An exhibition joining health and art

Addressing the issues of healthcare through art


© 2019 Casey Ryan

Bob Watt has Aphasia and Ann Klingensmith made this print of him.

When viewers walk into the Foster Gallery at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, they bear witness to colorful paintings of scars hanging on the wall alongside posters depicting global health care issues, and prints of community members who have aphasia. The art is from health care professionals who share their experiences about burnout and issues in the health care system through their artwork.

“Health + the Arts” is a collaborative project between UW-Eau Claire’s Institute for Health Sciences and the Department of Art and Design. The show opened on Feb. 15 at the Foster Gallery and will run through March 13.

Jill Olm, an associate art and design professor at UW-Eau Claire, said the idea for the show came from Dr. Mel Kantor, the faculty chair of the Institute for Health Sciences at UW-Eau Claire.

“It was his idea and he had never curated an exhibition before, so with myself and Amanda Bulger, the three of us were a curatorial team,” Olm said. “He wanted to find a way to use the Foster Gallery and make the connections with health and art.”

Kantor collaborated with Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire to work with clinicians who also create art. Kantor worked with art therapists, nurses, doctors and artists who specialize in making art that depicts health.

“His (Kantor’s) goal is to create cross-disciplinary connections between health-related fields and health to other disciplines,” Olm said. “He has been a long time supporter from the foster gallery, he brought the idea to the gallery committee.”  

“My original bare-bones idea was the ‘healing arts,’ a depiction of health/healing in art and art as a form of healing,” Kantor said.

Kantor describes the six different themes for the exhibition:

  • Art as medicine — works generated by the clients of two area art therapists and the therapists themselves.
  • Selected works from the National Academy of Medicines’ “Clinician Well-Being” project.
  • Selected works from the Association of Medical Illustrators’ 2018 Salon winners.
  • Selected works from Posters for Tomorrow’s 2015 “Right to Healthcare” competition (illustrating health equity).
  • Examples of TIME magazine covers showing how “health” has been depicted in the media over the years.
  • Selected works of professional artists who have generated health-themed works.

The gallery has a calendar of events throughout February and March. Ted Meyer is a nationally recognized artist, curator and patient advocate who helps patients, students and medical professionals see the positive in the worst life can offer. He will be giving two artist talks where he will discuss his work and one workshop where he will print scars. Amy Hahn, Jaydn Alexander and Trisha Lundin, three local art therapists, will each give an artist talk.

Ted Meyer will be giving an artist talk at noon on Feb. 27 in the gallery. He will also have a workshop at 11 a.m. on Feb. 28 and an artist talk at 5 p.m. on Feb. 28 at Mayo Clinic. The Art Therapy talk will be held at 6 p.m. March 13 at the gallery, and you can register for the event here.

Wayne Zorn, a man who is losing his speech due to primary progressive aphasia, opened the gallery on Feb. 14 with a performance of two songs. At the opening reception, Zorn performed his song “The Rose.” According to the Mayo Clinic, primary progressive aphasia is a progressive disease that deteriorates the brain tissue responsible for speech and language.

Zorn works with his wife CeCelia who takes him to speech pathologists to help work through his words and speech. Wayne Zorn has difficulty finding words, understanding the meaning of words, and uses an iPad to write or show pictures of what he wants to say.

“Wayne can still say a few phrases, but he can get things mixed up,” CeCelia Zorn said. “When I say I love you, he will often say you’re welcome.”

PPA can not be cured and there is no known cause, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“PPA is rare, it is diagnosed based on someones history like word finding problems and then it is confirmed by a MRI scan and it shows that the part of our brain that shows language doesn’t work very well and is shutting down,” CeCelia Zorn said.

The gallery is putting the video of Wayne Zorn singing on a monitor in the gallery so it can be seen by viewers who didn’t attend the reception.

The exhibition hosts a number of artists who are dealing with memory issues. Bob Watt and Ann Klingensmith, who are married, are among other artists who are in the show.

Watt suffered a stroke and now has aphasia. Klingensmith made a portrait print of Watt, which is part of a project titled “The Faces of Aphasia.”

Klingensmith said they were “always fiercely respectful of each other’s individuality.” Then it changed and she had to speak for Watt; she had to be his advocate and co-partner.

The print is multiple shades of blue with an image of Watt’s face. Written on the print is “I am still Bob” and “My name is Bob. I had a stroke and now I have aphasia. I am still me.”

“I want this group of portraits to be shown in hospitals, rehab centers, civic centers, schools, churches — places that have walls and people,” Klingensmith said.

Klingensmith said her goal is for her portraits to educate others about what aphasia is, how to think about it and what someone with aphasia looks like. She said aphasia can look like anyone; it does not discriminate.

There are plans for the project to grow, Klingensmith said. She would like to create at least 10 more prints of people who have aphasia.

In the middle of the gallery, a clinician’s artwork is laying on the floor. Visitors will see scrubs, which appear to be burned, wrapped in red tape. The title of this piece is “Physician Burnout” by Michael Sauer. Sauer’s artist statement talks about how “red tape” factors can contribute to burnout. Demanding schedules and physicians autonomy can contribute to burnout.

Sauer writes, “Multiple cross-sectional studies agree that roughly one in two physicians report at least one symptom of burnout, which is manifest through a sense of depersonalization and emotional exhaustion.” The exhibition showcases many different artists from all over the country and globe.

You can view the calendar here for the complete list of events and hours of The Foster Gallery.