The Art of Healing

Mercy Medical Center is using the healing power of art to create a more calming, not to mention beautiful, environment for patients and guests.

Story by Dick Baltus Photos by Thomas Boyd

Think of the typical American hospital and “soothing” almost certainly is not the first word that comes to mind. Hospitals, understandably, can be stressful places.

But a unique program at Mercy Medical Center has done wonders to give patients receiving care for their physical needs – as well as their loved ones and other visitors—a mental respite from the burdens they may be carrying.

Many of the walls throughout Mercy are adorned with beautiful, calming artwork, most the creative output of local artists, including Roseburg High School students. Other pieces have been donated by artists from across the country.

Art as Healing coordinator and artist Janice Matthews with her own creation.

Art as Healing coordinator and artist Janice Matthews with her own creation.

The entire collection is part of Mercy’s “Art as Healing” project, the brainchild of Janice Matthews, an artist and registered nurse at Mercy. “It began after I spent time at Oregon Health & Science University, where my husband had five surgeries in one year,” Matthews says. “I spent a lot of time wandering the hospital halls and discovered many areas filled with beautiful and thought-provoking art.”

A placard under one of the pieces carried the message, “Art has the power to heal and gives meaning to life,” a sentiment that resonated with Matthews during a difficult time.

“I wanted Mercy to have that same feeling of solace,” she says.

Matthews enlisted her friend and fellow artist, Marjorie Feldman, to start an art program at Mercy, and their first exhibit, called“Be a Great Human Being,” a collection of 40 paintings solicited from RHS students and local artists, went up in 2011. Since then, several other collections following various themes have been added, funded in part by $42,000 provided by Mercy. Many of the pieces have been donated by the artists.


—Janice Matthews

Besides paintings, the collections now include mixed media, silk screens, acrylic, oil, woodcuts, photography, a quilt and a sculpture. The works represent more than 75 artists, most local but others the out-of-town friends of Matthews and Feldman, both of whom have donated several of their own pieces to the collection.

For Feldman, the connection between art and medicine runs deep. “I remember picking out lithographs in New York City with my parents for my dad’s surgical offices, so art and medicine have always been linked in my life,” she says.


In addition, when Feldman’s husband, Howard, a recently retired Mercy cardiologist, practiced in Montana he had his office space built to accommodate large works by local artists.

“Art has always been a passion and important to both of us,” she says.

Many Mercy patients and visitors are equally passionate about the “Art as Healing” project, Matthews says.

“Every time I go to Mercy I hear a lot of comments about how much people are enjoying the art,” she says. “That is the reward for me.”