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Wisconsin artists featured at new children’s hospital

February 18, 2008 By Lindsay Christians

If you chance to walk through the halls of the months-old American Family Children’s Hospital, try not to blink. There is so much to see: Every stretch of hallway is bursting with artistic touches — sculpture, watercolor paintings and colorful alphabet quilts.

Blue hanging lights in the shape of milk bottles hang above receptionists near the specialty clinics. Small tiles with etchings of dragonflies and chickens pepper the walls, and tire tracks lead families back toward the elevators.

Slide show: Children’s Hospital art

Photo of a vibrant-colored hallway of a farm-themed inpatient floor

A photograph of farmland by artist Randy Larson, of Hollandale, Wis., is displayed along a vibrant-colored hallway of a farm-themed inpatient floor at the American Family Children’s Hospital.

Photo of stained glass and engraved glass

Stained glass and engraved glass by Bob and Mary Krauski, of Krauski Art Glass in Hartland, Wis., is featured in the non-denominational chapel on the main floor.

Photo of a cutout light fixture

A cutout light fixture illuminates children’s hand-painted wall tiles in a bathroom on a Northwoods-themed inpatient floor.

Photo of a watercolor of a Wisconsin tennis player

A watercolor of a Wisconsin tennis player by Madison artist Paul Briskey is displayed amid medical equipment in a UW Sports Specialty Procedures Clinic room.

Photo of a pediatric oncology room on a dog-themed inpatient floor

Fiber art by Madison artist Cherie St. Cyr is displayed in a pediatric oncology room on a dog-themed inpatient floor. The barn-shaped chalkboard below features a young artist’s touches of a big heart and handwriting stating "Love, Zoey."

Although very few people would go to a hospital for the artwork, these individual touches seem warm and inviting. Instead of a homogenized, impersonal atmosphere, the impression is of a place of real healing. Sarah Grimes, art coordinator for UW Health, has been collecting art for the hospital since 1989.

“Donors paid for the bulk of the cost of the artwork,” says Grimes, adding that she was given a great deal of freedom to choose the art. All of this art, save two pieces, is original.

With the exception of several individual donations, such as the statues in front of the hospital, the funding for the original artwork was provided by the Jerome and Joan Kuyper family and Sylvia and James Vaccaro.

The hospital, formerly housed within the Clinical Sciences Center, opened its new location in August. The wings of each floor have a unique, connected theme: a farm, a prairie, Northwoods, rivers and streams (still under construction) and of course, “all things Wisconsin,” with images of UW–Madison sports and an actual Olympic torch in a glass case.

Sarah Grimes.

Sarah Grimes, art coordinator for UW Health, sits in “1957 Chevy Sofa,” donated by Joel London and Cheryl Kendall and displayed in the town square-themed first floor.

Photo: Jeff Miller

The collection — approximately 400 pieces — spans a wide variety of styles. A sculpture donated by Jack Lussier of children dancing anchors the lobby adjoining the “movie theater” entrance. Jeanne Weymouth’s textile art shows up in many exam rooms and the chapel showcases gorgeous season-themed engraved glass, made by Krauski Art Glass in Hartland, Wis.

Even the boardroom table in a conference room dubbed “City Hall” is a beautiful two-tone red and blonde wood creation.

Paul Briskey’s impressionistic oil and watercolor paintings are featured in many of the hallways and exam rooms of the UW Sports Special Procedures Clinic. Briskey was born in Madison and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from UW–Madison in 1988.

“My style went naturally with the children’s hospital,” Briskey says, citing the bright watercolor-enhanced sketches he has done of Madison. “Some kid might look at the picture and say ‘I can do that.’ “It could inspire them to draw or paint something, even in the hospital.”

Grimes was drawn to Briskey’s work for its style, as well as his ability to create specific pieces for what she wanted.

“Swimming, wrestling, golf — he was great with coming up with stuff,” Grimes says.

Not all of the artwork is commissioned or professional. Saved from the previous hospital are several displays featuring area elementary students emulating the works of great Wisconsin influences such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Georgia O’Keeffe.

“I noticed when I first toured the children’s hospital, it’s really cute and fun and colorful without being kitschy and hokey or too much,” says Sarah Melton, a speech pathologist in the Voice Clinic. “It’s all really classy but fun.”

Melton has shown nervous kids around the horse hallway as a way to entertain and distract them — the children love the art.

“It makes it feel a little more homey, not just for us, but for the patients too,” Melton says. “It’s really interesting, beautiful and fun kid-friendly kind of stuff.”

There are approximately 325 tiles, each four inches square, that surround the mirrors in the bathrooms. These tiles were created by children of employees, relatives’ children and kids at Studio You Paint It Pottery.

Artist Andy Rubin spends most of his time at Tandem Press on the east side of Madison, making prints of other artists’ work as the master printer and studio manager. Outside of work, he pursues his own art as a “serious hobby.”

“I don’t go out and market it,” Rubin says. “I don’t want it to be anything but fun.”

A black Labrador retriever shows up in a lot of Rubin’s work, a dog named Panda owned by a former roommate. One print shows the dog looking up into the night sky, accompanied by binoculars and a guidebook. Etched in the stars is a picture of a bone.

“Doing this dog over and over again was kind of a way to keep it light and humorous,” Rubin says. “Sarah just wants people to see something and have a response to it. It’s not about how much money they have or who they are.”

Another Rubin creation, a dog made of wood pegs, adorns a room on the first floor of the hospital.

“It’s a fun piece, a kid’s piece, it looks like a kid could do it,” Rubin says, “even though it takes weeks of carving to make it look simple.”

Going to the hospital is rarely a positive experience, Rubin says. Nobody wants to be stuck in the hospital, and most people don’t leave considering the artwork — they’re concerned about family and friends and are often emotionally drained.

“You start to make the environment not so scary or stark,” Rubin says, adding that Grimes is “not trying to educate us. She’s trying to create a nice environment, anything that creates a positive attitude.”

Melton says the original artwork creates a pleasurable workspace. Some parents have recognized the art in the hospital from seeing the artists’ work outside of Madison.

“It’s really thoughtful collections that are interesting and fun to look at,” she says. “They brighten up the rooms and hallways in a cohesive way.”

For more information about the artwork at the American Family Children’s Hospital or other UW Health clinics, contact Sarah Grimes.

Tags: arts, slide show