Exhibit showcases benefits of art therapy for cancer patients
While patients received their chemotherapy infusions, they were invited to pass the time by creating original pieces of art using natural materials, watercolor pencils and other supplies.
By Carol McPhail
An art exhibit now on display at the Eastern Shore Art Center in Fairhope provides a glimpse into the process of art therapy for cancer patients.
More than a dozen pieces that make up the exhibit were created during art therapy sessions at the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute in Mobile and Fairhope. While patients received their chemotherapy infusions, they were invited to pass the time by creating original pieces of art using natural materials, watercolor pencils and other supplies.
“I love doing art while I’m getting my medical treatments because it takes my mind off my current worries,” wrote Wilma “Marsh” Zellhoefer, the creator of “Symbol of Joy,” one of the works on display. “It takes me to places that bring me joy, such as Scotland, where I saw the Highland Cows.”
Art therapist Margaret Wielbut of Fairhope facilitates the art therapy sessions at the MCI in Mobile and Fairhope with funding from the Zoe Foundation. Wielbut said participating in art-related activities satisfies something deep within us. “The main goal of art therapy is to help people mentally,” she said.
Notes on the exhibit explain that the pieces are not meant to pass technical standards, become a source of profit or inspire awe or amazement, but rather are part of a process that allows for personal reflection and rejuvenation. The exhibit will continue through October.
Another patient, Michelle Powe, said participating in art therapy during her monthly treatments for an autoimmune disease helped her overcome a creative block she experienced for the past few years. “I loved the challenge of creating different textures with old pastels,” Powe said of an owl drawing.
A systematic review of art therapy in 2018 looked at the effectiveness of art therapy for women with breast cancer and found significant benefits. Patients experienced a reduction in anxiety, depression and fatigue, according to the results published in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology in 2019.
A native of Poland, Wielbut proposed the idea of art therapy to the Mitchell Cancer Institute after relocating to the Gulf Coast from Michigan, where she worked with children and the elderly. She studied elementary education at Warsaw University and earned a master’s degree in art therapy from Wayne State University in Detroit.
“Advocating for art therapy and the true knowledge behind developing an art therapist in today’s complicated world has always been my passion,” Wielbut said. “Art can be people’s ‘friend’ only when we are able to find the rich energy behind each mark on the page. An art therapist often needs to unveil the humanness during the entire process, starting from the appropriate choice of the art supplies to the final testimony of the artist.”