An event Saturday at Southern Vermont Arts Center will mark the completion of a project to place artwork in patient rooms in every hospital in the state.
Since 2009 the Susan Sebastian Foundation has placed paintings in hospital rooms across Vermont one by one to honor the wishes of the Foundation’s namesake. Southwestern Vermont Medical Center will be number 16 as 54 pieces of work will soon adorn the walls. Gil Myers, an attorney for Sebastian’s mother Elise Braun, has been instrumental in the Foundation’s mission.
“And along toward the end before she died she said to her mother ‘If I get better, I’m going to sell my house and I’m going to use the money and I’m going to buy a picture for every room in the hospitals in Vermont,’” Myers recalled. “Then she got ill and she died. After she died Elise came to see me and said ‘Listen, here’s what Susan wanted done. I’ll take all the money from her estate if you can show me how to set up someway so we can pictures for every hospital in Vermont.’ I said ‘Well, that’s not too hard.’”
Myers set up a nonprofit, which he says hasn’t asked for a nickel. The Foundation fits the paintings, by local artists, with museum glass, frames and mats if needed at no cost to the hospital. After launching the project at what is now The University of Vermont Medical Center, Myers says the Foundation began using a book called Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being by Dr. Esther Sternberg as a guideline for what types of paintings to choose. Sternberg, founding director of the University of Arizona Institute on Place and Wellbeing, says views of nature are universally preferred images that bring a sense of calm and relaxation.
“We do know that looking at a beautiful view changes and activates parts of the brain that are rich in endorphins,” Sternberg said. “So whether the view is a photograph or a painting it should have the same effect. And it should have the same effect whether you’re the patient, the family taking care of the patient or whether you’re not ill at all.”
Sternberg will speak about her book and studies that show the impact of such images on people in recovery during Saturday’s event. Unfortunately, Myers says Braun – Sebastian’s mother – will not be able to make it to the celebration. She is battling ovarian cancer. He calls Braun one of the most vital people he has ever known.
“One of those people you meet that they seem to have drive, energy and enthusiasm and all the things you wish you had, but probably don’t,” Myers said of Braun. “But she did. I think she will be extremely gratified that she’s been able to fulfill Susan’s wishes. And I think she will feel a certain amount of justification herself that she got this started and she did what Susan wanted.”
Myers says the greatest part of the project is that the artwork will continue to help people get better. A painter himself, Myers donated a few of his works to the hospital where the Foundation launched the project, now UVM Medical Center. He went back there and saw one of his paintings in a patient’s room, stuck his head in and asked the woman if she liked it.
“She said ‘Oh, I love it. If unhooked to the wall, I’d take it home. I’d steal it,’” Myers recalled the woman saying. “I said ‘You know where it is?’ She said ‘No, I have no idea where it is.’ I said ‘That’s St. Peter’s Bay and Prince Edward’s Island.’ She said ‘How do you know that?’ I said ‘Well, I painted it.’ She said ‘Oh, thank you so much. It makes me feel so much better.’”
An exhibit of 100 pieces of art starts at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Southern Vermont Arts Center.