Art students create with area cancer patients

Nov. 11, 2014

Fran Griffin of LaGrange loves art therapy classes at West Georgia Health. She is a breast cancer survivor, and she said she finds solace and support in the hospital’s program.

But when she first heard about the fall art project that was planned, she wasn’t particularly thrilled.

“They told us we were going to be doing pottery at LaGrange College, and would be making masks,” she said. “Masks? I just wasn’t interested in that.”

But the 76-year-old decided to give it a shot, and she discovered something she never knew about herself.

“As soon as my hands touched the clay, it was almost like something went through me,” she said. “It just drew me in. I started out sitting down, but the next thing I knew, I was standing up and I was all in it. I just loved it. We are so grateful to the college for this opportunity.”

Tim Taunton, Professor of Ceramics and Sculpture, said this wasn’t the first time the Art Department has hosted a group of cancer survivors.

Art students create with area cancer patients “We had some patients a few years ago who came as a result of work done by Amber Dow, a former student,” he said. “When we were approached about doing it again, I knew it was something our students would enjoy.”

Taunton, who also teaches sculpture and 3-D design, found three young artists who were willing to work with the patients.

“I offered the space, clay and firing,” he said. “The students took it from there.”

Every Friday for three weeks, Brenna Richardson, Julia Copes and Kortney Jennings showed four cancer patients how to work the clay, how to mold it and how to make it their own. They said the sessions became just as meaningful for them as they were for the older women.

“The process was much more important than the final product,” Kortney said. “There were no boundaries, so they had free rein in making their pieces. I enjoyed seeing the different masks and hearing the thought processes behind each one. I got to know a little bit about each one of them in the few sessions we had, and we all bonded.”

Mary Ann Hodnett coordinates the art activities for West Georgia Health, and she is convinced the projects help patients deal with their disease – and the emotions that come with it.

“Some people just want to go through the treatment, get it done and then go on as if cancer didn’t even exist,” she said. “But there are others who want and need our support. We try to provide patients a safe place to be themselves and a way to deal with all their emotions.”

Sheila Hornsby said her mask did just that.

“As soon as they told us what we were going to do, I immediately thought of that song, ‘Tears of a Clown,’ ” she said. “Clowns make me cry because their happy faces hide their tears.”

Hornsby said the loss of her hair during treatment was the hardest thing for her, and she wanted to reflect that in her work.

“I actually started out making the top of the mask bald,” she said. “But after Kortney showed me how to do the hair, I kind of got carried away. So now my mask, with its tears, also has a full head of hair.”

Cancer survivors Nellie Gadson and Mary Ellen Bray participated in the project, as well.

Professor Taunton said he hopes the college will be able to offer more art opportunities in the future.

“It doesn’t have to be just clay,” he said. “It can be other 2-D media, such as photography, painting or drawing. It just depends on student interest and available studio space.”

Meanwhile, Griffin is ready and waiting.

“The students were so wonderful and patient with us,” she said. “We learned so much from them in just that short time. I’m a walking example of the power of art, and I can’t wait to do something with clay again. Who knows, I might even take a class.”

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