Unlikely Artists, Odd Space, Open Eyes

Today’s New Haven Register has a story on one of that city’s “best-kept secrets”: a 4th-floor corridor leading from the Smilow Cancer Hospital to a parking garage. It doubles as a “mini-art museum.”

The “06880” hook — beyond the hospital being named for a philanthropic local family — is that the current exhibit, “Abstract Notes,” was created in conjunction with the Westport Arts Center.

All the art — called “almost breathtaking for its simplicity and meaning” by the Register — was produced by people affected by cancer.

Nell Bernegger

Nell Bernegger

Nine patients and 1 family member worked with Westport teaching artist Nell Bernegger, a WAC member. In five 2-hour sessions, she helped them learn how to express their feelings through art.

WAC education manager Sarah Kelley notes that the patients did not “over-think” their work. It was “about living in the moment and letting go,” she says.

At tables with heavy watercolor paper, brushes, water, mixing trays and gouache, they heard Bernegger talk about her own painting process. They meditated, did a brief breathing session, and got to work.

At the end of each session, the budding artists talked with the group about what their art meant to them.

Curator Helen Klisser During — the WAC director of visual arts — chose 1 painting by each participant. She had them framed, and mounted on the walls.

"Vibrance" by Cheryl Thomas, on display at the Smilow Cancer Center. (Photo by Arnold Gold, courtesy of New Haven Register)

“Vibrance” by Cheryl Thomas, on display at the Smilow Cancer Center. (Photo by Arnold Gold, courtesy of New Haven Register)

Everyone walking to and from the parking garage enjoys them. And, the Register notes, they’ve opened some eyes.

“I see these patients every day,” a hospital staffer said. “But I had no idea they could do this.”

For During, “that’s just the point. When art comes from the heart, it doesn’t matter if you’re an artist or not. The work touches everyone.”

(To read the entire New Haven Register story, click here. This is part of a broader “WAC Gives Back” program, which brings healing arts experiences to local veterans, students at the Bridge Academy, seniors at Meadow Ridge, and children through “Special Arts.”)



One response to “Unlikely Artists, Odd Space, Open Eyes

  1. John Hartwell

    Art really seems to be at the core of this very special town.