Community-Based Art in a Critical Access Hospital: Collaboration and Reflection
Most people avoid hospitals, unless they work in one or have a medical emergency. After seeing the gem that is the Ministry Door County Medical Center (MDCMC) in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, this may change.
The facility, which lies between the shores of Green Bay and Lake Michigan, is an acute care, critical access hospital that traces its roots back more than 100 years to its founders, the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. Today, it is a member of the Ministry Health System, a network of hospitals, clinics, and health-related organizations in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
MDCMC is situated in a rich agricultural and historical area of the country, at the base of the Door County Peninsula on Sturgeon Bay in eastern Wisconsin.
The people MDCMC serves live westward, across the bay and on the peninsula that extends more than 40 miles north into Lake Michigan. Their landscape is filled with quaint harbors, rocky shores, cherry orchards, rolling farmland, old barns, and intriguing artist’s studios in towns named Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Ephraim, Sister Bay, Ellison Bay, Gills Rock, and Washington Island. Over the centuries, this land and these waters have been a draw to Native Americans, immigrant settlers, sailors, fur traders, farmers, artists, and tourists.
Today, the traditions of the earlier inhabitants are still honored. This is evident in the regard the locals have for historic preservation of their lighthouses, landmarks, state parks, and shoreline. The pride in their heritage is also demonstrated in the abundance of artwork and craftsmanship displayed in galleries, festivals, and artist workshops.
My firm, Spellman Brady & Co. (SBC), based in St. Louis, provides furniture, furnishings, art planning, and procurement for healthcare, higher learning, and senior living facilities. Being a lover of the quiet beauty that is Door County, we spied that Door County Memorial Hospital was building an addition to the original facility, built in 1964, and contacted the architects on the job, Berners-Schober Associates Inc. (BSA), which has its own rich history in architecture and design in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest, going back to its founding in 1906.
To SBC’s good fortune, BSA’s Wendy Thorson, ASID, and the lead designer on the Ministry Health Door County project, agreed to meet and discuss the project and later invited us to meet her client, MDCMC, to discuss art for the new addition.
In the dead of winter, our SBC team met with Thorson and MDCMC’s Gerald Worrick, CEO, and Jody Boes, CNO. Their hearty, “You don’t live up here in winter if you don’t have a sense of humor” attitude would melt any frosty soul. We listened to their plans and hopes for the addition, and toured the existing facility and new construction.
The exterior walls were up, and wiring and plumbing were under way. As Boes shared their theme for the project—“Summer in the ER!”—our ideas started cooking. We could already see how the architects’ and designer’s subtle wave pattern in the flooring, and the mix of light and cherry wood accents planned, would lead to that summer feel—even in January!
Shortly after our meeting, we joined the project to provide art master planning and procurement. Our mission was to call on the abundant talent within the local and regional art community while unifying it with existing art on display, or in storage, from the original facility. The existing collection was vast and varied, representing art created over more than 50 years.
Fortunately, local volunteer Sue Anderson, a friend to artists and MDCMC, had recently inventoried the hospital’s art collection and provided us with titles, locations, and artist names for all the art in the current collection. From this inventory, we were able to advise on condition, restoration, and suitability for blending existing art with new art for the hospital.
After reviewing existing art and gathering images from many regional artists, we pulled together a rich and varied mixture of pieces and began the tough work of editing. From the existing collection of local art, we were drawn to historically significant artists born around the turn of the century. Jessie Kalmbach Chase and Frederick V. Poole, both deceased, are two such artists whose oil paintings were restored and now are displayed in the new addition.
Their works show an Impressionists’ influence on Chase and a Works Progress Administration era influence on Poole. In our research, we found that Chase had taught and provided critique for some of the other local artists whose work had eventually become part of the hospital’s collection. Both restored paintings, in different styles, depict an inviting scene of summer in Door County.
Another artist, Jack Anderson, is featured in the hospital. He is a well-known local artist whose watercolor landscapes capture the essence of what draws people to the region as a destination, again and again.
Bringing new art into the equation within a community with so many talented individuals presented a challenge. For this project, we focused on the vision of the hospital and the design direction of BSA, with the desire to create a seamless overall healing environment. To accomplish this, we selected a mixture of mediums. We sought stunning photography by a handful of area artists.
Their fine art photography captures views from the region, up close and from afar, in fresh and unexpected ways. We also called on local artists for both abstract and representational paintings, including scenes of rolling fields and peaceful reeds on the edge of a quiet pond. These works serve as positive distractions for family in the labor/delivery area and family lounge.
In addition, each of the 28 patient rooms received a canvas-wrapped fine art photograph of an image specific to the region. These images serve to spur conversations of “Where have I seen that barn?” Or, “Is that the harbor at Ephraim?” Other mediums incorporated into the artwork master plan include carved wood; fused glass pieces; and three-dimensional, painted metal works depicting iconic images of the area: its shoreline, cherri
es, and sailboats.
Tying all the art together is a commissioned piece depicting the founding values of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother and why this place is such a gem. It is a cut metal and light-sensitive three-form, dichroic acrylic piece—a “stained glass window,” with a passage from the Prayer of St. Francis, sharing the ministry’s message of hope and faith to all who pass through. This particular piece, designed by SBC with the collaboration of the hospital and architect, leads patients and their families onto the patient care floor.
Creating a community- and regional-based artwork plan is an exciting endeavor. We feel strongly that incorporating local and regional art provides a humanizing element in a healing environment. An unexpected visit to a hospital can cause all kinds of uncertainty and fear for a patient and loved one, and our hope is that serene views of nature or familiar landscapes subtract from the anxiety. For staff, a variety of community-based art offers discussion points such as, “I know that artist,” “I have seen that field,” or, “How did they do that?”
To all who find themselves at Ministry Door County Medical Center, for work or otherwise, the art of the community and region provides a warm, familiar, healing touch, no matter the time of the year. HCD
For more information about Spellman Brady & Company, please visit www.spellmanbrady.com.