April 16, 2003
Paraplegic uses art to heal, help others
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Jerry Hymel’s voice booms as he rolls around the makeshift classroom on the fifth floor at Methodist Rehabilitation Center.
Circling a table in his wheelchair, he instructs and encourages patients with brain and spinal cord injuries how to position colored beads into dishes, tiles and birdhouses. The end results are beautiful mosaic creations and big confidence-boosters for the class participants.
Hymel and Jackson artist Sam Clark were brought to Methodist Rehab to teach art to patients with disabilities by a grant from VSA Arts of Mississippi. With the classes winding down, much of the artwork furnished by the patients will be entered into the 2003 Goodwill Art Show held each year at the Jackson hospital.
The show, sponsored by Goodwill, VSA Arts and Methodist Rehab, showcases disabled artists from all over Mississippi. This year, more than 160 have entered and their work will hang on the halls of the hospital’s second floor until the awards ceremony on April 27.
Since a tree fell on him in 1979, injuring his spinal cord, Hymel has been in a wheelchair. A successful artist, he’s crafted mosaics and stained glass and even made an ornament for the White House Christmas tree. He enjoyed teaching the classes at Methodist Rehab so much that he came back to teach one extra class after they wrapped up.
“It’s such a good time,” he said. “You can see how excited they get when they realize what they’re making. They were having a lot of fun, but it was a lot of fun for me too.”
Creating art is just another form of therapy, said Tonjala Averett, a recreational therapist. “It’s good eye-hand coordination for someone who’s had a serious injury,” she said. “And art provides a great opportunity for patients with brain injuries to focus their attention on one task. That’s not always easy for someone with a brain injury.”
Johnny Mount, 22, a brain-injured patient from Diamondhead, attended each of the mosaic art classes. “It was fun,” said Blount who made a mosaic birdhouse and floor tile. “I’m glad they took us to the classes. It was a good distraction from the (physical and occupational) therapy.”
Averett hopes to see the art classes return. “Our patients gain so much from the classes. They’re getting a chance to use their creativity and they also have to interact with other patients and improve their social skills,” she added.
Mosaics seemed like the perfect art form to Hymel who is currently creating an entire wall out of them at Jackson area church. “It’s perfect for the patients because it’s easier for them to take the small pieces and manipulate them into a bigger picture,” he said.
This will be the 16th year for the Goodwill Art Show and the first year that current patients at Methodist Rehab have had an opportunity to enter the contest, said Sandra Walker, director of volunteer services at the hospital. “Many times after an injury patients find talents they didn’t know they had, but it often takes time for them to make that discovery. Thanks to the Goodwill Art Show and these classes, we can introduce them to art and help them develop their ability early on.”
For Hymel, it’s gratifying to see hospital patients with new injuries exploring their creative sides. “We started small, but by the end of the class all of them were making beautiful things.”
Jerry Hymel, left, of Raymond, and Tonjala Averett, right, a recreational therapist, help Nicki Jackson, of Ocean Springs, make a mosaic dish. While a patient at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, Jackson was participating in a grant-funded art class taught by Hymel who is a spinal cord injury survivor himself.