April 2, 2004
Pearl craftsman introduces Methodist patients to wonders of wood carving
By Lisa Uzzle Gates
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—At first glance, it’s hard to imagine what a bar of Ivory soap and a plastic knife have to do with healing.
But therapists and patients at Methodist Rehabilitation Center understand the benefits. This is the tenth week of a 12-week block of art classes being offered at the Jackson hospital. The classes, made possible by a grant from the VSA Arts of Mississippi, offer many benefits for the patients.
“It helps with their creativity, their eye-hand coordination and their social interaction. It’s very beneficial for the patient,” said Tonjala Averett, a recreational therapist at Methodist.
George Berry Sr., a wood carver who lives in Pearl, is in his second week of teaching. He demonstrates complex techniques with a piece of wood and a pocket knife. The patients and therapists work with blocks of the soft, white, aromatic soap. They use large cookie-cutters to press out basic shapes, then use the plastic knife to carve out the details.
Berry is the third artist from the Mississippi Craftsmen’s Guild to work with the hospital’s brain and spinal cord injury patients this year. Jerry Hymel of Raymond taught patients how to make mosaics, and Tom Harmon of Terry taught paper making.
Berry, who has been carving since he was 6 years old, said it’s a learning experience for him, too. “I learn from them. They have their own ideas about what they want to do, and I am learning how to bring that out,” he said. Wood carving is a slow process, so Berry uses soap in the classes because it’s easier to manipulate and produces a faster product. And it’s safer, along with the plastic utensils, for people working to regain movement and control, Averett said.
This is the second year VSA and Methodist have joined together to offer the classes. They are made possible by a three-year community grant totaling $22,000 from the national VSA organization. The international, non-profit organization, formerly known as Very Special Arts, works to provide educational and career opportunities in the arts for people with disabilities. Leslie Scott, director of the Mississippi chapter, said the classes at Methodist Rehab serve several purposes in addition to the therapeutic value.
“We want to try to increase access to the arts for people with disabilities. We hope this gives them insight into things they may want to try once they go home,” Scott said.
They also hope the classes will encourage participation in the annual Goodwill Arts Show held at the hospital. The 16th annual show is exhibiting now through May 10 at the hospital on Woodrow Wilson Drive. Paintings and other pieces of art will be available for purchase through a silent auction that begins after the awards ceremony at 2 p.m. on April 4. Bids will be accepted through 4 p.m. May 4. Auction sheets will be located in the gift shop on the second floor of the Atrium Mall. The price listed on the work is the opening bid. Purchasers may pick up artwork May 5 through 7.
Gordon Hankins of Cleveland took several art classes during his two-week stay at the hospital. He said it was a nice addition to the traditional occupational and physical therapy he has been receiving while at the hospital.
“I think I liked working with the soap the best,” he said of the three different types of classes he participated in. Scott said when they were looking at the classes to offer, they tried to get a variety.
“We wanted to be able to offer different skills so they would all be able to find something they enjoyed,” she said.
The first year the classes lasted for 10 weeks and that increased to 12 weeks this year. Scott said it will likely be 12 weeks next year. “We really had a lot of good feedback and wanted to expand it this year,” she said.
VSA also offers weekly classes for adults with disabilities within the community. Resident artists teach in a variety of mediums, including watercolor, oil and acrylic painting and sculpture. Call VSA at 713-3311 for more information.