Artwork captures spirit of cancer center's mission

With more than 100 pieces produced by 11 artists, the collection of paintings, pottery and photography that graces the walls of the new MCG Health Cancer Center was developed with more than aesthetics in mind.


The pieces -- organized, commissioned, purchased and hung by Molly McDowell, the former owner of the Mary Pauline Gallery in Augusta -- aspires to inspire, to aid and abet in the healing process in a way no scalpel or syringe could.

McDowell signed on in October. By late December, she was hanging the pieces in preparation for the cancer center's opening. Assembling the pieces, many of which she commissioned for the center, required calling in a few favors from artist friends.

"The most amazing thing was how many of these artists seemed to have a story, a connection of some kind, to cancer," she said. "Either they knew someone or worked with someone or were a survivor themselves. It really became, I think, a driving force."

Sheila K. O'Neal, a cancer survivor and the vice president of strategic support and philanthropy for MCG Health Inc., said the idea behind an art collection at the center stemmed from the center's patients.

"We have patients sit on an advisory committee, and they actually helped design this building," she said. "And one of the things they wanted was a space that was not cold and clinical. They wanted a garden, beautiful pictures -- a place that would put people at ease."

McDowell said establishing the collection brought up issues she had never encountered in a traditional gallery.

"I really found myself considering art in a very different way," she said. "I was asking questions I had never asked before. What are the healing qualities of art? What colors facilitate that? Which colors should not be used? What images might not be appropriate?"

McDowell had to scratch some exceptional artists from her list because their work didn't fit the mission.

Pieces that did work include Ribbons of Hope , a massive hanging sculpture in the building's central stairwell by Martinez artist Thomas Lyles; a series of paintings depicting medicinal plants by South Carolina artist Honor Marks; and floral photographs by Athens artist McGinnis Leathers, each named for a breast cancer survivor.

Local art was a priority.

"They felt like MCG Health caters to Georgia and South Carolina and the art should represent those communities," McDowell said.

The cost of the collection was about $93,000. O'Neal said she is astounded by the quality and quantity of work McDowell was able to assemble on a limited budget.

"I didn't see the collection until it was hung," she said. "And I was totally blown away. To see that building and the art in there was incredible. It still is."

O'Neal said much of the money spent is coming back into the center in the forms of donations and is being funneled into projects such as the center's resource library.

"People want to be a part of this," she said. "And they are already donating money so they can sponsor some of these pieces."

As she stood in the infusion room, where patients receive chemotherapy treatments, McDowell considered Augusta native Luke Allsbrook's Savannah River landscape Shadowlands , which dominates one wall.

"What's important isn't that this is a wonderful painting, although it is," she said. "What's important is what it accomplishes. It will remind the people that use this facility that there is still a world out there, waiting for them and that life still goes on outside this room.

"That's a lot."

Featured artists

Artists represented in the MCG Health Cancer Center collection:

- Luke Allsbrook

- Troy Campbell

- Shishir Chokshi

- Cecilia Durst

- Michael Fowler

- McGinnis Leathers

- Thomas Lyles

- Honor Marks

- Lillie Morris

- Lanny Webb

- Lou Ann Zimmerman