Gifts of Art's summer exhibitions offer meditative comfort at University Hospital


Laurie LeBreton, Cool Fire

Laurie LeBreton, Cool Fire, handmade abaca and cotton paper, felt marker, acrylic paint 36” x 36”

This summer's Gifts of Art at the University of Michigan Hospital, on display through September 6, features the works of a multitude of local and non-local artists in nine gallery spaces that offer multi-media artworks and a historical display by the Yankee Air Museum.

The Gifts of Art program's rotating gallery spaces benefit patients, artists, the hospital system, and the community. These public galleries are at the center of a thriving medical community and “are viewed by approximately 10,000 people each day,” making them “some of the most widely visited indoor, non-museum exhibit spaces in Michigan,” according to Gifts of Art.

Though art might not be the top priority of many hospital-goers, these spaces offer a meditative and even comforting environment -- such as through artist Kate Lebowsky's plush dolls that are currently on display -- amidst an often-chaotic landscape.

Laurie LeBreton creates tapestries from diverse sources, including handmade paper, La Croix and other aluminum cans, flowers, wool, and paint. Her exhibition, Honor & Comfort: Handmade Paper & Mixed Media can be found in the Taubman Health Center North Floor Lobby, Floor 1. Here, you will find an array of papers, textures, colors, and shapes evident in her innovative installations. These sculptural works are made from hand-made paper, of varying sizes. The finished pieces are comprised of smaller sheets of paper stitched together, forming complex, colorful, or muted tapestries. The process of making paper is an important part of the artists’ work, creating repetition and meditation that result in her wall hangings.

Kate Lebowsky is an Ann Arbor native and creator of Clover Springs Crochet Dolls, the gallery exhibit at Taubman Health Center North Lobby, Floor 1. Lebowsky’s crocheted dolls are inspired by children’s “daydreams, books, movies and music,” letting “creativity form itself with fiber.” Lebowsky’s finished artworks are described as “plush toys” that are shared “with others through huggable art.” The dolls are meant to create joy and “provoke smiles and laughter.” These huggable artworks are for kids and adults alike, as they are inspired by classic stories such as The Little Prince and Alice in Wonderland, cultural figures such as dancer Misty Copeland, members of The Band, and even Elfquest.

Ronaldo Byrd, Urban Life 2

Ronaldo Byrd, Urban Life 2, 20'' x 30'', acrylic, pen, foamboard

Ronaldo Byrd works with acrylic on foam board, capturing images of people living in his ideal world. Byrd’s show The Bold & The Beautiful: Acrylic Paintings can be viewed in the Taubman Health Center South Lobby, Floor 1. These vibrant works are influenced by comics and illustration, an apt style for the cheerful scenes Byrd imagines. Known as "The Artist of Happiness," Byrd depicts his subjects with overwhelming love and acceptance in playful environments such as fairs, pools, museums, and aquariums. 

The Glass Academy exhibit Cacti, Pine Trees & Tumblers: How Nature Influences Design features glassworks from the Glass Academy studio in Dearborn. The academy is owned and operated by Michelle Plucinsky and Chris Nordin, who were trained at College for Creative Studies in Detroit, among various other professional programs. These experienced glassblowers bring their love of glassblowing to the community through “various art projects, installations and seasonal events.” Plucinsky and Nordin produce glassworks to sell in their gallery, in addition to commissioned works for hospitals and other public institutions. The gallery space in the Taubman Health Center South Lobby, Floor 1 houses a selection of glassworks from cups to decorative cacti, pumpkins, and pine trees.

Jeanne Bieri is a Michigan-based artist and 2017 Kresge Fellow. Bieri primarily works with fiber arts and hand-sewing in a style that recalls oil painting. Examples of her hanging, dimensional works are on exhibit at the University of Michigan Hospital, found in the University Hospital Main Lobby, Floor 1 in Hide & Seek: Fiber Wall Quilts. In her artist statement, Bieri likens her process to painting, stating “Because oil painting involves canvas, sewing was an easy way to connect and move ideas and images. Making art is visual problem solving and sewing keeps the artistic process flexible.”

J. Howard, a Houston-based artist, displays a range of colorful pastels in the University Hospital Main Corridor, Floor 2. In The Art of Leaves: Soft Pastel & Pencil, Howard offers a collection of vibrant, hyper-realistic soft pastel drawings on canvas that border photographic realism. Howard is also a practicing art therapist whose work has received awards nationally and internationally.

Certified fairyologist Jonathan B. Wright and Kathleen Wright, both University of Michigan alumni and Ann Arbor residents, have been on the trail of fairies since 1993. Ann Arbor has fairy doors dispersed around downtown, which began appearing around 2005, one even popping up in the downtown branch of the library. Jonathan documents evidence he finds of urban fairies around Ann Arbor, resulting in his magical collection of fairy artifacts on display at the University of Michigan Hospital Main Corridor, Floor 2 in Evidence of Urban Fairies: Multi Media.

Raymond Gaynor showcases his photographic work in the Gifts of Art Gallery, U.S. National Parks in Through My Lens: Photography of National Parks. The photographs can be viewed in the Rogel Cancer Center, Level 1 Gallery. Gaynor is an Ann Arbor native, and photographer of 25 years. Gaynor’s imagery explores the unique beauty of the American landscape at iconic natural reserves. 

The final component of this Gifts of Art exhibit is Willow Run & The Home Front During WWII by the Yankee Air Museum, which features memorabilia from The Yankee Air Museum, an organization dedicated to preserving historical artifacts and histories related to aviation in Southeast Michigan. The museum is located at Willow Run Airport, a large producer of bomber planes in World War II and home of "Rosie the Riveter." Display cases in the Rogel Cancer Center Entrance Alcove, Level 2, feature collections of “unique artifacts from the US home-front, the Willow Run Bomber Plant, and local WWII aviators from Ann Arbor.”

Elizabeth Smith is an AADL staff member and is interested in art history and visual culture.

Gifts of Art summer exhibitions continue through September 6 at University Hospital, Taubman Health Center and Comprehensive Cancer Center, 1500 E. Medical Center Drive, Ann Arbor. Free. Open daily from 8 am-8 pm. Here's a sneak peek at Gifts of Art's fall exhibitions and musical performances.