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Reflections on Art and Healing

On June 2, artist John Westmark participated in a program at the Gibbes called Art of Healing. Over the past two years, the museum has hosted a number of programs that focus on the many ways that art connects with healing and wellness. This particular program entailed in depth discussions of several paintings on view in the exhibition John Westmark: Narratives, including a large-scale canvas titled Sisters.

SISTERS by John Westmark

Sisters, by John Westmark

For me, Sisters is a particularly powerful painting. The work depicts two women standing hand-in-hand, bound together by red string. They appear strong, resolute, and ready to take on the world. I connect with the painting because I am fortunate to have a sister who has been my lifelong best friend. In January 2013, my sister Angie was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia. It was a devastating diagnosis, but I knew she would fight with every ounce of her being. It may sound cliché, but she is a warrior in every sense of the word, and has been since we were kids.

Angie's first day of kinder

Pam Wall and her big sister Angie

Shortly after Angie’s diagnosis, I began working on John’s exhibition. Sisters was one of the first paintings added to the object list. I worried about Angie constantly, but Sisters gave me a measure of reassurance. It reminded me that Angie was every bit as strong as the women in the painting, and I needed to be just as strong to help her through this battle. The red string held particular significance. Blood cancer was the enemy, but family bloodlines were ultimately what saved Angie’s life. In May 2013, she received a lifesaving stem cell transplant from our brother Chip.

I am thrilled that Angie’s story is now one of healing. She recently hit the one-year anniversary of her transplant, and life is slowly returning to normal. Whenever Angie is on my mind, I take a few minutes in the gallery with Sisters. The painting has helped me to cope over the past year and half, and reminds me of all I am thankful for. And as I raise two daughters of my own, I hope they will stand together like the sisters in John’s painting, ready to face the triumphs and challenges life has in store.

Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions

Published June 11, 2014

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