In the summer of 2013, a Carilion interview committee gave me the honor of being selected the new Robert L.A. Keeley Healing Arts Program's first Artist-in-Residence. My three-month rotation comes to a conclusion just around Thanksgiving, a perfect time to reflect on what I have observed.
For three months, every week, I have carried my easel and canvases into one or both Roanoke Memorial and Roanoke Community Hospitals. I've brought in beautifully printed colorful cards, printed with some of my other paintings, from my Africa Series, my Himalayan work, my flora and fauna, and my paintings serving Help Save the Next Girl, to distribute when people were interested. I've set up the easel, and begun my steady, exacting pencil work, next to a poster I made, explaining to passers-by why I was there in the hospital, and encouraging them. "Please DO stop and stare."
I have had hundreds of conversations, with patients, doctors, nurses, hospital staff, family members, expectant mothers, grandchildren visiting a sick relative, chaplains, volunteer greeters, individuals receiving physical and cognitive rehab exercises after terrible accidents, administrators, groundsmen, building supervisors, speech pathologists, teachers, parking lot assistants, and security.
Initially, people stop because they are surprised to see an artist concentrating at an easel. They are surprised again when I turn to greet them, stand up, introduce myself, thank them for pausing, genuinely happy to meet them. And we have a conversation.
Sometimes, people want to know about The Trinity of Healing Hands, the set of three paintings I conceived to create during my residency. Healing Hands of Medicine, Nature, and Spirit show a surgeon, a gardener, and a medical missionary volunteer. People would see the earnestness of these different efforts, to correct, to plant, to relieve, and would be reminded of someone in their own lives who works with similar dedication--a crocheting grandmother, a post-hole-digging farming uncle, a neighbor who is an especially skilled mechanic, a child or niece who is a careful artist. Effortlessly, the stories would tumble out, I would see the connection and ask questions, and the visitors would thank me for being in the hospital, thank me for listening, praise my work, and hope to see me again.
I would tell my new friends that I really liked doing my careful, almost surgically precise drawings and paintings n the hospital setting, because I felt, in some way, I was, in my precision, praising the knowledge and compassion and patience of the medical staff and family members around me. "Yes," people would nod, "Your work is reminding us to slow down and to try as hard as you can. And also reminding us that everyone else is trying so hard, too--so to be grateful". "Yes," I would agree, "I think healing and gratitude go together." "Thank you," my visitors would nod, "I needed the reminder."
It has been a privilege to serve.
Jane Lillian Vance
Artist and adjunct professor of The Creative Process, Virginia Tech