Foundation Firsts

We recently sat down with John Feight, our Founder, to talk about some of the many “firsts” for the Foundation. We hope you will enjoy these as much as we did.

The very first hospital: Northside Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia
The very first wall mural: Ground floor, Psychiatric ward, Northside Hospital
The first hospital outside of Georgia: Sunrise Hospital, Las Vegas, Nevada
The first local news coverage: interview and story by Deborah Norville
The first national news show: CBS Morning Show by Bob Schieffer
The first national magazine: Guideposts or Forbes, about the same time
The first nursing home: located on Peachtree Street in Atlanta
The first country to paint in outside of the US: France
The first donated dollar by a patient: White Memorial, Los Angeles, California
His first painting, ever: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus
The first ceiling tile: 2nd Floor, Cancer floor, Northside Hospital
The first PaintFest multi-panel kit: Northside Hospital
The first corporate sponsors: Delta Air Lines and The Coca-Cola Company
The first Olympics: Seoul, South Korea in 1988
The first studio location: Sandy Springs, Georgia
The first military PaintFest: 121st Evacuation Hospital, Seoul, South Korea

And some bonus questions –
His favorite color to paint: yellow
His favorite thing to paint: the sun

We hope we have brightened your day with some historical Foundation trivia.

Two sisters united by a PaintFest

 

It’s been six months since we wrapped up our last stop of PaintFest America. The trees are bare here in Marietta, Georgia, and the sweltering days of summer are far behind us. Winter is here, or at least it visits from time to time, and the hustle and bustle of countless preparations for our 50-state bonanza is becoming a distant memory.

 

All of the murals that were painted in each stop across the country have been touched up and are now hanging in their respective hospitals. But as we learned in mid-December, PaintFest America isn’t over. It will never be over.

Just before Christmas, we received an email from a participant who wanted to express just how much the project meant to her and her family. Tears were abounding as each member of our team sat down to read her sentiments.

 

And now we share this story with you.

 

When I called Bonnie Griffith of Louisville, Kentucky for an interview the other day, I was received by a jubilant and cheerful woman who had just finished chopping up celery for her lentil stew. She informed me that she was part of a soup swap, as well as a juicing club; and I immediately started imagining the smell of wheatgrass and the thundering pulse of blenders ringing in my ears. Soon thereafter, I learned that Bonnie was originally from Western Massachusetts; and with the Falcons and Patriots Super Bowl match-up around the corner, she said she was a little worried about bringing up football on our call. Fortunately for her, she was safe with me. I’m originally from New England too.

 

But, we didn’t set up a call to talk about wheatgrass and the Pats, although, those are fun topics. Instead, we arranged to speak because of the way that Bonnie and her sister Connie’s  PaintFest America story had touched us.

 

When I asked Bonnie how she first heard about PaintFest America, she told me about her journey as a cancer survivor, and the benefits that her hospital provided for her during her treatment and continues to provide for her now. She was offered free massages, yoga classes, tai chi, and art therapy classes, among other things. But as soon as the word art came out of her mouth, her energy shifted, and her passion was clear. Til this day, Bonnie goes to art class every Thursday, and it was her teacher Emily that had promoted the PaintFest America event that would be taking place in their hospital (Norton Cancer Institute) on July 21st.

 

Now this is where the story gets fun, because the 21st of July is Bonnie’s birthday! However, she battled quite the predicament, because as a devout Patriots fan, she spends every birthday at training camp watching her beloved team prepare for the upcoming season. What to do! As it turns out, this year the Pats would start training camp a little later in the month, freeing up Bonnie to participate in PaintFest America. So she gathered up a few of her friends from her juice club, painted the day away, and got some fresh juice across the street to cap it off.

 

And then she had a thought.

 

Her younger sister Connie, a self proclaimed “handicapable” woman, would love this. The timing would work out perfectly. Bonnie would go up to Foxboro for training camp and visit her sister. PaintFest America would roll through Dartmouth in New Hampshire on the 16th of August and she would bring Connie to the event. When speaking with Bonnie, I was touched by her devotion to her sister. Being housebound, Bonnie expressed the importance of getting Connie out and about as often as possible, whether from her apartment to the grocery store, a scenic car ride, or in this case, PaintFest America.

