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Mindful Expressions
Meyer 4’s art gallery brings hope to psychiatric patients

Nurse Ferrell Campbell has been known to rescue patient artwork from the trash, smoothing wrinkles with an iron.

 
   
 
   

From a distance, it looks like any art gallery. Long white walls lined with beautifully matted works of charcoal, watercolor, pen and ink, and cuts of paper. But take a closer look and poignant, often troubling narratives appear: a gray, barren landscape with one leafless tree; a woman’s head emerging from a bottle marked “crazy pills;” a hand squeezing grapes so hard the juice is running down the wrist.

These boldly personal pieces, showcased on Meyer 4, were created in occupational therapy by eating- and mood-disorder patients as a way to express their inner turmoil. But through the insight of several nurses, the gallery itself has become a therapeutic tool that encourages patients to open up in ways they hadn’t before.

The gallery got its start when Melinda Walker, a nurse clinician, found a patient’s charcoal drawing and began collecting more. Then it was fellow nurse Ferrell Campbell’s artistic eye and generous donation that got the gallery into the corridor. Using half of the $2,500 she made from selling one of her own pieces, Campbell carefully chose mats and frames and helped Walker to arrange them as any professional curator would.

After 42 years as a psychiatric nurse, Campbell was amazed at how one piece, “Bruised,” affected her. With just a few pastel crayons, the artist’s desperate self-portrait reveals a sadness that knocks you over. (Think Edvard Munch’s The Scream times 10.) “It took me aback the way the patient exposed herself,” explains Campbell, who oversees the gallery. “It was pure hopelessness on a page.”

The expressive benefits for the artists were to be expected, says Campbell, a master’s-prepared counselor and artist. The surprise came when the gallery first went up in 1998: Patients who weren’t forthcoming began to use the gallery as a springboard for teasing out complex therapeutic issues with staff.

So in 2002, it became the platform for the Art and Imagery Group, a weekly support session created by nurse Stuart Hendin and developed by Campbell. Patients tour the gallery, then choose a piece that evokes memories or feelings. During the group discussions, it’s clear many take heart in the artistic expressions of people with problems similar to their own.

The gallery was so successful that more pieces (including some of Campbell’s and Walker’s) were added in 2002, and the spacious therapy room at the end of the corridor is now filled with staff photography.

Walker still accepts patients’ works and hopes to expand. “The gallery helps this unit feel like a friendly, healing place,” she explains. “It says, We value you as a human being, beyond your illness.”

—Lindsay Roylance

 

 

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