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Fourteen members of the Fluvanna Art Association, took a tour of the art exhibits featured at the Martha Jefferson Hospital on Tuesday (Jan. 29). Among them are four artists from Fluvanna, including Rob Browning, John Hughes, muralist Wendy Custer and Tom Tartaglino.

Martha Hunter, a member of the Martha Jefferson Art Committee and one of the tour guides, spoke about the hospital’s philosophy of adding art to the healing process. Beginning in 2003 in the outpatient care center, a group made up of art patrons, physicians and nurses formed a committee, working with local artists at the McGuffy Art Center, various studios, the Fred Nichols Art Gallery and others to bring art to their patients and their families. Hunter explained the Art and Healthcare Program was well received and as a result, patients healed quicker and experienced decreased stress and were discharged earlier.
“We wanted to create a healing environment,” said Hunter. Martha Jefferson is a member of the Society of Arts and Healthcare and was also voted the most beautiful hospital.
Both art and music play a pivotal role in the healing process at Martha Jefferson and it also reduces anxiety in those concerned with their loved ones. In the newly built hospital, those waiting in the lobby are sometimes treated to the soothing sounds of the piano while looking out onto a breathtaking view of the mountains. Hunter said there are three pianists, sometimes a cello, a harp, or a string quartet. She gave an example of the impact that music and art have on patients. An elderly woman who had been in the hospital for two weeks, sat in her wheelchair, huddled beneath a shawl, her head bowed low. Knowing this woman loved music, her family brought her down to hear one of the volunteers play. The volunteer that day was one of the employees, a pharmacist. Suddenly, the head came up, the shawl fell off and the woman was listening.
While listening to music, all around are paintings – there are 800 in the collection – with a tranquil, calming effect, transporting the onlooker into a different realm, one of peace and comfort. There are also two rotating exhibits by area artists. Recently donated was one of P. Buckley Moss’ earlier works when she was known as Pat Moss. The work was donated by a former radiologist turned minister. Other donors include Dr. William Rhodes and his wife, residents of Lake Monticello, who donated 45 pieces and Sam Abell, a National Geographic photographer who donated twelve pieces to the hospital.
Near where the piano sits is the centerpiece of the lobby up above, a stained glass pendant light by V. Osvalds. The massive multicolored light looks as if it would weigh a ton but in reality only weighs 150 pounds made up of a combination of thin and chunk glass.
Over the reception desk and the other focal point of the lobby is a painting by Christ Stevens of Front Royal. The large oak tree features variegated colors not usually seen in landscapes and its majestic presence says something about strength.
Rob Browning had a neighborhood series of paintings over the piano, his signature clean lines and strong colors. Across from Browning’s display was a large painting with wispy floating clouds, an expansive sky, a wide open field and two defiant roosters strutting along in Christa Townsend’s Freedom.
“She is moving into a looser style of painting,” said Hunter.
Most of the art in and around the hospital is eclectic, it’s either avant garde mixed media, multicolored and upbeat, or modern and contemporary or impressionistic with slashes of color and broad brush strokes. Many of the works of art would seem simple but include deeper meanings. One of the pieces was painted by George Mitchell, who was confined to a wheelchair and has since passed away. Mitchell made the news when he was hit by a police car in a traffic accident.
“We like to use different styles, different mediums,” said Hunter, pointing to a large yellow dog? A horse? or maybe an aardvark? That was up to the onlooker to determine and speculate and to figure out the scribbling inside the animal, which in itself creates unique patterns.
There were unique ceramic plates hanging up in some of the booths in the cafeteria, another Rob Browning, and a large scale photo of radishes from Thomas Jefferson’s garden. Among the ceramics artists, Maggie Stolz was one of the artists who created the tiles for the patient bathrooms. The most intriguing was Cynthia Burke’s portrait of a rabbit with an Elizabethan collar, looking grand and dignified.
One of the most fitting pieces in the collection and one that was most gripping and complex done in colored pencil on a large scale mural was the Odyssy of Medicine or the History of Medicine by award winning artist William Woodward. It’s a mesmerizing, almost ethereal look into medicine’s past and present in a collage of sepia colored images. Dr. Rhodes had been one of Woodward’s models. Rhodes is a cardiac surgeon from northern Virginia. Woodward had also done a piece of Thomas Jefferson for the new visitor’s center at Monticello.
One of the many sculptures by Sarah Bagwell Smith, co-founder of the McGuffy Center, sits outside between the entrance to the parking garage and the entry to the lobby. A mother with her arms spread wide like wings, looks as if she is going to dive into water while her baby sits nearby.
“We had this in one of the gardens surrounded by the patients’ rooms, however, the little boy is anatomically correct and some of the patients got the backside view so we decided to move it,” said Hunter.
Fluvanna artist John Hughes had a piece with gentle rolling waters; it had a relaxing feeling.
Many of the members moved closer to get a better look at the details in most of the artist’s work and Del Hall in particular. His three piece purple and blue triptych featured over a million sweeping brush strokes, creating undulating swirls and waves. From a distance it looked like a mosaic but up close a variety of tedious brush strokes were used to create patterns.
“At the time the artist had a brain tumor and that might explain the design,” said Hunter. Members speculated that it looked like fluids moving within the human body or cancer cells and maybe he was seeing his tumor. Hunter didn’t disagree with this observation and added that Del Hall is alive and well today and still painting.
There was Robin Brown’s soft, peaceful seascape and Susan Brian’s colorful and whimsical Gypsy Family. Jesse Coles did a large, bright impressionistic still life and artist Scott Supreanor, displayed next to her, did a piece in tiles based on her work, complementing it. Fluvanna artist Wendy Custer had an unusual, almost three dimensional piece resembling waves, in the interfaith chapel. Susan Bacik makes collage like sculptures using found objects. One artist did a realistic painting of an old McCalls sewing pattern on a tin background.
For anyone who has not taken the art tour at the hospital, it is well worth the trip. For more information about tours, contact Martha Hunter at Martha Jefferson Hospital.