Jane Lillian Vance
A Friday as Artist-in-Residence,
Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital
"WHAT are you doing?" I turned to see a woman smiling at the pencil work in progress for the Summer painting in The Pirouette of Seasons.
"Well, the action in this composition begins when this mother touches her baby's toes to the creek water for the first time. In her thrill, the baby drops her pacifier into the water. See the leopard frog. She's coming up to take a look at who gifted the crazy catfish with such a fine toy. I'll sketch them soon. The catfish will act like kittens. They'll be circling their new binky."
"No!" The woman corrected herself. "I didn't mean WHAT are you doing. I meant HOW can you do this? Because you know what I would do, in your place?"
"I don't know. What would you do?"
"Stick figures. In a pile of pudding."
I laughed out loud and signed a card for her, of one of my paintings which hangs in Sri Lanka.
Next, a gentleman approached, and told me my work was so real, he felt like his dog might bark at the frog. "Funny you should mention a dog barking at what's in the painting. That very thing happened with my last painting, which included a big upright raccoon. My friends' dog Kirby was relentless, barking and growling at that raccoon. It's one of the biggest compliments my work has ever received."
"Kirby sounds like a smart dog," the guest continued. "I work with search dogs, and security dogs, too." "Please tell me a story about another smart dog," I asked.
"Well, not long ago, a little deli-mart store around here was being robbed. Having terrified the young lady working behind the counter, the fellow took a huge armload of all the cigarette cartons they had for sale. A dog I had worked with happened to be in the car with a policeman when the report came in; a giant schnauzer. The policeman arrived just as the man was hauling his pyramid of cigarettes. The officer stepped out of the car with his police dog on leash. He told the robber to put the cartons down and his hands up."
"Yeah, right," said the bad guy to the policeman. "Like I'm supposed to be afraid of your sissy schnauzer?"
"What happened?" I asked.
"Before or after we helped the robber into the ambulance?" The man added, "But you know, you asked for a story about a smart dog. And I'm afraid that was just a story about a dumb crook. I'll do better, next time."
It's the playfulness mixed with the serious stuff that makes these interactions in the hospital so amazing. People are in the hospital, as patients or visitors, for difficult, powerful reasons. But look at their resilience. Art opens discussions. And conversations build hope.
I heard whispers behind me near the end of my day. I turned to meet a mother and her handsome son, a teenager. "Oh! We didn't mean to interrupt!" she apologized.
"Oh, no, ma'am," I explained. "I'm here because I love people. I'm so happy you stopped to look at the work."
"Well, this is my son," the mother introduced proudly. "He saw you first."
I held out my hand and exchanged names, and the son said, "I think you are here because you love people, and then people love what you are doing, and that's kind of like everybody feeling good, isn't it?"
"Yes, young man. It's very much like everybody feeling good. You sure know how to make an artist happy."
He gave me a brilliant smile, put his arm around his Mom's neck, and headed home.