Roper St. Francis teams up with the Gibbes Museum 

Art Therapy

"Wetlands" (detail) by Brianna Stello is one of the pieces that Roper St. Francis patients can choose to hang in their rooms

Brianna Stello

"Wetlands" (detail) by Brianna Stello is one of the pieces that Roper St. Francis patients can choose to hang in their rooms

The rehabilitation center at Roper St. Francis Hospital is already a cheerful place. People come here to get better. The sun shines through the hallway windows, and patients work hard in the physical therapy room.

But still, it is a hospital. You don't have to look far to find its clinical markings. Drab walls, dull lights, and beeping machinery line the halls and cloud the rooms.

Mr. Fields has been a patient at Roper for a few weeks and is a participant in a brand new program called the Art of Healing. Designed to provide patients with artwork they can keep in their rooms, as well as to host a series of public artistic conversations, the Art of Healing offers hope and beauty to those who need it.

Mr. Fields has chosen a photograph called Lupines, New Zealand, from artist Michael Bagg, M.D. It's an eye-catching image of hazy mountains with vivid purple flowers spilling out the forefront. "I find it restful," he says, staring at it from the edge of his hospital bed. Everything else around him is clinical. "When you're sitting here, and you get tired of staring at the boob tube, you can look at that instead. I spent a year in Vietnam, and I used to dream of mountains."

His eyes cloud when we talk about leaving it behind after his discharge. "I know I can't take it with me." From his tone, one can infer that he wishes he could.

The Art of Healing is the result of collaboration between the Gibbes Museum of Art and Roper St. Francis Hospital. It's the brainchild of Dr. John Hallett. "Care space should feel like home space. We believe images and art help us to feel healthy, to feel good," he says.

Dr. Hallett has lived this ideal both in his home and throughout his career. His office is packed with pieces of art, and if you ask him, he can (and will) tell you about each one. There's a mix of abstracts, landscapes, portraits, and even a model ship crafted by his engineer father.

So when artist and composer Richard Moryl convalesced in the rehabilitation center and requested to decorate his room with his own artwork, Dr. Hallett readily agreed. Paintings were hung on the walls, transforming the sterile space into a cozy artist's den.

After his discharge, Moryl donated a painting to Roper, which kick-started the Art of Healing. Hallett wanted to keep growing the program, so he reached out to Angela Mack, the Gibbes' executive director. Thanks to a longstanding relationship and the appeal of what was so obviously a good idea, Mack and the Gibbes hopped on board. From there, the pieces fell into place.

First came the artists. Hallett, Mack, and their teams reached out to artists in the Charleston community with a request: a one-year loan of a piece of art to hang on the walls of patient rooms in the rehabilitation center. To date, more than 16 artists, many of them physicians themselves, have loaned 22 works of art.

Hallett and Mack have worked together to ensure a diverse collection, finding pieces to suit a range of artistic tastes. While each piece remains at the hospital, it is kept secure by an internal check-out system, a locked closet, and WanderGuard security chips. When patients arrive in the facility, they're provided with a catalog of artwork, and if they desire can have one hung in their room for the duration of their stay.

Photographer Brianna Stello provided two pieces to the Art of Healing, and has met with two patients who chose to have her artwork displayed on their walls.

One patient chose One Love, a series of photos of two men, dreadlocks entangled, lying down and shot from above. Stello met that patient at a recent reception. "She was a riot," Stello says, laughing. One of the men in the photos happens to be a friend of hers. After hearing the patient gush over him, Stello was able to pass along the compliments. "I was paying it forward, from one positive person to another. It was the best paycheck I've ever gotten."

She pauses before talking about her other print, called "Wetlands." It's a photo taken far out on Folly Beach, of fallen trees and lovers embracing with the Morris Island Lighthouse in the background. The man who selected "Wetlands" told Stello he used to go out there with his daughter to collect sea grasses and chose the photo so he could sit and remember. "This is why artists do what they do," Stello says.

So what's next for the Art of Healing? Right now, Dr. Hallett knows patients are enjoying it — that's evident by the rising number of pieces sold to discharged patients and their families — but the hospital needs more data to document its effectiveness. Roper plans to run a study that will include a quality of life survey to see if the artwork truly improves the patients' stay.

After talking to patient Mr. Jenkins, it seems clear a positive result is on the way. Hanging in his room is A New Day by Rick Reinert, a painting that drips with the deep blues and golds of the sun shining through a copse of trees. "It draws your eyes to it," Jenkins says. "That's it. The trees and the sun coming through. When I look at the painting, it's like it's time to get up, to rise and shine." Mr. Jenkins will be leaving soon, but the painting will remain behind, ready to bring joy to another patient.

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