Inspiring new mural created at Randy O’Dell House
Art from the heart
When Wellspring opened up a blank outdoor canvas at Randy O’Dell House and invited members to come together to plan and paint a mural illustrating the impact of cancer, and the importance of Wellspring in their wellness journey, a great surge of colourful emotion poured forth.
“Wellspring has been there for me and my family and I love that this community, and now this mural, will be there for others in the future,” said Kathleen Robinson, a caregiver member who joined the art project and contributed a quote from her late husband Ian Robinson: “What cancer takes – Wellspring gives back.”
Tom and Linda Pollock were also involved in the mural creation, Tom joining the planning discussions and coming out to paint a section on the wall. Linda watched the painting unfold and chose a quote to include that she hopes it will resonate with other cancer survivors: “No where in my story will it read, I gave up.”
“The mural was a really great idea and I was happy to be apart of it,” said Linda. “I didn’t know there were so many colours representing so many different kinds of cancer and I’m glad those were all represented on the wall.”
The idea of the mural project was first hatched prior to the pandemic when Niki Fehr, centre manager at the time (now program director) and an artist herself, engaged two Wellspring program leaders who are also artists, Allan Rosales and Mark Vazquez-Mackay, to explore the potential for a member-driven mural on the large retaining wall at the front of Randy O’Dell House. Like many things, the project was stalled during early pandemic days, but then resurrected by current centre manager Nancy Bilodeau in June of 2022.
“Art builds community and connection. It brings people together and helps them to see and hear each other,” said Mark, who has created many collaborative and community-driven murals. “I am a tool that can help shape the project. We always want it to be about the participants, and we want them to have a degree of pride in the project.”
The process included engagement of Wellspring members in two planning and design sessions, one in person and one online. Members were asked to reflect on what it means to go through cancer, what their experience has been like, and how Wellspring has impacted their wellness journey.
“Feeling and ideas expressed were mainly sensory things rather than images,” said Mark. “Then the ideas were combined, artwork gathered, and a theme emerged.”
Mark and Allan noted how common threads related to people’s stories were woven into the mural, shaping an overall theme of hope, joy, connection, and empowerment.
“Something we talked about while painting the mural was that when people’s hands are creating, and their minds are focused on art, their hearts open and they are able to speak to each other and build strength of community,” said Allan.
Both of the project leaders shared how enriching this experience was for them personally, and how grateful they were to be invited to support Wellspring members in this unique way.
“It was simply an honour for participants to allow me into a vulnerable space where they were sharing their stories and their journeys. I was honoured to be apart of that process – to work with them and to learn from them,” said Mark.
Allan also shared that he was very moved by the experience.
“It was such a heartful project from beginning to end. There are many voices in the mural and that really speaks to the many different people who are affected by cancer,” he said.
Those who enter Randy O’Dell House, and even those passing by, cannot help but be captivated by the winding ribbon of colourful inspiration.
“It’s an authentic display of meaning and emotion,” said centre manager, Nancy Bilodeau. “A message to the world that we welcome all who come with open minds and open hearts.”
Mural Meaning and Symbolism Key
Cancer is not a linear journey – there are many pathways with many ups and downs
- Wellspring support helps members find their way
- Members moved from feeling isolated and afraid to feeling connected and hopeful
Interconnected tree roots symbolize:
- new relationships and a network of support
- the sense of being ‘rooted’ or anchored during the ups and downs of the cancer journey
- stability and having strong roots to rise
- consistency of tree artwork – a theme throughout ROH
- multiple trees speak to being connected to new relationships, supports, and a family atmosphere
- the mural is below ground level and the roots and supports are there even if not readily visible
- inspiring words and phrases from members can be found in the root systems
Hands connected symbolize:
- relationships between Wellspring members, their families, staff members, and volunteers
- different sizes and colours of hands means different ages or ethno-cultural groups who encounter cancer
- shared experiences and the feelings of empathy people experience at Wellspring
- Different colours in the mural represent different cancer ribbons and the different types of cancers.
- Colour gradations, transitions from dark to light, and colourless to colourful, all speak to the darkness of the diagnosis of cancer, and moving through to light infused by Wellspring support.
- Grey parts of the wall speak to the ashes related to what one member called, a phoenix rising.
- Light colours speak to the feeling of awakening the spirit and being uplifted.
- Transition of colours also speaks to the journey of transformation.