Transformation: Lemons into lemonade

I was thinking today about what our programs teach the kids. People don’t come to the hospital expecting to make art, and at most hospitals art is not part of the process. But healing and creativity have a lot in common. They are both about transformation—making lemons into lemonade.

We start by meeting kids and families where they are, literally. We are part of the hospital staff. We know the routine, who’s who, and how to find your way around. We are there to help them find a way to just “be” in the treatment space. We invite them to let their imaginations, their stories, their interests and personalities help them through. And what they learn, I hope, is to trust their imaginations.

This summer at Lombardi we’ve been working on a group project that involves making “Big Heads” out of cardboard boxes. They’re part of a bigger project, which I’ll tell you more about in a later blog entry. But what is cool about the process so far is that kids can look at a cardboard box and see cheetahs, birds, monkeys, people, characters—and with  duct tape and tempera paint we work together to make them come alive. Spending an afternoon transforming a box into a graceful, beautiful, funky piece of art gives a kid a real feeling of accomplishment.

When I was in fourth grade we had an assignment to create a 3-D moth or butterfly out of paper. We were given two large sheets of white paper and told to draw our chosen butterfly as big as possible. We cut out the shape, traced it onto another piece of paper, and colored both pieces to show the markings of the butterfly. We then stuffed them with crushed paper and cotton balls and stapled around the edges. I made a luna moth, which was beautiful with its pale green wings, brown body, fuzzy antennae and graceful shape. It felt like a huge accomplishment when I was done. To me, it looked like a real, giant luna moth. The teacher hung all the butterflies around the classroom for a while, and they looked great. That was over forty years ago, and I still remember both the beauty of the object and how great I felt about making it.

I hope that many of the kids we work with will look back and remember the wonderful things they made, the solutions they figured out, and the feeling of accomplishment that came from the work. It’s a surprise—you never know what you can do until you try.


Mixed Media Stars

Working in a hospital clinic often means an abundance of out of date magazines. As a mixed media artist it is hard to just toss them out, even when the boxes start to pile up. Although there are always a few people interested in collage work, the number of old magazines far outweighs the images used. One patient and her parent introduced making layered flowers out of magazine pages, and that was fun, but, while the flowers were pretty, I decided to find other uses for our old magazines.

I wanted to make a star banner for the fourth of July. I made three star-shaped templates in descending sizes out of card stock. I then started to look for interesting colors and patterns in the magazines. When we had made a lot of cut-out stars, I asked people to pick out two or three. We started by folding each spoke of the star in half lengthwise towards the center, folding in to the wrong side, giving the stars dimension. We then glued a circle of foam between the layers to keep them from collapsing.

While this project was easy for many ages, the parents were the ones most invested. Parents accompany their children to outpatient appointments, so they too spend long hours with little to do. They would start by using the stars I had cut out, but then they moved to searching for images. The parents really liked having something to do at the art area without having to “create”. Although this was creating, it seemed safe and non-judgmental. Many parents said they liked the activity because even though they were not creative people, they could explore color and texture through the images.

A few parents moved on from the safety of the stars to more individual work as the clinic days rolled by. Although my intention for the star banner was for the younger patients to create, I was glad the parents took over. It brought more families to the art area to talk, share stories, bond, and create.

Scribbling Sibs at Children’s National Medical Center

At the main campus of Children’s National Medical Center the “Scribbling Sibs” program is designed to better support our patients and families during the summer months. In June, July and August siblings have their own art space, located in the waiting room of our clinic, which provides them with a unique opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings using supplies from our mobile art cart. From drawings of favorite animals and sports teams to self-portraits and inventive creatures that decorate and brighten the clinic walls, it is apparent that children continuously embrace their creativity, spontaneity and imaginativeness in this space. In addition to their individual creations, patients and siblings have worked together to create group murals in the clinic waiting area. Our favorite so far is “Under the Sea,” an ocean themed mural filled with scuba divers, fish, turtles, crabs and a variety of other googley-eyed sea creatures. It has been so much fun to a part of the CNMC team this summer!