State Museum.

Heidi Darr-Hope is continually healed by her own art discoveries, and they include discoveries made while guiding others to the healing power of art.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, much of her work has been done in hospitals, including Palmetto Health Richland and Lexington Medical Center, where she was asked to lead art as healing sessions for adults. In particular, art therapy was made available to patients whose lengthy hospital stays were associated with bone marrow transplants.

The series of classes was labeled “Sometimes Words Are Not Enough.”

The sessions resonated with patients for whom typical support groups were of no interest; they began with demystifying art. “Many who benefitted from participation were not gallery goers and usually had not created art since elementary school,” Darr-Hope noted.

Working with shapes and symbols, color and texture, Darr-Hope opened new – or fresh - vistas of expression to patients dealing with the trauma attendant to dealing with a life- (threatening disease.

“Their bodies were being taken care of; this art-making was for their souls. It always was - and still is - such a gift for me to show people how visual expression can enable them to discover aspects of their interior lives, including the resilience of the human spirit,”Darr-Hope said.

Remaining to represent those artful years are several permanent installations. Visitors stepping off the elevator on the 11th floor at Palmetto Richland are greeted by selected pieces from Healing Icons’ traveling exhibit and two large mixed-media Mindful Mandalas created by Darr-Hope. Each wing of the 11th floor is a venue for an interactive sculpture, “Reliquaries of Healing,” into which patients, family members and visitors can place their own written notes of hope and healing.

Connecting art to healing came much earlier to Darr-Hope after recurring dreams – some nightmares – began disrupting her own life. “After much study and contemplation, I realized I was experiencing unresolved grief over losses, especially the loss of my little brother of a brain tumor.”

She turned her own discoveries into pathways for others to plumb their psyches, in time founding Healing Icons as a not-for-profit 501(c)3. Through that structure she continues to help countless people reckon with life-altering circumstances, especially cancer.