Pablo Picasso once said, "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
That is what students from Gerstell Academy hope happens when patients at the Tevis Center for Wellness view their artwork in the halls of Carroll Hospital's East Pavilion.
"It is really nice to see how creative the children can be," said Meghan Gonzalez, hospital marketing specialist.
Gonzalez said the hospital reaches out to students throughout the county to look for art to be displayed in their East Pavilion, rotating art every two months. The current student artwork from Finksburg's Gerstell Academy will be on display for the month of March and part of April. It includes 48 pieces of art from the academy's fifth- and ninth-through-12th-grade students.
Molly Pollasch, chairwoman of Gerstell's art department and teacher to the upper grades, said they decided to have children use the theme of hope because it is one of the leadership attributes the school embraces in its curriculum.
"When I talked to my upper school students, the way I approached it was to have them raise their hands if they had been touched in any way by cancer," Pollasch said. "One hundred percent of those students raised their hands. They offered their aunt, their grandfather, family or friends. Then I shared something I don't generally share with my students. I said, 'I want you to know something. I am a cancer survivor.'"
Pollasch said she told her children that hope was an important attribute during the time she struggled with cancer.
"I told them if I hadn't had hope the year I dealt with cancer it would have been harder to come out of it and be happy, healthy and whole," Pollasch said. "And I asked them, 'If you had cancer and you had to have treatment, your hair was falling out and you were less energetic, do you think artwork would inspire you?' And they said it absolutely would. They understood."
Fifth-grade art teacher, Valerie Estes said her fifth-grade students "got it" too. They discussed it at length and in the end they showed it in their artwork, too. Brightly colored, it embraces hope.
"I told them to just be creative," Estes said of the words she shared with her students. "Whatever you think of when you think of the word hope is what you can draw. A lot wanted to put the word hope in the illustration and they built around it. Some focused on words that they thought meant the same as hope, like love, strength and believe."
Fifth-grader Braden Hammond said the project was personal to him.
"My mom had just told me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer a week before the project. I wanted to do a really good job. I hope that it makes them happy and makes them feel better and I hope it puts a smile on their face the day they see it," Braden said of the patients who see the artwork at Carroll Hospital.
Estes said her students asked a lot of questions before they began.
"They wanted to know the different colors of the ribbons that are significant for different forms of cancer. We did some research and found out that purple is the universal color for cancer," she said. "A lot of the kids incorporated that ribbon. They wanted to know if they could just draw rainbows because they are happy and uplifting and some of them used our 'How to Draw' books for specific things, like a unicorn. It was important for them to make people smile."
Estes said it seemed that each of the students took something from their own life to use in their picture.
"I had one little girl who did bubbles and a rainbow. She said, 'Bubbles make me happy,' so that's what she did — bubbles in a lot of different bright colors."
Fifth-grader, Hayden Spitzer said someone in his family had lost their life to cancer. Remembering the grief, he said, she hoped the student art would bring joy.
"It could bring light to someone's day and it could give other people hope and make them believe that they can get better and everything can be OK," Hayden said.
Pollasch said the reason only the fifth grade and upper school students participated was because it fit into their curriculum, but she hopes to do it again next March.
"As they were finishing, Ms. Estes and I were laying them out," Pollasch said. "Some used color and symbols that they perceived as uplifting positive and helpful. But some created compositions that visually expressed some kind of positive transformation or some kind of positive inspirational theme. As they look at the artwork people will see the gamut from color and shapes all the way up to concepts and ideas."
Estes and Pollasch lamented how cancer touches everyone and said they heard the same from their students.
"One of my closest friends was in the seventh grade and got diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma Stage 4," said Gerstell Academy freshman, Matthew Burdyck. "She is currently in remission. My grandfather also passed away almost four years ago from myeloma. Finally, a close family friend was diagnosed and treated for ovarian cancer but was in remission. However, the cancer has returned. All of these people have influenced my life in some shape or form and I found that this art project allowed me to connect with current cancer patients in an indirect way and show them that they should remain hopeful."
Junior Kimberly Lapidario echoed the same sentiments. She said she's always seen a lighthouse as a symbol of hope because it brings light to darkness, so she used that in her work.
"Cancer is certainly something that my family has dealt with," Lapidario said. "It is sometimes very hard to see hope through the devastating effects cancer has. I want my artwork not only to bring hope to the patients but also the families and friends that are supporting them. It was important for me to do this artwork in order to display my school's attribute [of] hope, and I can only wish that it will inspire patients to continue fighting."
Like so many others, Matthew Burdyck used bright, vibrant colors, to draw people in.
"The point of this artwork was to depict the theme of hope and positivity," he said. "I worked with red, pink, and white instead of blues and blacks. When a patient walks in and sees these artworks before going to receive their treatment, I hope that my artwork along with the artworks created by my fellow peers allows for this person to smile."
The students at Gerstell get what Leonardo da Vinci once said, "Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt."
"It was nice to see how much pride they took in this project," Estes said, noting that community service is an important part of leadership training at their school. "I hope [the artwork] does exactly what the kids intended and makes others feel happy or lets them know that people care what happens to them and lifts their spirits a little in this difficult time they are going through."