A touch of color at Harborview, a channel for personal healing

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A touch of color at Harborview, a channel for personal healing

Mural project is intended to help restore bodies and spirits
McKenna Princing

On a sunny summer day, a group of strangers gathered on Harborview Medical Center’s west side. They ignored the drone of Interstate 5 below and even the glorious panorama of downtown and beyond. Instead, in the hospital’s appropriately named View Park, they gave life to a mural.

The group was as multihued as their palette. Working side-by-side were a woman with a graduate degree who’s in transitional housing, a man whose mother passed away that morning, a lab medicine specialist taking a break from his busy day and a patient figuring out how far he could reach from a wheelchair. 

All were participating in a class created jointly by Harborview’s art program, the nonprofit organization Path with Art, and local artist Kristen Ramirez.

Ramirez has orchestrated the weekly painting sessions that began July 2 and end this week, yielding nine vibrant wood panels to cover a concrete retaining wall in the park. The mural will be formally unveiled at 11 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 25.

Clare McLean
Art “elevates your daily experience,” said local artist and mural project leader Kristen Ramirez, a teaching artist for Path with Art.
picture of project leader Kristen Ramirez

It marks the first collaboration of Harborview and Path with Art, which offers a variety of free art classes, from photography to theater, to people rebuilding their lives after homelessness, addiction, injury or other trauma.

“Our art program and Path both want to bring creativity and the imagination into service as tools to restore bodies and spirits,” said Peggy Weiss, who curates Harborview's nationally recognized art collection. 

Before the painting commenced, Ramirez brainstormed with a group of students on designs that incorporated themes of healing and transformation. She was pleasantly surprised with how easily the group settled on the final concept.

“I came up with some preliminary designs that reflected the art deco patterns of Harborview, and everyone did their own drawings; one participant came up with the perfect design that I just adapted. When I took it back to class, everyone liked it. That doesn’t always happen,” said Ramirez, who also teaches at Cornish College of the Arts.

The geometric design replicated on each panel reflects the surrounding landscape of mountains, sun and water, she said.

Clare McLean
Harborview phlebotomist Roy Lewis and patient Enrique Martinez paint the mural.
picture of Harborview lab specialist and a patient working on the mural

For Enrique Martinez, the patient in the wheelchair, the bright colors reminded him of his young daughter, who was in the car accident that landed him at Harborview. She died of her injuries. 

“I keep thinking she’d like the colors,” he said during one session.

He learned of the project by chance when he went out for some fresh air. He has since attended each Wednesday afternoon session. He likes to paint and used to do so back home in Honduras, he said.

“I feel relaxed doing this, and it takes my mind off other stuff. I like painting – now more than before,” Enrique said.

Adam Doody, Path with Art’s program director, believes art can help people come to terms with difficult circumstances and take charge of their lives. 

Clare McLean
Michael Brewer transfers paint-by-number notations from small format to the wood panels, which were donated by Plywood Supply in Kenmore.
Michael Brewer transfers paint-by-number notations from small format to the panels.

“The creative act and process, particularly in times of change, creates an environment in your mind where you’re open to new possibilities, actively seeking new solutions to a problem, new pathways,” Doody said. “I think the greatest benefit of projects like this is that they build community connections, drawing people out of isolation.” 

Ramirez also spoke to art’s transformative power. Though she is a full-time artist now, she used to think art wasn’t “practical,” and intended to pursue another field until she realized how much creating meant to her. She returned to school at age 30, a decision she said was her best ever. 

“For me, art is alchemy or magic, making something out of nothing,” Ramirez said. “It elevates your daily experience.”

Many participants expressed a wish that the murals will indeed inspire the hearts and minds of people who see them. Weiss said the murals will be varnished to protect from weather damage, but are intentionally temporary.

“Like many of the therapeutic art projects at Harborview, this is as much about how we arrive at the final product as it is about the product itself. The panels will be on view until they weather, but the experience of making this art together will hopefully resonate with participants as they move forward with their futures,” she said.