CC patient and local artist thrives despite her low vision

An inspiration to many, Clinical Center patient and accomplished artist Ruth Lotz has continued to paint into her 90th year even as her vision fades.

Lotz’s passion for art began at an early age, and since being diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration eight years ago, she has seen her technique evolve and transform. No longer able to produce finely detailed paintings, she takes from memory scenes of places she loved and paints them in a new way. “In a way, I feel freer. The fact that I am unable to paint all of the intricacies of a flower doesn’t stop me from creating a beautiful flower,” Lotz said.

She was honored on May 13 at the CC as part of Healthy Vision Month, an effort by the National Eye Institute to raise awareness of eye disease. The event was attended by Lotz’s family and friends and members of her art community and retirement village.

"Roses for You" by Ruth LotzDespite being legally blind, Lotz has maintained her social life and passion for art and painting, as evidenced by the stunning water media paintings on display in the east gallery on the first floor of the Hatfield Building.

The east gallery is one of eight galleries managed by the Clinical Center art program. The program primarily features artwork by artists from the Washington, DC, area, with occasional exhibits from around the country.

Lotz’s artwork is available for purchase, and 20 percent of the purchase price of each piece will be donated to the CC’s patient emergency fund. Operated through the CC Social Work Department, the fund provides limited financial assistance to selected patients and family members who need help in order to remain part of a clinical research protocol.

Rebecca Parks, an art connoisseur and senior occupational therapist in the CC Rehabilitation Medicine Department, was struck by the beauty of Lotz’s paintings even before hearing the artist’s story. “Knowing what goes into making art and knowing how difficult the process could be for someone with a visual impairment makes me admire her paintings even more,” Parks said.

Parks purchased two of Lotz’s vibrant works of art for her personal collection. Two other paintings will also stay within the CC community after being purchased by the CC art program and the Office of Facilities Management for the Outpatient Pharmacy Department’s permanent collection.

Art donation asks viewers to ‘apprehend these miracles’

Premier local artist Jean Meisel made a generous donation to the Clinical Center this winter of 13 large works, half of which hang in the Magnuson’s Building new main corridor.

Meisel1Early last year Meisel mentioned to a contact at a Washington, DC, gallery that she had a wealth of paintings she’d like to share with those who couldn’t get out to see them and was told of the CC collection. Curator Lillian Fitzgerald visited Meisel’s Chevy Chase farmhouse and chose works she felt would fit the aesthetic of the hospital and create a cohesive showing. The oil paintings join the CC permanent collection, with seven works in the main corridor and six in the Hatfield Building’s fifth floor south wing.

The two groupings of Meisel’s work show a progression in her creative process. The artist studied English at the University of Michigan and did not start painting professionally until she moved to Georgetown with her young family in 1958. With three children, Meisel balanced motherhood with her work as a painter and a photographer, housing her dark room in the family’s downstairs bathroom. She grew quite successful, selling a number of her creations to corporate buyers and showing with The Washington Arts Museum, a non-profit to support local artists, and at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Meisel2A great source of inspiration for Meisel as her career progressed was the Phillips Collection in DC and particularly the works of abstract artists Milton Avery and Nicolas de Staël. “The complicated and interesting colors, simple shapes …” Meisel said. “It was just gorgeous. I thought, ‘I want to do that.'” Her work went from land and seascapes to color-blocks.

After studying three early Italian painters—Giotto, Fra Angelico, and Piero della Francesca—Meisel’s work echoed the dark colors and architectural elements (abstract posts, checkerboards) of those premier artists. “I tried to convey that same sense of reverence and worth,” she said.

The pieces from this era of Meisel’s career—done in the 1970s—stand four-to-six feet high and just as wide. “If you had something to say, you were going to go big,” the artist said.

Her newer works play with black, a color Meisel sees not as depressing, but rather rich and distinguished. She has united her previous subjects, taking natural shapes from her landscape and seascape days and pairing them with the geometric forms.

Her artist’s statement explains: “Every day of our lives we are astounded by the glorious and mysterious objects and events in the natural world. In my paintings I isolate shapes and colors and simplify what I see—rocks, leaves, skies, shells—in the hope that the viewer, like the painter, can apprehend these miracles with new eyes.”

Quilts exhibit the art of science

A unique traveling art exhibit has made a stop at the Clinical Center for July and August. “Art under the Microscope” is a collection of twenty art quilts created by the group Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends and inspired by scientific photographs taken by researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M) Center for Organogenesis.

"Fire in Her Eyes" by Judy Busby

“Fire in Her Eyes” by Judy Busby is a rendition of a photograph by Rebecca Bernardos of a section of a zebrafish retina. Bernados describes, “When the cells that detect light (photoreceptors) die in the human retina, they are never replaced. Some fish have the remarkable ability to produce new photoreceptors after injury. The goal of our research is to understand how these cells regenerate with the hope that this will suggest ways to reverse the effects of retinal degeneration in humans.”

In the course of diagnostic research, the microscope and special stains are used to examine tissues for alterations in structure or function that are characteristic of health or disease. The beauty of the photographs of these tiny biological structures inspired this series of quilts.

This traveling exhibit, organized by the U-M Health System Gifts of Art program and funded by the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, aims to honor these scientific research efforts, enrich community spaces by bringing the arts into everyday life, and raise public awareness about the importance of the arts in health-care settings.

Lisa Ellis is a founding member of Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends—based in the Washington, DC, area—and started the partnership between her quilting group and the U-M Health System.

“I have a passion for making art quilts that make health centers more pleasing for patients and educational for their families,” Ellis said. The “Art under the Microscope” project is Fiber Artists’ third with U-M. The first two highlighted diabetes and cancer. The research focus of their latest collaboration is important to show the different parties involved in health care, Ellis said.

The quilts hang in the CC’s East and West galleries in the Hatfield Building. A reception will be held on August 29 from 2:00 to 5:00 pm in front of the Travel office. The artists behind the displayed quilts will attend; all are welcome.

After the tour, which next takes the quilts to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, “Art under the Microscope” will become part of the permanent art collection of the U-M Health System.

 

Sculpture honors former CC nurse

"In God's Hands," By Tim Tate

(from left): Bob Biddle, Susan’s brother; Diane Vollberg; Barbara Hansen, 5SES staff nurse; and Bobby Biddle, Susan’s sister-in-law, at the dedication.

Clinical Center staff gathered on March 7 at the 5SES entrance to view a sculpture by Washington artist Tim Tate honoring the memory of former CC nurse Susan Biddle.  Biddle, who died in 2005, worked here for more than 20 years.

The sculpture’s location pays tribute to her specialization in cardiology, hematology, and sickle cell anemia patient care. Diane Vollberg, neurology clinic coordinator for OP7, where Biddle worked before she died, said family, friends, and staff voluntarily contributed to the purchase of the sculpture “so her name would continually be spoken at NIH.

Etched onto the sculpture, “In God’s Hands,”are six words selected by CC staff to describe Biddle: humor, devotion, wisdom, compassion, integrity, and nurse.

Sunshine inside

“Carousels of Sunshine” by Arthur A. Plant“Carousels of Sunshine,” a motorized, lighted, musical work of art, was donated to the Clinical Center by artist Arthur A. Plant and his wife Theresa, of Columbia, Md. The carousel hangs in the phlebotomy waiting area, near the Admissions Desk, where it delights children and adults alike as they wait for their blood draws. This is the 12th carousel Plant has created and donated to hospitals over the past 7 years “because of my belief in the healing powers of music, art, and beauty,” he said. Over 50 people attended a reception last month in the Medical Board Room, where Plant received a certificate of appreciation for his donation.