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OSH patients help create art piece for new hospital lobby

OSH patients Jaime Wilkinson (left) and Josh Jagchke look over their choices as they decide what to use to decorate their 12-by12 in. boards. Wilkinson and Jagchke were two of more than 40 patients who participated in an art project to create an art piece that will hang in the hospital's new lobby.

August 24, 2011 - When visitors walk into the lobby of the Oregon State Hospital next year, one of the first things they'll see is a bronze relief sculpture depicting the stories, dreams and ideas of more than 40 of the hospital's patients.

The sculpture is part of Oregon's Percent For Art program, which requires all state construction and remodeling projects of more than $100,000 to spend at least 1 percent of their budget on artwork to display in the building. Portland artist Bill Will recently worked with OSH patients to create the piece for the new hospital.

"This is the only project that patients have worked on at the hospital, and I was really excited to have the opportunity to be part of it," Will said. "I thought I'd probably be able to make some contributions, but I think I've probably learned more than I've given."

The challenge for Will was figuring out how to incorporate the work of so many people into a quality piece of artwork that would be fitting for a prominent place in the hospital. He came up with the idea of each patient creating smaller pieces, which he would compile and arrange into a larger composition.

Artist Bill Will labels patient Lewis Brown's decorated board. OSH patients created more than 40 boards that will be bronzed and arranged into a larger composition by Will. The project is part of Oregon's one percent for art program.

Each patient was allowed to choose from hundreds of small plastic items, toys and knick-knacks and given one to two hours to decorate a 12-inch square board. A layer of clay holds the items to the board, creating a three-dimensional arrangement.

Patient Jimmy Lee Cox puts the finishing touches on his zoo-themed board. Cox said he was excited to take part in the project and proud to help create a piece of art that will be part of the hospital for many years.

"They loved it, and they're really proud of what they created," said Pat Fording, OSH's creative arts therapies director. "What's beautiful about it is patients have been doing autobiographies on their boards – one patient did a square foot about his family, another on life at OSH and another on his cultural heritage."

Each board will be cast in bronze before Will arranges them into the final piece, which he expects to be 4-by-12 feet. He said the bronze will provide a new texture and depth to the objects, leaving some easily recognizable, but transforming most into something new.

Patient Jimmy Lee Cox decorated his board in a zoo theme. He said he enjoys art and was excited to have the opportunity to work with other artists and gain new ideas.

"Art is something I like to practice," he explained. "I keep getting better at it, and it gives me something to focus my mind on, which helps with my illness."

Cox said what he liked most about the project was it gave him a chance to help create something that will be part of the hospital for many years.

"I'll never be a famous artist," he said, "but now, it's like there will always be a piece of me here even after I'm gone."