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Cathie Bleck
March 2009
A special letter in response to a painting I did for University Hospitals
posted:
Work in progress the day before it was due
A very special letter arrived this month from a mother who had spent 2 weeks waiting, along with her husband as their newborn premature baby strengthened his lungs at University Hospitals NICU. I wept when I read the email and know many of you artists will agree that this kind of response far outweighs any award in one's career.  It is the kind of thing that sustains us and so often we never have the opportunity to hear about the effect our art has on someone. In hospitals art offers patients and their families a much needed escape.  It is difficult to quantify what kind of effect art has on people so I thought it was important to share.  Perhaps getting the word out when a response like this happens will help institutions justify the value of their collections. I thank Trudy Wiesenberger, who recently retired as the art buyer for University Hospitals in Cleveland for commissioning me to do this piece-it was one of the most satisfying commissions in my career.
Here is the letter I received and including a picture of the family.  Ann's husband Jesse was very surprised by his sweet gift from his wife when they came to pick up the art from me. It was their first outing as a family since their baby was born, which made the experience even that much more endearing.  I offered to give them the print (this is on canvas) but Ann picked up the expense of having it printed at Paul Duda Gallery, then I added a few painted highlights and a bit of gold leaf.  The pure joy in knowing their story and that my art can inspire a memory symbolizing their love for one another was enough payment unto itself.
Cathie Bleck,
I am writing to you to share how your artwork, "The Nurturary", had touched my husband and I recently during our son's stay in the NICU at UH. Our second child, Tate, was born early.  After delivery, we held him briefly and then he was taken to the NICU. After that, we were unable to hold him again for almost one week.  We had to be patient and strong during this time for our newborn.  The only way I could explain how we felt, was that we were both "holding our breaths" until he was ready for us. And thankfully, we did not have to wait too long to exhale. He needed to spend almost 2 weeks in the NICU/Step Down Unit to mature. During our countless trips down the hall going to and from his room my husband and I each payed attention to your work of art.  I noticed we would glance at it separately and then one day, my husband actually stopped in front of it.  I was a few steps behind. He was looking at it so intrinsically that I did not say a word, I was drawn to just watching him. It was one of those moments when you feel frozen in time and I felt that I could read his mind. Like he was thinking... I just want to have my boy home to meet his big brother and then our next chapter of our story can begin! And, I could visualize how he was inspired of your scene in hopes of countless hide and go seek and eye spy games he would soon play. As I walked up to him, I  actually did reach out and touch the piece. I guess I could not resist experiencing it with another sense. My husband was still in the moment and all he said was how he thought the boys would like to see this someday. It was such a moment full of hope to commemorate this experience. Later that day when I was alone, I wrote your name down in plans to look you up on the internet. I was especially encouraged since you were local, we live in Mayfield Heights. When I read your detail of the piece on your website I got the chills because our thoughts and feelings were authentic to your vision. 

Along with telling you my story, I wanted to find out if you have any prints for purchase of this work.  My husband's 30th birthday is next month and I think this would be the most thoughtful gift. He is such a wonderful husband and father that I wanted to mark his milestone with something special.  I hope this is appropriate to ask?  
 
Thank You,
 
Ann 


My original post on this piece from 2009
I was commissioned by Rainbow Babies - University Hospitals in Cleveland to create a mural for one of their new wings in the neonatal unit for premature babies.  "The Nurturary" is 36"x60" on 1/4 inch masonite and will hang right by the family lounge as parents and siblings wander back and forth from their baby.   I put a lot of hidden images and little creatures to keep the siblings occupied and hope their minds can drift away for a moment from reality.  The surface feels like skin and my hope is that they will feel the softness of the clay and it will result in a transfer of emotion as they cannot touch their newborns.
I decided to not use the color black in this piece so all of the darks are a dark blue and I used a color palette similar to Hokusai and Maxfield Parrish.  The piece has a lot of dimension, especially on the tree trunk where I built up the layers of kaolin making a putty using my fingers to indent and some rough brushes for texture.  The working drawings and studies at the botanical garden and at our rainforest at our zoo took about a month.  It was important to my client to create a whimsical feeling and the palette coordinates with the interior design, which they provided me samples (wall colors, fabrics, tiles - all in the theme of rain for this section of the hospital).  The only real request was that I have a little child with an umbrella and to keep it a calm and soothing image.
I finished it off with Golden spray UV Acrylic coating, first a high gloss and then about 4 layers of satin.  I spoke with the technical consultant at Golden to be sure I was putting the proper finish on it as I am sure it will have little fingers touching the art.  They can wash the surface with water or a little soap to clean.  Because I live so close, I will probably go by and inspect it on a yearly basis to see if it needs touch up. 
Early stages of the frog area. I built up a lot of the painting in white kaolin prior to painting it.
some texture up close...magic bubbles of the hardened clay
I make my own kaolin paints with powdered pigments. Once you make your own paint...they look delicious, don't they?
This is probably my favorite detail in the piece. I would like to do a painting of just this part.
sketch blown up at Kinkos full size for transferring purposes

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