An art exhibition during a pandemic by
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Because of the pandemic, I could not accompany my wife Betty inside the Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston for her follow-up visit with her oncologist. I had to wish her well and say good-bye at the doorway.

I was missing those illustrated elevator rides. I was regretting that we wouldn’t be able to go to lunch together after the appointment in the third-floor cafeteria, with its salad bar, its fish baked on the premises, its hardy soups, its many dessert choices. 

After several years of good experiences, I associated this venue with healing, not disease. Betty’s surgery and followup procedures had taken place here, and we were never in doubt about the exceeding competence, knowledge, and commitment of the people who delivered her treatment and care. I liked everything about the hospital and the next-door Dana Farber Cancer Institute–even the floor-to-ceiling bold illustrations you saw when the doors of the elevators closed on you! Striking images of snow-capped mountains, bright blue skies, and words about how the doctors here were “defeating cancer by turning its cells against itself” and “helping the body unleash the power of its own immunities.”

I was missing those illustrated elevator rides. I was regretting that we wouldn’t be able to go to lunch together after the appointment in the third-floor cafeteria, with its salad bar, its fish baked on the premises, its hardy soups, its many dessert choices.  We also would not be able to take a few minutes for quiet reflection in the Meditation Garden adjoining the cafeteria, hearing the sounds of recorded bird calls.

Even more, I was missing my usual walk across the PMC Bridge. Every summer for many years we had watched and applauded the thousands of cyclists of the Pan Mass Challenge–raising money for Dana Farber–ride along Route 6A in Brewster, on Cape Cod, near our home. They were nearing the end of the second day of their 192 mile ride from Sturbridge.  Sometimes in the weeks preceding the event, I would encounter PMC riders in training, and I would join them and chat for a few miles together on the Rail Trail. When Betty got her diagnosis and came to Dana Farber, we were walking from the Yawkey Center for Cancer Care to the Dana Building, and came across this bridge, all festooned with snapshots and videos of our beloved PMC Riders, along with displays of the cumulative total of funds they had raised (now in the hundreds of millions of dollars). That had felt like a very personal welcome, assurance that we had come to the right place.

We had left the car in the underground garage. I couldn’t enter the hospital; I couldn’t sit at a coffee shop. So what was I to do for a couple of hours? I took a walk and soon found myself heading to the Riverway, part of Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. We were right on the Brookline/Boston border, and as I walked across a footbridge to the other side of the Muddy River that meanders through the parkland, I found I was in the midst of an outdoor art exhibition. I encountered an  explosion of color, texture, composition, shape, and form. It was courtesy of Brookline’s Studio without Walls, and hosted by Brookline Parks and Open Spaces.

It wasn’t there because of the pandemic; this was their 21st year of conducting an artists’ competition resulting in a similar series of outdoor installations. But the pandemic context made it all the more valuable. What a wonderful art adventure, so needed at such a time!

Profile photo of Dale Borman Fink Dale Borman Fink
Dale Borman Fink retired in 2020 from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, MA, where he taught courses related to research methods, early childhood education, special education, and children’s literature. Prior to that he was involved in childcare, after-school care, and support for the families of children with disabilities. Among his books are Making a Place for Kids with Disabilities (2000) Control the Climate, Not the Children: Discipline in School Age Care (1995), and a children’s book, Mr. Silver and Mrs. Gold (1980). In 2018, he edited a volume of his father's recollections, called SHOPKEEPER'S SON.

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Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Wishing Betty good health!
    And thanx Dale for a lovely story. Outdoor and site specific art exhibits are wonderful indeed.

    A few years ago I saw a fabulous exhibit of the glass artist Chihuly at the Bronx Botanical Garden, and earlier saw the amazing 2005 Christo installation of The Gates in Central Park. The Gates remained up for two weeks and then the materials were taken down and recycled. I remember walking in the park soon afterwards and my heart sank no longer seeing them there!

    • Thanks, Dana on behalf of Betty and my story. Good tale about seeing and then missing the Christo installation. For anyone venturing out to the Berkshires in the next few months, there are six site-specific installations on the massive grounds of the Clark Art Institute right now. The most thought-provoking: ‘Teaching a cow to draw.” It’s an 85 foot long wooden fence, designed with symbols that are associated with the teaching of basis drawing! There are actual cows that graze in the meadow on the grounds of the Clark, and the artist (an Argentinian woman who knows her cows) was hoping that at least one of them would respond to her thinly disguised lessons!

  2. Marian says:

    Lovely story blending art with Betty’s challenges and those of the pandemic. My best to her!

  3. Suzy says:

    Nice story, Dale, and wonderful photos. I especially like the fish swimming through the trees. And as the others said, best wishes for good health to Betty! (You should tell the cute story of how you met on our old prompt “How We Met.”)

  4. I truly enjoyed your story as well as the wonderful art…so much so that I Googled studioswithoutwalls.org to see other examples. Makes me want to try my hand at something site-specific…maybe something along the lines of Andy Goldsworthy. (And if you’re not familiar with him, look him up…one of my faves.) Thanks for the inspiration, Dale, and continued good health to Betty!

    • I’m happy, Barbara, that you found the link on that poster and went and checked it out! I in turn checked out some images of Goldsworthy’s creations–it’s great that our writings here help us to further and deepen one another’s knowledge. Yea for lifelong learning!

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Wishing Betty continued good health. The pandemic has upended all medical care, so understand your dilemma. Also your appreciation for the PMC, which my husband rode a few times, many years ago. He went to high school with Billy Starr.

    Yet it sounds like disappointment turned into opportunity, as your walk along the Emerald Necklace turned into the pleasurable experience of the outdoor art exhibit (of course, the deCordova in Lincoln has a huge park full of art, but that’s a different matter). It sounds like you found a lovely way to spend your time. Thank you for sharing those photos with us.

    • Betsy, your comment alerts me that perhaps I should have thought more as I wrote this narrative about the difference between art that arrives unbidden into one’s daily life vs. the “art” that we go looking for (i.e., as in planning ahead to go see art in a museum.) How similar or different are our encounters with art in these two different contexts? It seems, now that you helped bring it to mind, a question worthy of deeper reflection.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I loved the pictures as well as your positive attitude in the midst of illness and the pandemic, Dale. Thank you for sharing a bit of beauty and sending good wishes to Betty for a healthy new year.

  7. Risa Nye says:

    I love the serendipitous encounter with outdoor art. It reminded me of the time my husband and young son wandered into a courtyard display of architect- inspired dog houses at the Cooper Hewitt in New York many years ago. Thanks for sharing this story and best wishes to your wife.

  8. John Shutkin says:

    A lovely story, Dale, both as to your wife and her health and healing and the healing powers of art, particularly at this time. And thank you for sharing these wonderful pictures.

    Typical of many residents vis-a-vis their own locales, I have not (yet) seen this exhibition in nearby Brookline. Will definitely have to. And, as others have also noted, the Clark is a wonderful museum, including its grounds. We have gone there whenever visiting Berkshire friends.

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