Calming Riverine Views Flow Into Cancer Center

With a rectangle of surgical tape still visible at the clavicle from her second treatment for pancreatic cancer, Louise Dechesser paused at a photograph of rippling water and pronounced it “interesting and peaceful.”

The emotional exchange between a patient and a work of art—and its potential for stress reduction and even recovery—occurred Tuesday in the Healing Arts Gallery on the fourth floor of the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven.

Allan Appel PhotoA nurse for 45 years and also an actress in the community theater of her East Berlin hometown, Dechesser (pictured) was pausing in front of “Recurrent,” one of 18 archival pigment print photographs by Linda Cummings. The photographs line the fourth-floor corridor of Smilow just beyond the intersection where signage for the nearby reflection/meditation room and the blood draw laboratory come together.

The Cummings photos are part of the newest show in the rotating gallery space. Along with the hospital’s over 700 permanent works, the space gives witness to what the hospital calls evidence-based studies that art and an artfully designed space can help people heal.

The 700 pieces of original art, selected by consultants, caregivers, and administrators,  constitute the third largest permanent art display in Connecticut. (Click here to read the hospital’s formal statement of art’s stress-lowering and healing power.)

It certainly was working for Dechesser as she took in the undulating images in “Touching the Farm River.” Cummings, who teaches at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan and also lives in Branford, gave that title to a collection of serene views of ripples, currents, reeds, reflections of light—and in some cases, detritus—from one one of our beloved local waterways.

Cummings took all the photos while paddling in her kayak. That’s why if it weren’t for the title and the artist’s explanatory wall text, you wouldn’t know it’s the Farm River.

There are no contextual shots. So the images, mainly in muted colors, with three photos mounted in the middle of the wall standing out for their burst of green vegetation, look as though they could be of water pretty much anywhere.

The water is clean, moving, changing, occasionally rushing and occasionally radiant, often mysterious to peer at, and never stuck in one place.

You want that kind of art in a corridor full of equally rushing docs, nurses, volunteers like Norwalk high school senior Luz Hidalgo (pictured), and of course the worried patients and their concerned relatives who push them in wheelchairs from station to station of care.

“Sweeping landscapes create a calming effect in pre-treatment areas, while in post-operative areas, local scenes of community reassure the patient that he or she is close to home and family once again,” according to an official Smilow description.

Eye Of Beholder

Ellen Schowalter paused in front of “Movement IV” (pictured), the most recent of the works in the Cummings exhibition, executed in 2014. She said she did not see a calming water scene at all.

She thought she was peering at an Ebola virus photographed from under a microscope.

The previous night she had watched a documentary about an Ebola outbreak. The association remained on her mind.

She lingered; the image intrigued her.

Dechesser took home a landscape that one of Smilow’s resident artists composed for her at her bedside.

“Smilow is amazing, clean, hopeful, and full of art,” she said.

Then she took her husband’s hand and continued down the corridor.

Cummings has dedicated the exhibition to her friend, the late Fred Cervin, a founder of the New Haven Bioregional Group, who was a patient at Smilow.

The show can be visited on the fourth floor of the hospital from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. through the summer.

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