The Periwinkle Arts In Medicine program at Texas Children's Cancer and Hematology Centers provides creative activities that give children and others affected by pediatric cancer and blood disorders an outlet for “self-expression, empowerment and healing through the arts.” Each year, through its Making a Mark program, the foundation shares the work of these young artists with the public. This year, 300 works of art will be displayed at Texas Children’s Hospital and then around Houston. Alongside these works will hang a collaborative fabric flower garden which I co-created as this year’s featured artist, together with the children, their families and numerous volunteers. There will be an opening reception for the work on September 7, 2019, from 2-4PM at Texas Children’s Hospital.
This spring, I was honored to be invited to propose a collaborative art project that would take course over eight sessions for the Periwinkle Arts In Medicine program at Texas Children's Cancer and Hematology Centers. My proposal was a colorful flower garden created from up-cycled textiles. During each workshop, the children would create unique flowers from colorful strips of fabric. The garden would be as large or small as it needed to be, depending on the body of work we would create. I would assemble the final composition, including each flower. Individually, the flowers would be beautiful. Together, they would be a riot of color and texture.
To my great happiness, the proposal was selected and I was able to begin the rewarding work of creating a fabric flower garden with children, their families and the wonderful staff and volunteers at the Periwinkle Foundation. The raw materials for the project were procured at local thrift shops. There, I selected materials by color and texture, hanging a rainbow of discarded clothing from the handle of my cart. In my studio, with the help of friends, each article of clothing was disassembled. We cut along each seam, leaving a pile of flat rectangles. These rectangles were then cut with a rotary cutter like spaghetti with a knife, leaving a pile of colorful strips from which the children would make the fabric flowers. This part of the process was both labor-intensive and zen-like and gave me an excellent excuse to spend some quality time with friends in my studio. It was an easy ask and everyone I invited was eager to help.
Over a period of months, I would arrive at the Texas Children’s Hospital with my hard-won bins of fabric noodles. I would meet the coordinators, Carol and Erin, who would introduce me to a lovely stream of humans who volunteered their time with the Periwinkle Foundation. For three wonderful hours, we would create pom-pom flowers from the fabric strips, teaching the volunteers and in turn the kids. Some were shy at first, some were enthusiastic from the beginning. Some made one flower. Others made many. The flowers were created by wrapping strips of fabric around a template, with colors and textures selected by the maker. Once the template had been filled in, the strips, which had now created a series of loops, were cut and tied together and the template was removed, revealing a fresh, new flower. For me, the reveal was always the best part. You never quite know how the fabrics will interact with one another. The strips included stretchy, gauzy, knit and woven fabrics, each of which behaves differently, meaning the reveal was always a surprise. Once each flower was completed, we invited its creator to add it to the garden. Slowly but surely, together we created an ever-expanding flower patch.
Working with the young artists who contributed to our garden was truly a rewarding experience. They and their families are confronting difficulties that I cannot begin to understand from my own experience. Serving as an instructor and working with groups of kids, the sessions did not focus on the greater challenges that these families are facing. Even though our work was punctuated by the presence of medical devices and the presence of kind nurses, from my perspective, the act of creating a fabric flower seemed to offer a welcome challenge on a smaller scale. The Periwinkle Foundation bases its work on the understanding that “artistic activities by and for children create opportunities for self-expression, empowerment and the development of coping skills.”
To present the garden, I enlisted the help of my friend, Macon Leiper. Together, we built a large, wooden frame that would hold the body of work we had created. Back in my studio, I placed each flower inside the frame, allowing the piece to transition from yellow to purple. The culmination of months of work by many individuals, this was such a satisfying moment! I can't wait to share the final result with the many artists who helped to create it. I hope it brings them the same joy.
ABOUT MAKING A MARK
The Periwinkle Foundation
Making A Mark® is open to children from treatment centers all over the world. This year, more than 300 pieces of individual art and creative writing will be exhibited at Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH), which is the first stop on the exhibit’s journey as it travels year-round to ten other venues including TCH West (Katy); The Woodlands Children’s Museum; The Glassell School; HEB, San Felipe; The Houstonian Club; McAllen International Airport; Houston Hobby Airport; and Intercontinental Airport where it is viewed by over 11 million people. In addition to individual submissions, Periwinkle partners with a local, professional artist to host a series of workshops with patients and families to create a collaborative, visual arts piece to be featured in the annual Making A Mark® exhibit which has now displayed over 6,500 works of art since inception.
The most powerful part of the Making A Mark project is the ability of these young artists to reach far beyond the realities of their treatment and touch people worldwide. The Periwinkle Foundation’s Postcards From the Road program allows people who view the traveling exhibit to write a postcard to the artists. The Periwinkle Foundation mails each postcard to the artists to share with them the well-wishes and inspirational words their art inspires. Here are some examples of postcards we have received:
“I was walking through Hobby Airport and stopped to look at the artwork. Your picture of the bare tree is beautiful – but not nearly as beautiful as your heart. Thank you for sharing. My life is better today than yesterday.”
“You are beautiful. I am a stage 4 cancer survivor of over 11 years. You will definitely survive and thrive and be stronger inside and out and help to change the world.”
Special thanks to the many volunteers at the Periwinkle Foundation who helped make this project possible as well as the friends who lent their time and skill.
Carpentry: Macon Leiper
Fabric prep: Angel Oloshove, Susannah Mira, Stephanie Gonzalez, Alicia Price, Kendra Baze-Craven and Family
Photography and Videography: Javier Paredes, Gerrard Harrison