Hospital artwork is designed to heal, nurture

July 5, 2011

By Emily Baer

‘Anahit’ by Julie Speidel. Contributed

Committee worked to find local artists of all ages for collection

Swedish/Issaquah will continue the medical center’s lauded promotion of healing through art. The new hospital features approximately 200 pieces by more than 60 Northwest artists — several of them from the Eastside — in the medical office building and emergency room.

“When patients become absorbed in a work of art, their bodies’ physiology actually changes, moving from sensations of stress and fear to feelings of relaxation and hope,” according to Swedish/Issaquah’s website.

“It’s pretty simple — art does heal,” volunteer chairwoman of the Art Committee Joyce Turner said. “It humanizes what could be a dehumanizing environment.”

A history and culture of art

Swedish Medical Center has embodied that philosophy since the 1960s, when then-Surgeon Medical Director and CEO Allan Lobb decided to incorporate art into the culture of the hospital.

Turner assumed Lobb’s artistic role when he retired in 1988. She has been adorning the walls and spaces of Swedish facilities ever since. The medical center’s art portfolio now numbers in the 2,000s.

The search for the Issaquah campus’s collection began with an art committee of 15 hospital staff and community members, Turner said. They were charged with supporting an environment associated with the hospital’s overarching theme of “nature, nurture and community.” The committee structure was key to creating a collection with a personality that befits the community in which the hospital is situated.

From there, members of the committee visited galleries seeking the works of Northwest artists that reflected the “nature, nurture and community” theme. These art lovers and connoisseurs brought their chosen pieces of art to the entire group for review.

The result is what Turner calls “an eclectic collection” of sculpture, metal and wood, oil and caustic paintings, watercolor and fine prints.

“Some people will hate some of it, some people will love it all,” Turner said. “When you have a large committee you do have people with different tastes, but it kind of all balances out.”

Healing, engagement and distraction

That’s the beauty of art, she said. One piece may spark a host of opinions, but each piece is meant to provoke thought in all its viewers.

“It’s all about healing and an engagement,” she said. “And a distraction for people.”

The Swedish/Issaquah collection will also incorporate 17 works by 34 children and young adults from the Eastside. The art committee communicated a request for young artists from the Issaquah School District and recruited Brooke Kempner to create final products out of the students’ work. A great example of Kempner’s and the children’s work is “Horse Joy,” a collage of eight students’ drawings of a horse.

Swedish’s extensive art collection is financed by donations, gifts to the Art Endowment Fund and 1 percent of all construction costs.

According to the Washington State Arts Commission website, the state enacted a law in 1974 requiring 0.5 percent of construction costs for any public place to pay for the acquisition of art. King County, in fact, had established a similar ordinance the year before that required 1 percent of public place construction costs to be set aside for art.  Swedish had been including art into its building costs since the 1960s.

“Swedish kind of made incorporating art the norm,” Turner said. “After the state policy was passed, other private nonprofits began following suit.”

The Swedish/Issaquah art committee collaborated with artEAST, a nonprofit visual arts organization with the mission of supporting the community’s artists, to find local artists to contribute to the collection.

“Our role was to gather portfolios for Swedish to introduce them to additional Issaquah/Sammamish and area artists they might not otherwise be familiar with,” artEAST Executive Director Karen Abel said. “ArtEAST membership consists of 200 artists and art supporters, so we had a wider contact list than they did.”

Pieces are life-affirming, an escape

‘Crimson Kiss’ by Susan Melrath. Contributed

Several of the local artists Swedish/Issaquah features are passionate about the role of art in public spaces and its healing power in a medical setting.

Dixie Parker-Fairbanks, an acrylic painter based in Issaquah, knows the value of art in hospital settings well. She spent the last seven months of her husband’s life in the University of Washington hospital. Richard Fairbanks was a well-known potter who had dedicated his life to creating art.

“One of the things we did in the evening was take him around to look at the artwork, to get out of the sterile room,” Parker-Fairbanks said. “I hung one of my flower paintings in his room and the doctors all came and looked at it. It gave them a pause from their work.”

Her piece, “Bucharest Bouquet,” of a blue-and-white vase holding pale yellow sunflowers on a multishaded blue background has been moved from the Lake Sammamish Swedish campus to the new Issaquah campus.

Redmond painter Susan Melrath, an artist who Swedish Art Program Manager Nancy Stoaks called an exciting new addition to the collection, was surprised by the hospital’s choice of her work.

“I heard that hospitals didn’t buy pieces with red in them,” she said.

The art committee purchased Melrath’s “Crimson Kiss,” a large flower of myriad brilliant reds.

“I asked them why they bought that piece,” Melrath said. “They said it’s life affirming. I think that’s true about my work.”

Another Issaquah artist Stoaks said she is looking forward to featuring, Ricco di Stefano, said he creates paintings of “nondescript locations that people can project their own places onto.”

Di Stefano’s depiction of a nonspecific farm, “Morning Mist,” is an expression of a memory of a feeling he had.

“People seem to go home in my paintings,” di Stefano said. “They find a place that makes them happy. They escape.”

‘Art is a bare necessity’

Paul Vexler, a Snohomish artist whose “Big Suspended Six Inch Closed Knot” is on display in the atrium entry of the hospital, spoke about the importance of art in public places.

“I think that it’s a reminder that, well, buildings are more than places to work in, to get well in, to live in,” he said. “There is more to life than the bare necessities, or maybe art is a bare necessity.”

Sammamish artist and framer David Allison said his Swedish pieces, “Monument,” “Plowing at Dawn” and “Summer Green,” speak to the area, its farms and its natural history.

“I think art can have a healing presence,” Allison said. “People come through hospitals needing health and needing peace. Art supplies a lot of that.”

Vashon Island sculptor Julie Speidel’s blue copper, almost Picasso-esque sculpture “Anahit” is in one of the hospital’s courtyards. In all her work, Speidel captures the beautiful and the mysterious.

She referenced an Albert Einstein quote to explain her proclivity for mystery — “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.”

“Art is powerful and mysterious,” she added. “ It’s wonderful if you can feel that going into a hospital. I think that art allows you to tap into beauty and beauty is healing.”

Emily Baer: 392-6434, or Comment at

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One Response to “Hospital artwork is designed to heal, nurture”

  1. Robin Woodward on January 22nd, 2013 1:47 pm

    Are you accepting art donations?
    I have many oil paintings that I would like to donate.
    Thank you,

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