Arts & Culture

Folk Art with Healing Qualities


Written by Jennifer Hunt

From the Greeks to Native Americans, the spiritual and physical healing qualities of art have been touted for centuries. Today, pairing the most technologically advanced medical technology with a solace found through the arts is a focus among leading hospitals across the nation.

Becoming a leader in this movement, the new University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital will incorporate art, music and landscaping that reflect the unique spirit of Kentucky through the UK Arts in HealthCare Program.

"Art has a very constructive part to play in the hospital setting," said Dr. Michael Karpf, executive vice president for health affairs. "It’s widely understood that art has great potential for enhancing the healing process in patients."

One aspect of the UK Arts in HealthCare program--a Kentucky folk art collection curated by the Kentucky Folk Art Center--will be featured in the new hospital's Health Education Center and throughout the hospital.

The center will provide health information to help patients and loved ones learn about their medical diagnosis and treatment, which can be confusing and complex in times of medical crisis. With the folk art in place, the center will also be a welcoming and comforting place that brings hope and confidence to patients and their loved ones in a time of need.

UK HealthCare's folk art collection is currently making its debut at the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky. The show, "Kentucky Folk: Art from the UK HealthCare Collection," consists of more than 80 folk art figures and sculptures, paintings and canes by Kentucky folk artists, ranging in date from the 1970s to the present. The exhibition, which opened in July, will run through Sept. 20.

The artwork in "Kentucky Folk" depicts everyday life as well as spiritual beliefs. Images captured in the collection include such varied subjects as a whiskey still, snakes, dogs and street signs.

Some of the state’s most loved artists are represented throughout the exhibition, including: Minnie Adkins, known for her sculptures of elegant horses and colorful chickens; Edgar Tolson, who often depicts Adam and Eve; and LaVon Williams, who creates dynamic, rhythmic sculptures of African-American life.

Pieces of "Kentucky Folk" were selected by Adrian Swain, folk art curator, and Matt Collinsworth, director, of the Kentucky Folk Art Center.

"It has been an honor to assist UK HealthCare in assembling this wonderful collection of works by many of Kentucky’s finest folk artists. The exhibition at the Art Museum will stand as a fine survey of this most intriguing aspect of our state’s cultural heritage," Collinsworth said.

UK HealthCare is a member of the Society for Arts and Healthcare (SAH). SAH is a non-profit corporation founded in 1991 in Washington, D.C. With a membership that includes more than 1,700 professionals, organizations and students in the arts, humanities and medicine, SAH is dedicated to demonstrating the valuable roles the arts can play in enhancing the healing process, advocating for the integration of the arts into the environment and delivery of care within health care facilities, and encouraging and supporting research and investigation into the beneficial effects of the arts in health care.

"We are very excited to be involved in this program. The art will provide a distraction and place to find solace for patients and their families," said Jackie Hamilton, communications manager at UK HealthCare. "Their visit will be much more comfortable, especially since the art reflects Kentucky so that the patients will be surrounded by scenes they are familiar with. We are sure that this program, along with the new amenities of the hospital will create the best environment for healing."

The new UK Chandler Hospital will open in phases beginning with the Emergency Department in 2010. 

The UK Arts in HealthCare program, which is supported solely by private funds, will offer a variety of ways to enhance the patient experience.

- The Lucille Caudill Little Performing Arts in HealthCare program will bring music therapy to patients--a collaboration between the UK School of Music and UK HealthCare.

- A 300-seat, state-of-the-art auditorium, funded by the Sarah Scaife Foundation, will serve as an unparalleled education and performance space in the atrium of the new hospital.

- The Myra Leigh Tobin Chapel will feature art glass designed by British artist John Reyntiens. Its pastoral springtime setting will be a sanctuary for prayer and meditation.

- "Ginkgo," by mixed media sculpture artist Warren Seelig, will be the focal point of the hospital lobby. The stainless steel and mesh fabric sculpture suspended beneath a three-story skylight is reflective of the intricate fan-shaped leaves of the ginkgo tree. It is funded by gifts and proceeds from the June 2007 Hospital Groundbreaking Gala.

- The surgical waiting area will showcase works by Kentucky artists including "Handstand," a signature bronze sculpture by the late UK art professor John Regis Tuska, and the vibrant glass work of Centre College professor Stephen Rolfe Powell.

The Celebrate Kentucky Wall, a 90-foot multimedia installation, will highlight the places, people and landscape of Kentucky.