Johns Hopkins Magazine -- November 2000
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Healing Art

I recently paid a lunchtime visit to a new Hopkins art museum, where patrons rolled by in wheelchairs, family members in tow, or stood conferring in small groups over X-rays and insurance forms. In this "art museum" there are no signs urging, "Quiet , Please!" It is perfectly OK for folks to doze, or cry quietly into a tissue, or wolf down a bagel with cream cheese.

In fact, all of that is encouraged inside the new light-filled Cancer Center, where 190 artworks--and 90 Ansel Adams photographs--grace the walls in hallways, lobbies, stairwells, and examining rooms. There are pieces like Healing Shawl, by Elizabeth Talford Scott, a transfixing work of vibrant color and textured fabrics (even oyster shells) that stretches nearly floor to ceiling in the outpatient waiting room. And This is Not Business as Usual, a huge oil painting in the lobby--part of artist Hollis Sigler's "Breast Cancer Journal"--that carries handwritten entries from her personal diary inside its borders.

Center director Martin Abeloff told me that virtually every patient he treats comments appreciatively about the beauty of the Weinberg Building, and about the artwork in particular. That pleases the oncologist. As plans for the center unfolded over the last several years, he said, "the feeling we all had was that the surroundings should be part of the healing process; they should add something both soothing and pleasing."

Peggy Heller, with Californian Ted Cohen, is the woman who pulled the collection together. An art collector and former president of the Baltimore Museum of Art's board of trustees, Heller first met Abeloff nine years ago when her first husband was being treated for cancer at Hopkins--a battle he ultimately lost. "We met through the worst of circumstances, but we became friends," Heller recalls. She and Cohen strove for a collection of quality that would focus primarily on art and artists from the Maryland region. Thus, there are stunning oils from Grace Hartigan and Raoul Middleman, and photographs by Neil Meyerhoff that capture the autumnal beauty of Maryland's Gunpowder River.

When I left the Cancer Center that October afternoon, the anxiety--and in some cases, pain-- I'd witnessed in the waiting rooms stayed with me. So did the moments of serenity I'd found in works like Healing Shawl. And Heller's hope seemed not at all unreasonable: that the Oncology Center's art collection could prove "a very, very important key in the getting well."

Sue De Pasquale, Editor