 

But wait, there would be training camp on the 16th! Once again, Bonnie faced a predicament. Being a Boston sports fan is not for the faint of heart. But alas, the fates were in her favor, and that would be an off day.

 

So Bonnie and Connie loaded into the car at 6 am on the 16th of August and made their way to New Hampshire for a day of painting at the Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center. On the phone call, as we were recounting the event, Bonnie kept mentioning “this nice couple”. Immediately I knew who she was speaking about, our long time, super volunteers Sheila and Lamont Glover. She was floored by their kindness, and spoke of how they were “a dream to work with”.

 

All in all it was a wonderful day, one that the two would cherish henceforth.  Look at those smiles!

 

Unfortunately, we would learn from Bonnie’s Christmas letter that soon after their wonderful day at PaintFest America, Connie had started to decline in her health. “She was in and out of the Hospital, and I spent all fall and winter visiting her, it made me so upset, especially after all the fun we had in the summer, she was doing so well.”

 

Despite struggling with her health, when asked what her favorite memory of their visit together was, Connie listed PaintFest America as number one; and for the first time ever, she decided to include a photo on her Christmas cards… a photo of her holding the panel of “America the Beautiful” which she had painted in New Hampshire.

 

 

 

Inspired, Bonnie followed suit and included a photo of herself from PaintFest America.

 

 

Fortunately, Bonnie informed us recently that Connie is doing much better as Spring approaches, and that she is in a rehab center and has been eating, breathing and talking on her own now.  It is a long process.

 

The two sisters have made it their goal to make it back to the Norris Cotton Cancer Center to see the mural that they painted hanging on the wall. “Hopefully we can get up there by the time training camp rolls around.” I was so touched by their desire to bring PaintFest America full circle, and I can’t wait to hear about the day that they make it happen.

 

I think it’s worth sharing the way that Bonnie ended her letter to us…she said, “Thank you for organizing that whole affair. You will never know how much it meant to our family and our sister  Connie’s healing.”

 

But the funny thing is, that’s why we exist, to inspire hope and healing… and it means so much to us, to know that our mission is being fulfilled.

 

 

 

Painting in a Different Language

We stood in a room awaiting the patients arrival. Anticipating the looks on their faces when they saw the activity they would get to participate in and the wonder in their eyes of the artwork in front of them.

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This was my first international PaintFest. We were in Beijing, China, in a hospital much different than any hospital I had ever been in. The patients were children, escorted by their nurses and mothers or fathers. When they entered the room, I saw the excitement I was expecting to see in these little one’s eyes. All the canvases strategically laid out on the tables, with the paint bottles and brushes ready to be used by their little hands. They started giggling and looking around, eager for someone to tell them to start painting. But what I loved most about these little faces was not necessarily that they were excited for the event, but that they were quickly forgetting the pain and complications they were going through at the time. Instead, they were engulfed in a fun and creative activity. Many of these tiny patients were dealing with severe skin diseases, burns, or tumors. Most of these children were dealing with illnesses that you could see with the human eye, not just internal diagnoses. However, these children painted and laughed with a confidence about them. They talked with each other, and helped each other with their canvases. Many of them began painting silly faces and pictures on their disposable aprons and took goofy pictures with each other.

What I think was most enjoyable though, was to see the way the parents were lighting up after seeing their children paint and laugh and smile. They too forgot about the illnesses and complications, and became wrapped up in these couple of hours of painting and laughter.

Because the majority did not speak English, I did not know what they were saying, but they were all speaking with a huge smile on their face, which says a lot more than words sometimes.

This is what FFHA is on a mission for. To bring life to a place where a lot of desperation tends to live. Artwork is more than pictures on a wall. Each painting tells a story and touches another life. From one care facility to another, we spread joy!

 

Anna Kathryn Simmons

Hospital Art is Simply a Friend

Jessie

My mom hands me the keys and gives me instructions to retrieve a pillow from the car. I smooth the wrinkles from my Easter dress, type the exit code into the keypad by the door, and enter the rest of the nursing home. As I walk through the hallways, I decide that the décor of this nursing home is my favorite so far. Each time I am in this building, I look into the dining rooms, bingo rooms, and common areas to see those who have experienced much more life than I have. I watch them with a reverence that keeps me glued to their mannerisms and their wrinkles, each representing a different memory. The rooms are decorated with objects and traditions of decades past. Old sewing machines, typewriters, paintings, pianos—they all line the walls, which emit the soothing classical music that I have grown so used to.

