Location, location, location
H. Marion Framing took a step out of season, so to say, when the Glenview, Illinois-based art consultant and procurer began selecting healing images for a cardiac rehabilitation facility expansion at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. The views of nature seen through the limited editions, prints, woodblocks, etchings, giclées, photography, and watercolor originals reflect the local region's natural seasonal cycle and culture.
Jan Marion, president of H. Marion, wanted to show more than life at the pinnacle of its growth: a tree full of green leaves or a flower in full bloom. He wanted the whole process of life: “Typically when we do healthcare, our images are signs of life. It's a tree with leaves on it, not a bare tree in the dead of winter. However, within this facility, we weren't afraid to illustrate the four seasons. It's a natural part of the cycle there.”
Like most parts of the Midwest, the “natural cycle” in Madison includes a temperate climate characterized by variable weather patterns and a large seasonal temperature variance. This location made this somewhat risky art-selection strategy possible, Marion says. Southern Wisconsinites experience winter temperatures well below freezing, with moderate to occasionally very heavy snowfall, and high temperatures in the summer often reaching the upper 80s and 90s Fahrenheit. As one artist whom Marion was working with on the project put it, “If you don't like winter, you have no business living in Wisconsin.”
Perhaps the best demonstration of this four-season imagery is installed on a curved wall in the cardiac rehab gym. Although the decision of what to place on this uniquely shaped wall was to become the most challenging aspect of the project, what came out of the brainstorming was an emotionally multidimensional piece that expresses both the natural seasons and seasonal recreation. The installation is comprised of a series of four multipaneled pieces each displaying a seasonal landscape (from healthcare art photographer Henry Domke's 600-acre backyard nature preserve), a solid color representative of a season, and solid-black profiles of seasonal sports. Aside from radiating the healing power of a natural landscape, the installation also subtly conveys a message of change, rejuvenation, and human activity.
As the main creative thrust behind the installation, H. Marion designer Pam Rosenberg, IIDA, ASID, says this series of images is part of an overall therapeutic thought process of evidence-based design and the Planetree formula, a holistic design approach to healing environments.
“Here in the cardiac gym you have people digging deep and bringing themselves back from poor health, so our art is a metaphor for that,” Marion says. “In a subtle way, by using the four seasons we are illustrating this rebirth and rejuvenation. By and large, the imagery is uplifting, but there is this message that we weren't afraid to convey. In some facilities we don't include that. This project was unique in that we were able to stretch a little bit and bring that kind of thread of the four seasons throughout.”
It was also important to St. Mary's that the interiors include holistic imagery specific to the Midwest. The hospital required that 35% of the artwork marked for the expansion had to be from regional artists so that it would be familiar to those occupying the space. “Artists will basically paint what they know—a Midwest artist by and large will be using imagery of farmland, the seasons, etc.,” Marion says. H. Marion worked closely with artists in the Madison area and then expanded out from there, contacting artists from central Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and Iowa.
The region's population also had a significant effect on the art selection process, Rosenberg explains. “St. Mary's is in the heart of Madison, which is a very culturally diverse and progressive city. It is also home to the state capitol, and [St. Mary's] serves not only city people but 13 rural communities.”
As an example of the area's diversity, the Hmong, an Asian ethnic group originally from the mountainous regions of southern China, make up the largest portion of Wisconsin's sizable Asian population. According to 2000 Census data, the Badger State's Hmong population increased 106% from 1990 to 2000, while that population in Madison's Dane County increased by 298%. St. Mary's wanted artwork that would speak directly to these people, Marion says.
Because the Hmong are noted for their colorful quilting traditions, H. Marion decided to contact local Hmong artisans to create some textile work, which was then framed in a shadowbox. The designers found a suitable location for the piece in a quiet meditation room. “If you don't know anything about the Hmong people, you will at least see some beautiful textile art,” Marion says.
“There is only so much diversity that one can throw into the mix of artwork,” Rosenberg says. The mixture of people whom the hospital serves—the rural community, the “big city folk,” politicians, the college population, and the diverse ethnic population—
requires out-of-the-box thinking, she adds. “Yet we have to represent identifiable art—something that is not so ‘out there.’”
To help bring together the diverse mediums and styles, H. Marion took a cue from the facility itself, whose architecture of clean lines is akin to the Arts and Crafts and Prairie styles. “We selected a frame molding that was consistent with that architectural detail,” Marion says. H. Marion standardized the framing and a neutral double-mat detail across all the pieces to create a clean look that would unify the collection.
“From an imagery standpoint,” Marion says, “even though we were working with different artists and different media, we were selecting art that was either created regionally or looks like it was regional. Our art is there to ease tension, and people from this region can relate to these images. In other words, we are not going to be using waterfalls and mountains—not too many waterfalls and mountains in central Wisconsin. So that criteria we established around this entire art collection process really unified it.” HD