The healing power of art

pseligson@newsobserver.comJanuary 13, 2014 

— Students at Neuse Charter are helping cancer patients through art.

In Healing Ceilings, a project launched last year, artists paint ceiling tiles that are placed in chemotherapy treatment rooms and other places where patients have to wait for long periods.

Amy Jo Edwards of Raleigh started Healing Ceilings after doctors treated her husband for colon cancer. She noticed that patients stared at stark-white ceilings for hours at a time.

Edwards told a friend who had also gone through cancer treatment, and that friend, an artist, said she took down the ceiling tiles and painted what she wanted to look at.

“And I went, ‘Oh!’ ” Edwards said.

The project goes beyond aesthetics: Edwards said research shows that bright, calming art, especially of nature scenes, can help in the healing process. In studies, she said, patients who looked at art needed less pain medication and healed faster.

Since starting Healing Ceilings, Edwards has collected more than 300 tiles, which she has placed in cancer-treatment centers in the Triangle, including Johnston County. Edwards, who is a writer, not an artist, started by reaching out to her many friends who are artists.

All of the artists say the same thing, Edwards said: “I can’t cure cancer; I can’t fix anything. I never thought about art in this way, but I am a pretty darn good artist. Let me paint.”

Edwards’ dream is to have healing ceiling tiles in every treatment center in the state and for others to copy her model, taking the project to their communities.

Molly Layton, art teacher at Neuse Charter, heard about the project and got in touch with Edwards. She has around 80 students who started working on ceiling tiles in November.

“I haven’t seen a project where the students have been so enthusiastic and have put so much effort into what they’re doing,” Layton said. “The ceiling-tile paintings are some of the best they produced.”

Layton said the students like that their art will be seen by many people while also helping others. “Even projects where most are invested, a couple of kids, no matter what you do, they’re not that into art,” she said. “But literally every student I’ve presented this to put some good effort into it.”

Edwards praised the quality of paintings created by the middle and high school students. “They produce just beautiful and inspiring stuff,” she said.

On her ceiling tile, Neuse Charter student Kaylie Delatorrye, an eighth-grader from Clayton, painted a sunset over the ocean. “I think it’s really great that we’re doing something like this because it helps people, and it’s really fun to help,” she said.

At first, Kaylie had trouble coming up with an idea and thought she would have trouble painting on the rough surface. But Layton encouraged her, she said.

Kayla Williams of Smithfield, an eighth-grader who also painted a sunset, said the project was soothing; her aunt had cancer, and it feels good to help out in some way. “It makes me want to do my absolute best and not just think about what I want to do,” she said.

Zoe Hubbard of Smithfield, also an eighth-grader, was just starting her ceiling tile last week; it will be a tree with a sunset inside. “I think it’s amazing that we can do this for people,” she said. “Bring them a little more happiness in the hospital. “

Normally, Zoe’s art doesn’t go to people outside of her family and friends. “I’m super excited that people are going to see it, and it might help people through a difficult situation,” she said.

Zoe said the ceiling-tile material is a challenge to paint on. “But it’s also a fun, new way to experience things because I’ve never done this before,” she said. “I’ve had (Layton’s) class for a long time. … I know the awesome things we can do in here, but I never knew we could do this.”

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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