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It's probably better to have the U.S. and Soviet militaries trading murals instead of missiles. Maybe it could start a trend -- an art race instead of an arms race.

Working informally in Bancroft Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy, under the direction of self-taught artist, idealist and former advertising account executive John Feight of Atlanta, the executive director of the the Foundation for Hospital Art, a group of midshipmen volunteers helped create two murals in a little more than an hour Wednesday.

One, representing the coat of arms of the academy, will be sent to the Frunze, the Soviet naval academy in Leningrad. The other will be sent to one of the U.S. hospital ships stationed in the Persian Gulf.

The volunteers also signed another mural outline of a dove of peace, which will be sent to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow when completed.

Lending a hand briefly were Rear Adm. Joseph W. Prueher, commandant of the Brigade of Midshipmen, and Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. Virgil L.

Hill Jr. Both officers supported the foundation's efforts to promote peaceful contacts between American and Soviet citizens.

"It's an interesting concept, this idea of doing something in exchange with the Soviets," Hill said. "It's also startling, when you consider that even a year ago the reaction to such an idea would have been 'What, you must be nuts!' " The mids, many of whom were on their way to dinner before studying for exams, worked vigorously to fill in the murals, using outlines created by Feight.

"I think it's pretty neat to be giving something to (the Soviets) and have them give something back to us," said Midshipman Lance White Wolf of Phoenix, one of the mids who took part in the project. "Before, I used to never see anything about this sort of thing. It could be the start of something better."

The effort was part of Operation Metamorphosis, a foundation-sponsored project that oversees art exchanged between U.S. and Soviet military hospitals. The Soviet part of the exchange, including a mural from the Frunze, is scheduled for completion next spring.

The foundation was created by Feight in late 1984, he said, "as a non-profit, publicly funded foundation dedicated to comforting people who suffer in hospitals by softening up hard walls with artwork."

Asked why, Feight explained, "A long time ago, it was thought that hospitals should be clean. I want them to be beautiful. The only way to accomplish that is to do one mural after another in one hospital after another, all around the world. I want to create and establish the thought that when people build hospitals that they will make them beautiful, not just make them clean."

Toward that end, the Foundation for Hospital Art has coordinated the efforts of more than 15,000 people in 5,000 hospitals worldwide to turn out murals. It has enlisted the support of more than 50 U.S. embassies around the world to locate deserving hospitals.

"My part of the dream is to start teaching artists not so much how to draw on a wall as how to hold a patient's hand," Feight said. "You look up at a wall in intensive care and all you see is a blank space, and it shouldn't be that way."

Those interested in learning more about or in supporting the foundation's efforts can write to the Foundation for Hospital Art, 230 Hillswick Court, Atlanta, Ga. 30328, or call (800) 677-5933.

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