The art of healing

Mural in processOFA Ceramics Program instructor Allison Newsome and her students create a second collaborative mural for Cambridge Health Alliance.

by Harvard Arts Blog


“Art is a catalyst for healing,” insists Allison Newsome, an instructor for the Office for the Arts Ceramics Program. “Art and Healing is now a field of study and taken seriously in the hospital environment nationally.”

Newsome is well acquainted with the healing power of art, having now completed her second collaborative ceramic mural for the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), a healthcare provider in Cambridge, Somerville and Boston’s metro-north communities that is a Harvard Medical School teaching affiliate and also affiliated with Harvard School of Public HealthHarvard School of Dental Medicine and Tufts University School of Medicine.

Installedmural
Mural in the lobby of Cambridge Health Alliance Somerville Hospital Emergency Department.

The first mural was installed outside the Women’s Health Center at Cambridge Hospital in 2012; the new mural, located at the CHA Somerville Hospital Emergency Department, was created by more than 14 student artists enrolled in a course taught by Newsome at the Ceramics Program’s Allston studio. Titled Homeostasis, it incorporates life-reinforcing imagery such as fruit and flowers rendered in a ceramic relief that recalls the architectural ceramics of 15th century Italian sculptor Luca della Robbia.

“We studied della Robbia and the use of majolica glazes as a unifier as well as the della Robbian ancient rite of festooned garlands framing imagery,” Newsome said. “I chose the rich tradition of terra cotta faience, or architectural ceramics, focusing on the traditional forms of Niche, Sun Cross, Roundel, and Square.”

“This provided a matrix theme everyone worked with to make a meaningful mural—a selection of forms that lent themselves to content that could be unified,” she added.

Student artist Julie Nussbaum chose to create a center medallion depicting Hygieia, goddess of health, surrounded by historical landmarks that are familiar to Somerville community members, including the Prospect Hill Fort and the Powderhouse. Another student, Bruce Armitage, contributed two pieces to the mural; one depicts a woman in a garden contemplating serene and happy thoughts, while the other shows a woman holding a basket with flowers.

Others who worked on the project include Christopher Adams, Margaret Bearse, Deborah Bower Burke, Goce Davidov, Lesley Davison, Jia Gu, Kelley Hess, Marek Jacisin, Joyce Lauro, Catherine Lehar, Phi Nguyen, Brett Moore, Stephanie Osser and Elizabeth Timpson.

Newsome class students
Students from Allison Newsome's OFA Ceramics Program class work on the mural's components.

The mural is intended to bring a human touch to a high-tech hospital environment with art that inspires, transforms and comforts patients, families, visitors and staff in the waiting rooms of the Emergency Department and OB-GYN.

“Over the years I have received personal letters from patients, family and visitors that have confirmed how our art has made a huge difference to their experience, usually in crisis, at the hospital.” Newsome said. “During our two days installing our mural at Somerville we received so many compliments and thank-you’s, including a man who had just had eye surgery and said how wonderful it was to see such beautiful art after getting his vision back.”

On Monday, June 20, 4:30-6 pm, the public is invited to celebrate Homeostasis at a reception at Somerville Hospital’s Emergency Department, 230 Highland Avenue. Light refreshments will be served, and free street parking is available on Highland Avenue or, for a small fee, at the Crown Street lot at the top of Tower Street.