Donated paintings add life to hospital walls

MIDDLEBURY — Tragically, Elise Braun spent a lot of time in hospitals during the years leading up to the April 2009 death of her daughter, Susan Sebastian, following a lengthy illness. It was an experience rendered gloomier by the bare hospital walls that surrounded the two Vermonters during the months leading up to Sebastian’s death.
“Susan said to her mother, ‘There are pictures in the hospitals, but none in the patients’ rooms,’” said Gil Myers, a retired attorney and friend of Braun.
Braun, with Myers’ help, has now decided to honor the memory of her daughter by using the walls of patient rooms in Vermont hospitals as canvasses for the permanent display of local artwork depicting outdoor scenes. The scenes are designed to symbolically remove the institutional walls to which patients have been confined. Porter Hospital recently received 38 works of art from the Susan Sebastian Foundation, which adorn the walls of all 19 patient rooms in the facility’s medical-surgical unit.
Porter Hospital spokesman Ron Hallman said the foundation offered the donation this past spring.
“It was so unusual an offer, I was a little wary at first,” Hallman said with a smile.
But he did a little research on the foundation and its track record and quickly realized the gesture was sincere and entirely altruistic. The foundation even offered Porter Hospital the right to veto any of the art selections.
“It is one of those no-strings offers that comes through once in a career,” Hallman said of the artwork, which has now been hung.
Hallman estimated the combined value of the diverse portfolio of artwork at more than $30,000, featuring work by such local luminaries as Reed Prescott III of Lincoln, Pat Todd of Middlebury, Phyllis Demong of Cornwall and?Victoria Blewer of Lincoln. Represented mediums include pastels on paper, prints, watercolors, photographs on metal, hand-painted photos, inks and oils. The foundation’s work is not only brightening the walls and lives of Porter Hospital’s patients, it is providing an economic boost and new display venue for local and statewide artists.
Edgewater Gallery of Middlebury helped the foundation in accumulating the artwork for Porter Hospital.
“We were delighted to participate in the sourcing and selecting of original works of art for Porter Hospital,” said Edgewater Gallery Manager Bay Jackson. “We fully believe in the Susan Sebastian Foundation’s mission to place contemporary, original art in patient rooms in hospitals. It does make a difference to be surrounded with beauty when going through strenuous times.”
Myers, acting as a Susan Sebastian Foundation assistant, explained that pieces are selected to represent natural beauty, and ideally local scenes that the patients might recognize. Those scenes — including landscapes, fields, mountains, lake scenes and cottages — are depicted as they are in the spring, summer or fall. You won’t find any cold winter scenes.
“(The paintings) help the patient get out of the room, to cheer things up,” Myers said.
That mission is being accomplished.
“Feedback from patients and staff has been nothing but positive,” Hallman said.
Porter Hospital is not the only Vermont hospital to benefit from the Susan Sebastian Foundation’s generosity. The foundation has also given 47 pieces of art to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, 37 pieces to Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans, and 12 pieces to Grace Cottage Hospital in Townsend. Artwork is now being accumulated for Gifford Medical Center in Randolph.
It is a philanthropic endeavor the tiny foundation is undertaking quietly and without any requests for donations.
“We probably will do every hospital in Vermont before we are done,” Myers said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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