Hospital artwork designed to make kids smile

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Too often the artwork in hospitals and similar institutions consists of stiff still lifes or copies of famous works. Not so in the new Children's Hospital. Everywhere you look is an original painting or a sculpture or a mural guaranteed to make a child -- or the child inside an adult -- smile.

The hospital, its administration building, Faculty Pavilion and John G. Rangos Sr. Research Center contain roughly 1,500 pieces of art.

"That includes some of their inventory from [the old building in] Oakland and a lot of children's art and collaborative efforts, too," said Gayle Irwin, of James Gallery in the West End, which handled the hospital's art presentation, "from consultation to selection to framing to involving the community."

Much of the art is about kids and, as Ms. Irwin said, some of it is even by kids. But mostly it is for kids.

There are two sculptures of dinosaurs, a big blue pig, a Statue of Liberty decked out in Pirates baseball garb, a giant lobby mobile and a large, marble-filled perpetual motion machine.

There are photos of local sports heroes and photos of kids playing sports. There are commissioned works by well-known Pittsburgh artists and 88 pieces of enlarged, framed art by kids who participated in an Eat'n Park contest a year ago to depict "What Makes Me Smile."

In a nod to the children who come from around the world for treatment, there is art from Asia, Haiti, France, Germany and Canada. Those pieces go well with a welcome sign, translated into 25 languages, which is located in the beginning of the Transformation Corridor leading from the mid-campus garage into the main lobby.

"It's a really strong message that we welcome you, whoever you are," Dr. Andrew Urbach, medical director for clinical excellence and service, said. "That's one of the themes throughout the hospital: 'We treat children, period. Whoever you are; whatever kind of child you are; whatever your background is, you're welcome here,' and we have pieces of art or messages and images that convey that.

"There is nobody here who won't find an image they can identify with."

The Transformation Corridor is filled with art. On one wall is a long mural portraying the metamorphosis of butterflies. The terrazzo floor, meanwhile, portrays the change in seasons.

The mural is, Dr. Urbach said, "what the families told us they're looking for, butterflies being the ultimate metaphor for transformation. You start out as a caterpillar and turn into this spectacular butterfly, and it's a metaphor for illness to health, stress to no stress, anxiety to no anxiety."

James Gallery "picked up on [the transformation theme] and conveyed it to some of our artists," Ms. Irwin said.

Quilt artist Jan Myers-Newbury did "Five Seasons of the Heart" -- fabric art pieces that move from monotonic shades to bright colors. Lawrenceville painter Ron Donoughe created a 12-foot-long landscape of the back channel of the Allegheny River at Washington's Landing that also shows the changing of seasons.

"And something else really fun: We have a young artist, Toby Fraley, and he created out of recycled materials seven [immobile] robots," Ms. Irwin said. "They're very cool and follow the seasons: There are hikers for fall, kite fliers for spring, and they'll hang in the Transformation Corridor between the first and second floors."

Western Pennsylvania schoolchildren also collaborated on many art projects with Pittsburgh area artists.

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts artist-in-residence Laura Jean McLaughlin did four wall mosaics with school groups. On one she worked with students from the South Fayette School District. "There were also three other mosaics she worked on with Pittsburgh Public Schools kids, and they were donated through Arsenal School here in Lawrenceville," Ms. Irwin added.

A fifth mosaic outside the Lemieux Sibling Center was part of the foundation's daycare center project.

Pittsburgh children also worked with artist Tom Sarver on shadow boxes made of recyclable materials to portray five favorite places in the city. These pieces, which include representations of Heinz Field and the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, hang in the cafeteria.

Kids also worked on collages composed of food items and items from nature that were then photographed by Pittsburgher Matt Marino.

Other Pittsburgh area artists represented in the hospital include photographers Mark Perrott, David Aschkenas, Dennis Marsico and Duane Rieder; pop artist Burton Morris, who did three pieces portraying the night stands of Mr. Rogers, Andy Warhol and Roberto Clemente; and Dan LeDonne, who did the glass and metal sculpture on the wall outside the chapel.

Pittsburgh institutions also contributed in other ways. There are photos from the archives of the late Teenie Harris; Esther Bubley, a photographer who worked for Time/Life and Children's Hospital; and the Carnegie museums; as well as photos from a contest called "Snapshot 250," a collaboration of the Allegheny Conference and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Ms. Irwin said.

"We did have several people who donated pieces, too. Some were from their collection, some of them purchased," she said. "Highmark bought three pieces and gave them to us."

All of the local participation and contributions helped to keep the cost of the art project down.

"We did not have an extravagant budget," Dr. Urbach said. "This was done with creativity and imagination and utilizing the children of the region, the artists of the region ... as opposed to huge expense."

Pohla Smith can be reached at or 412-263-1228.


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