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Kaiser Commission - Healing Begins at the Front Door

Updated: Sep 6, 2021

In July of 2017, I met an interior designer with the TLCD Architecture firm of Santa Rosa. She said that she was working on a hospital project and loved my poppy paintings. I didn’t know it at the time, but her firm had been awarded a project to remodel the visitor lobby of the Kaiser Permanente hospital in Santa Rosa. Soon afterward, I was contacted by Rachel Mychajluk, one of the Principals of Curate Art Group that had been selected to curate the artwork for the renovation. As we discussed the project, I was excited to hear Rachel mention that they were looking for nature-themed artwork:

“Healthcare artwork is an interesting field: there's a lot of science behind it. Art should promote healing and be a positive distraction. We're very thoughtful when sourcing art for hospitals, focusing on natural and uplifting imagery. Your work is very colorful and is perfect for this!”

- Rachel Mychajluk, Curate Art Group

Hospitals are places of healing, but they can also be stressful for patients and visitors alike. As I learned more about the project concept from the architecture firm, I was impressed that they were concerned with the patient and visitor experience from the beginning. For the Kaiser lobby renovation, the design concept was developed around the theme that healing begins at the front door:

“First impressions are important in healthcare environments and a positive experience can help reduce anxiety, stress and confusion. One of our key healthcare clients [Kaiser Permanente] understands the importance of first impressions and asked us to help them update several of their lobbies to create an environment where healing begins at the front door.”

The TLCD Architecture lobby design concept was conceived using colors and materials that reflect the local landscape of Sonoma County. These include orange (poppy) accents for seat cushions and entryway accent wall, wood (oak, walnut) for furniture and counter accents, shades of blue (ocean, sky), as well as neutral tones (sand, earth). Commissioned artwork was to represent “the beauty of our geographical location nestled between the ocean and the hillsides.” Initial suggestions for elements in the artwork included poppies, ocean landscapes and hills, butterflies and bees, which are all featured in my “California Treasures” collection.

Just as the remodeling project was nearing the selection phase for artwork, the hospital was nearly lost to the disastrous Tubbs Fire. In the early hours of October 17th, the Kaiser medical staff were informed that firefighters were making a last stand as flames advanced within 200 yards of the hospital property. As smoke began filling the hospital, the decision was made to evacuate all 130 patients to other area hospitals. Over the next three hours patients were transported in ambulances, private buses, and even driven by nurses in personal cars. While all patients were safely evacuated, over 200 hospital staff lost their homes in the fire, including one nurse who had bought her home only a few weeks earlier.

Following the fires, there was also a desire to have a theme or element that “represents the resilience of the community” in the aftermath of the wildfires. This new guidance was very timely as I was researching elements for a series of artwork to express the same theme. At first it seemed an almost impossible task - how could I use poppies, butterflies, birds and bees to capture our community’s spirit and perseverance in the aftermath a devastating fire…and do it in an uplifting and positive way? Surprisingly, the answer came in the form of another poppy; “Papaver californicum”, also known as the California Fire Poppy.

This beautiful, rare flower is endemic (native) to California, and belongs to a group of plants known as fire followers. These are plants that use the heat, smoke or charred soil as signals to sprout. These plants help to stabilize (protect) and condition (heal) charred soil, and provide a food source for pollinators to accelerate the recovery process following a fire. They are the “first responders” in our state’s fire-adapted ecosystem. I knew that this flower was a perfect symbol of resilience to represent our community’s first responders, as well as those who had been directly impacted by the fires.

Resilience Sonoma”, 48x48, Acrylic on canvas

In this bright, uplifting composition, a California Fire Poppy (Papaver californicum) dances with a field of California Golden Poppies (Eschscholzia californica) on a Sonoma county hillside. In the distance, the Sonoma coast is visible as an expanse of blue to the horizon. The fire poppy symbolizes our first responders, in addition to hope, healing and a new beginning for those affected by 2017 fires. The golden poppies symbolize the bountiful outpouring of support from the surrounding communities. The horizon is looking to the future as Sonoma county rebuilds to a better and brighter tomorrow.

I am grateful to Kaiser Permanente for the opportunity to create an original piece of artwork that expresses themes of resiliency, community, and hope in a setting that literally brings healing to our community. I appreciate the vision of healing that TLCD Architecture brought to the lobby project for visitors and patients alike. I am also thankful for the communication and guidance provided by Rachel and the Curate Art Group throughout the project. I was also delighted to discover that my artwork would share the newly renovated space with two lovely pieces from my friend and fellow artist Bill Gittins.

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