Not long ago Claudia Mengel heard about a doctor, working long hours and many days in the ICU. One night she took off her mask, and announced she was going home to do something that would lift her spirits: She would buy a beautiful piece of art.
The story resonated with Mengel, a Westport artist. Her daughter Rebecca Allinder — a 2005 Staples High School graduate — now works as an ICU nurse at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Mengel asked if her co-workers wanted a gift of art. Rebecca’s enthusiastic response sparked something larger: a campaign called “Art from the Hearts.”
Mengel asked more than a dozen artist friends if they could donate some of their work. That snowballed to 40 artists, who gave multiple pieces. Their gifts raised the spirits of more than 150 frontline healthcare workers.
Emily Laux was not surprised at the response. One of 8 Westport artists who contributed, she says, “as artists, we cannot take away the stress of these workers. We can’t give them a good night’s sleep or a comforting hug. But we can give them art that will bring some joy into their homes.”
Besides Laux and Mengel, other Westport artists involved in the project are Jeanine Esposito, Jen Greely, Julie Headland, Cecilia Moy Fradet, Steve Parton and Rebecca Swanson.
Mengel and Allinder brought the dozens of works to New Jersey. The hospital’s ICU break room was set up as a temporary art gallery. Using a lottery, the nurses and their colleagues each selected a piece of art for their homes.
Each also got a bonus. Every artist wrote a personal note accompanying their work, thanking the healthcare worker receiving it.
Rebecca says that when word of the project spread through the hospital, the break room turned into a show. Personnel from other departments told her that taking a break from their busy day to look at art was peaceful and calming.
Her ICU colleagues, meanwhile, still talk about the piece of art that they took home, where they hung it, and how much they enjoy it. The personalized thank- you notes brought many to tears.
“It is an honor to do what we do as nurses for our community,” Rebecca says. “But reading the notes made us feel special and appreciated.”
Her mother quotes William Wordsworth: “The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.” She meant the frontline medical personnel.
But those little acts of kindness apply to the artists as well. And — thanks to their talent and generosity — those acts will be remembered every time a man or woman arrives home from a long, awful hospital shift.
(Hat tip: Diane Johnson)