Hospital art collections became very personal.

Estimated read time 5 min read

This was the opening line of my essay about the hospital art collection a few weeks before my son’s birth.

It surprised me that that quote would move me in the months ahead. You can call it fate. Fate. The universe is so small.

Hello, my name is Elysian. I am part of the Artwork Archive team. Although personal stories aren’t part of our blog, I felt compelled to tell my story about arts and healing.

I want to introduce my son Odin.

Odin surprised my husband and me at birth by being born with a rare genetic disorder–Treacher-Collins Syndrome (TCS). The development of soft tissues and bones in the face is affected. Most affected individuals are underdeveloped and have tiny jaws and cleft palates. They also lack outer ears.

Have you seen the film, Wonder? Auggie is the protagonist.

TCS can affect the ability to breathe and feed. Odin was taken to Children’s Hospital Colorado for an emergency tracheostomy on his third day of birth. He spent three months at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Hospitals are often frightening, exhausting, and overwhelming.

These three months were tough. I watched my son go through two intrusive operations. For days, I was unable to hold or pick up my son. I had to store his ladette and the outfit I packed for my return home before he arrived. My nursing clothes were given away. His nursery sat vacant at home. Our home was transformed into a truckstop where we could eat and rest. We lived in the hospital.

Pablo Picasso said that art washes away the dust and dirt of everyday life. If this is true, then my soul was a thick mud during those three months. I needed art to clean up the suffocating mess of my life.

What role does art play in this?

I was raised in a family full of artists. My mother is an artist. My dad, Shaun McNiff, is an author, painter, and art therapist. I have always been interested in art and creative processes. I’m born with it.

Art has covered every home I have lived in. I must be surrounded by beauty, color, and expression. Children’s Hospital Colorado has become my home away. It was a lucky coincidence that my new home also contains art.

Children’s Hospital Colorado had an extensive and thoughtful collection. It distracted me from my stress, calmed me down when I felt overwhelmed, and, later, as Odin was able to leave his room, it gave us a bonding activity while walking the halls.

For the first two weeks of my son’s life, he was hooked to monitors, cords, and a mist collar. We could not move him more than three feet away from his crib. We had to untangle his lines every time we sat with him on our lap.

It was not the plan I had for my baby. I was a lover of art and a maker of art. I planned to take my son, who cooed while in his stroller, through the Denver Art Museum. I was eager to show him the murals I loved in our neighborhood.

I did not imagine he would be satisfied by only medical equipment in a room of 50 square feet.

Odin’s respiratory therapist told me we would take Odin on a walk to see how he performed without his equipment. I was thrilled. To the nurses’ delight and my spouse’s horror, I did a literal happy dance.

Art has become an escape.

While Odin was in his room, I wandered the hospital halls, distracting myself with impromptu art scavenger hunts. Could I find anything blue? Where can I buy a painting depicting an animal? Is there an Australian artist on the site? Yes?! Jackpot!

When the day was quiet, my husband had returned to work, and the rounds were done, I’d walk Odie down the hallway. We would watch the sunset while gazing at a large-scale painting with many dogs (see header image). The theme of his first birthday celebration was a large-scale painting of many dogs.

I told him what I loved and knew: art. I wanted him to experience more than just blinking monitor lights and pokes. I wanted him to experience and know color, curiosity, and creativity.

I now have a long-lasting relationship with the art collection at our hospital.

Every week, my son visits Children’s Hospital Colorado for either feeding therapy or an appointment. We joke that this is our home away. Odin’s doctors and nurses are lovely, but I don’t love our routine visits.

Heidi Huisjen, the curator at Children Hospital Colorado, is responsible for coordinating any temporary exhibitions. The fact that I return often means I can look at the exhibits in greater detail. On my last trip, I was thrilled to see that an Artwork Archive Artist, Anna Rose Bains, had been featured. It’s a small but exciting world.

Odin is growing and developing, and I’m fascinated to watch him explore a piece we have walked past many times in a different way. I enjoy watching him absorb and observe the shapes and colors of an acrylic painting or track over the voluptuous curvatures of a sculpture.

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