Brush on Paint, Swirl in Some Glitter, And Suddenly Everything Looks Better

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By Alice Reid
Monday, December 31, 2007

"Pink glitter, please!" said Michele Pinczuk, eyeing all the artistic possibilities arrayed in containers spread across her hospital bed.

Children's Hospital art therapist Heather Stemas produced the desired medium, and Michele finished decorating a tile that will become part of a ceramic wall decoration in a hospital corridor.

Stemas's visit to Michele's bedside was probably the highlight of the Silver Spring 14-year-old's day. For a half-hour or so, she could forget about how bad she felt.

"When Heather came in, it was like a lifeline," Michele said.

Stemas and fellow Children's art therapist Nora Stinley are lifelines for a lot of youngsters facing some of the most trying times of their lives.

"It really helps to give children an opportunity to express themselves during what can be a painful, exhausting and lonely experience," Stemas said. "It also gives them an opportunity to play, to be a normal kid."

In a place where doctors are delivering some of the world's most advanced medicine, art plays an important role in the healing process. Along with Stemas and Stinley, Victoria Payton-Webber also works with patients, using music. The team tries to involve kids in everything from puppet shows to dance, to exhibits of the works they create.

"Art and the use of art is extremely healing for children, whether they're looking at art or working with an art therapist," said Tina Lassiter, who oversees the hospital's art therapy programs as well as the institution's art acquisitions and even the colors on the hospital's walls and floors.

"Children are so free. They do their thing, and you get a look at what's going on inside," she said.

Stinley has just completed a project in collaboration with the Phillips Collection. Using reproductions of more than a dozen of the museum's paintings, including Picasso's "Bullfight," Paul Klee's "The Way to the Citadel" and Georgia O'Keeffe's "Red Hills, Lake George," she urged patients to talk about what they saw in the works. Then she encouraged them to create their own interpretations.

Then the Phillips framed 30 of those works and hosted an "opening" this month for an exhibit of the youngsters' work. The exhibit runs through January at the Phillips.

Just about any patient at Children's who feels well enough can participate in art therapy. Therapists get referrals from nurses and work closely with hospital social workers, who often know about children who could use a few hours of painting or drawing or writing poetry.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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