by Kamie Robinson
NAZARETH, Israel — The forPEACE mural in the Irwin Green Child Development Center at St. Vincent de Paul Hospital in Nazareth, Israel, was completed August 21. From start to finish, it was a four-and-a-half month collaborative project involving St. Vincent Hospital management and staff, forPEACE volunteers from Israel and the United States, and a team of dedicated artists from Idaho and Utah.
The director of St. Vincent de Paul Hospital, Dr. Salim Nakhleh, proposed the mural to forPEACE director Margret Ellwanger in October 2010. forPEACE had an established long-standing relationship with the hospital. The relations were based on St. Vincent's cooperation across cultures and faiths with medical programs serving all constituents of the greater Nazareth area and medical outreach into the West Bank, when possible.
For similar reason, Dr. Nakhleh and his team previously received generous financial support from Jewish donor, the Irwin Green family, to build the Child Development Center. The stunning Center was ideal for a mural welcoming children entering treatment areas.
In the United States, art student and forPEACE volunteer Brygn Ellwanger presented the mural concept to University art professor and children’s book illustrator Bethanne Andersen. Andersen immediately embraced the idea. “I had been wanting to do a humanitarian art project for months and this came at the perfect time,” she said. Following the introduction, Margret Ellwanger and Andersen began making arrangements and pursuing funding options.
Margret Ellwanger flew to Utah in January 2011 to meet with the artists and provide background information on cultural and site-specific topics.
In April 2011, with the project outline in place and subsidized private funding secured, the mural was announced to the public. Andersen began meeting once a week with four selected exceptional illustrators: Adam Borgia, Boston Madsen, Simini Blocker, and Jake Wyatt. Together they brainstormed, designed, and prepared concepts, colors, and content.
Designing artwork for the three-wall stairwell Dr. Nakhleh selected for the mural was a challenging task. None of the artists had visited Israel and tasted of its culture prior to installing the mural. Their concept of Israel centered on ancient history and mainstream media. Early in the design phase, Margret Ellwanger attended a couple of the brainstorming meetings and answered questions about St. Vincent Hospital and modern Israel.
Hours of collaborative thought went into selecting subject matter and the best way to depict it. Madsen commented, “We wanted to appeal to the widest range of children possible in a sensitive but imaginative manner. We looked for themes that we thought would be cross-cultural such as animals, flowers, and bright colors.”
Each artist was given a specific area to focus on, allowing his or her creative vibes to flow. Wyatt designed the overall framework and setting for the illustrators to use as a reference. Blocker enhanced character features, gestures, and placement. Madsen focused on visually bringing fish to life using color combinations and shapes to create perceived motion. Andersen oversaw visual cohesion in addition to studying the contours of exotic plants, zeroing in on the lotus. Borgia, having worked in a University art gallery for over two years, oversaw all practical installation aspects.
Initially the mural was scheduled to be a two-week installation but was extended to allow adequate time for preparation.
Borgia arrived in Israel a week before the others to survey the walls and find necessary paints and tools. Doing so allowed him time to work through minimal surprises. “You couldn’t tell by the photos that there were two different types of paint on the wall,” Borgia said. “We did a lot of back and forth on which paint to purchase that would coat both surfaces equally well.”
Borgia planned on having a full week to paint, but slowly realized the task was more than he could take on by himself. Everything came together with the help of eager local volunteers. Margret Ellwanger drove to various stores for necessary items. Nadera Tannous, director of the Na’amat Technological High School in Nazareth, translated English to Arabic to ensure proper paint bases and colors were mixed and purchased. Hospital secretaries and staff redirected pedestrian traffic. Grounds crew aided with sanding and taping. A handful of local community members, Mario and Maha Haddad, Christina Nseir, as well as volunteers from as far as Tel Aviv, Mariette Zaionce and Evgeny Bekker, became honorary artists helping apply base coats and block shapes in preparation for detail work.
“They saved me and the mural,” Borgia said. “It was an incredible experience to work with each of them. I wasn’t able to express my appreciation to them enough.”
Bethanne Andersen arrived next with volunteers Tyler and Chase Andersen. She was impressed with the progress Borgia and local volunteers made. A few days later Madsen and Blocker, both interns at Avalanche Software, SLC Disney Interactive, arrived to begin detail work.
The artists painted each weekday morning and afternoon, getting lost in their creative zone until their stomachs or hospital staff reminded them that it was time to break for lunch or lockup for the evening. Breakfast and Lunch was provided by St. Vincent Hospital in their quaint cafeteria. “I looked forward to each and every meal at the hospital,” Borgia said. Madsen added, “The kitchen staff made us feel like royalty. They always served us kingly portions at lunch and every one we met would give us a welcoming smile and a wave."
St. Vincent Hospital also provided lodging for the artists in the wing of a building unoccupied by patients. The artists described the experience as unique and one they will never forget. Sleeping in hospital beds didn’t provide them their most restful slumber, but they were grateful for the opportunity to be close and take in the culture and personalities at the hospital.
The mural was a success for all involved. Through conversations with hospital staff, mural volunteers, local storeowners, and various others at cultural destinations throughout Israel, the artists’ notions about Israel and its heterogeneous population slid from apprehension to understanding.
“I'm not the sort of person that believes a stereotype as truth,” Blocker said. “But I think there's a tendency in everyone to think of people in a different circumstance/culture/country as an "other." Different. This trip really broke those assumptions for me.”
Bethanne Andersen added, “This changed my life, I saw people working for the benefit of others in a new way that was inspirational.”
On the flipside, locals were appreciative of the artists’ contribution to the hospital. “I think its wonderful that people from outside of Nazareth decided to come and help do such a beautiful thing at the children’s hospital,” volunteer Mario Haddad stated. “I was glad to help and be a part of something that gives to my city. The artists came from miles away. I think it’s a beautiful thing that they decided to do such a thing.”
As the project came to a close Dorita Alcalde, Mother Superior at St. Vincent Hospital expressed appreciation saying, “This mural is something wonderful for the children. It will bring life and joy and stimulate lots of thought and questions as they see the joy of animals, sea creatures, the ocean and young children with fish and flowers. It shows a beautiful harmony between things that will stimulate the imagination.“