The first time I walked into this building, I asked my mom why these objects were there. I already knew the answer, but such thoughtfulness was something that I wanted confirmed. “They put those things in here to make the patients feel more at home; they’re things they’re all used to.” I was so grateful in this moment, and from every moment on when I passed through the halls, to whoever chose to spend the extra time, thought, and money to place these simple objects in a place where they would have such a large impact.

Hospital art, like the sewing machines and old CDs, is a small gesture that can leave an irreplaceable impression on a patient. A bright painting can lead to a number of positive consequences that can change the course of a patient, doctor, or visitor’s day and outlook. A painting means that someone is reaching out to them, not with their hands, but with their brush. These murals send a message of hope that overrides all communication barriers; they are a reminder of what is beautiful in the world, and an encouraging word when no one else seems to understand. Art cannot give prognoses and it cannot receive bad news. It is simply a friend.

A sense of relief overcame me when I first saw the art in my grandparents’ nursing home; I knew that they were in a good place that cared about their comfort. I want the chance to help provide this feeling to someone else. When a loved-one or even you, yourself, are sick, it is typically a time filled with questions, but art can provide a reliable comfort, as it did for me, that can soothe those around it into having confidence that things will turn out okay. Hospital art cannot be picked up at a pharmacy, it cannot be injected into the skin, and it cannot be bought over the counter, but it is a medicine nonetheless. Art cannot cure diseases, but it can it provides comfort and optimism that pills and syrups cannot.

Jessie Blaeser

Reflections on the Impact of Hospital Art

Palmers

The last suitcase has been put away and the passports are secure until the next journey, but I find it hard to move on.  The memories and images are too strong, too vivid to simply turn the page and carry on.  All of the senses are in play.  The smells will not fade.  The sounds continue to echo in my mind.  The new relationships formed stir the soul.  The smiles on the patient’s faces are indelible.

 

The Foundation for Hospital Art just returned from a trip to Uruguay and Brazil, where we painted in numerous hospitals, nursing homes, and care facilities.  Our group consisted of 17 people, but once we hit the ground, we grew to an army.  As the local support gained an understanding of our mission, their passion and enthusiasm exploded.

 

Each PaintFest was a unique experience.  Here is a sampling:

 

At an open-air street market, we sought to gain awareness by enlisting the public in painting for a nursing home.  The sound of live music and the sight of foreigners drew in the crowd and once the paint started flying, they were delighted to give others hope.

 

At a local elementary school, we continued to paint for nursing homes.  The unbridled joy and enthusiasm of children is the same all over the world.  We had to form lines and rotate the children because everyone wanted to paint.  There is something joyful about a paintbrush in the hands of a child.  The world’s problems can be solved; all you have to do is give them some paint.

 

At two different nursing homes, we laughed, loved, and held the hands of the residents.  We took pictures of the bright canvases and shared our gift with the young at heart.  We were there to make sure that on this day and all those going forward that they would never be alone.

 

At a general hospital in Montevideo, we painted bedside with patients and then at various locations throughout the hospital.  As families and patients waited upon doctors, we brought life and joy to the staff, nurses, and patients.  Everyone joined in the cause to transform the interior of the hospital.

 

At a treatment center for disabled children, we were awestruck by the love and compassion of the staff.  Quickly our staff began to paint with the children.  We held their hands and guided the brushes, all in an effort to change the world.  In the end, we hung six murals throughout the facility.  Words cannot convey the change.  The response from the staff was overwhelming.

 

Our last stop was a hospital in Brazil, where we painted with cancer patients.  Weakened by the cancer drug regimen, the patients’ hollow eyes followed us as we began to paint.  Some had the energy to paint, while others had family members step forward.  As each stroke was applied, you could see the smiles begin to grow.  We were giving hope one brushstroke at a time.  We will not cure cancer, but we will encourage and give hope for a brighter day.

 

I know the memory of our experience will fade over time.  For this is reality, but I hold on to the people we met and the lives that we touched.  Our team was steadfast and full of purpose.  We were true to the mission – art has the power to love and comfort.  Together, we accomplished what we set out to do.  We may be home now, but our hearts are still in South America.

 

Scott Feight