Art adds depth to rehab therapy

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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing Reporter

Hospital stays are difficult. Some are even more difficult when they are long-term and paired with necessary therapies to prepare for better functioning after certain surgeries or serious injuries. When that rehabilitation takes place in an inviting atmosphere, however, the patient's outlook can change.

"With hospitals, in most cases, this is the darkest season in this person's life, or of this person's family's life, and it's very important to have beauty or a calming, aesthetically-pleasing environment as much as possible," said Sarah Landon, West Suburban Medical Center occupational therapist.

The Subacute Rehabilitation Gym went from plain to painted one weekend when Landon bedecked the walls where physical, occupational, and speech therapies take place at the hospital.

"Therapy Woods" in the physical therapy room has four trees surrounding equipment, such as mat tables, parallel bars, stairs, weighted sticks and wall bars. Each tree represents a season, with pink-tinged flowers floating from the branches of the spring tree, a hint of a breeze almost in the air. The summer tree has a small caterpillar, inspired by one of Landon's coworkers. Fall is represented by another tree starting to shed its leaves, although there's nothing to rake from the floor. Winter is a pair of trees flanking the opening to another smaller room, a hint of snow on their branches with no chill in the air. Instead, the space is filled with the warmth of therapists who move through the area.

In the occupational therapy room, there is a willow tree, with branches hanging down, green leaves spreading around the room.

One patient, Bob Stewart, benefited from the change. Due to health issues and surgery, he has been using the Subacute Rehabilitation Gym for physical and occupational therapies as part of his recovery.

"I've been here for so many months," said Stewart, who lived with his wife Adele in Oak Park for 40 years before moving to Westchester. "[The art] makes me feel better. I was really surprised when I found out it was one of the people who worked there."

Landon is a self-taught artist who took up painting while attending graduate school for occupational therapy in California.

"Once I was done with my first year, it wasn't as demanding time-wise as I thought it was going to be," she said. "I just started painting."

Selling her canvasses for $50, by the end of her program she had sold 100 paintings to her classmates. Landon also exhibited monthly at Long Beach art shows. "In Long Beach, they love originals, so I was constantly moving canvases," she said.

This led to making prints of the paintings, which sold better when she moved to Chicago. Here she also started doing murals.

Others in the department knew about Landon's art and wanted her to create murals in the rehab gym. Approval secured, she got to work and completed the project in 10 hours on a Sunday in May.

"I think woods and trees are a peaceful medium and it produces a healing effect. One patient said, 'It's like your seasons of life. Right now, I'm getting better and I'm in winter, but I will be in spring and then it will be summer again.'" 

Other patients tell their therapists it gives them something to focus on while doing their rehab. Stewart finds the art to have just the right balance for the space. Now 86, he was an architect before he retired.

"I went to school under Mies van der Rohe and one of his sayings is 'Less is More,'" Stewart said. "When you do something like that you tend to do too much. What she did was just right. It's inspirational. It's the right amount of picture for the space."

When Landon is not working full time as a therapist at West Suburban, she is often painting. She currently has artwork showing at Block 37 in Chicago, murals at various locations in the city, and sells prints online.

More on Sarah Landon's art at arcanuminheritance.com.

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