NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The big guy sat in a little chair at the low table, getting ideas from children and brightening their day.
"Watch this, we're going to draw with our eyes closed," Therman Statom, a 61-year-old artist, said to Kymoni Kigler, 5.
"Can you close your eyes and move your arm like this?" Statom showed the Courtland boy how to make a big circle with his drawing arm, as if churning ice cream. He wanted Kymoni to draw large and loose, to have fun with it and express himself.
The two were in an activities room in the cancer and blood disorders center at the Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters. Kymoni, who has acute leukemia, came from Courtland with his mother for treatment and found Statom's world of imagination and freedom.
Soon after the two-hour workshop started, Kymoni was joined at the table by other youngsters undergoing treatment. Each child's eyes lit up with excitement when they saw the colored pencils, the acrylic paint, the paper and the friendly Statom.
He welcomed each child as though he or she was a treasured guest with a valuable message.
This was more than a standard art therapy session. Statom, a glass artist known for making sculptural environments out of glass, is designing a major installation to be installed in late fall in the hospital's new lobby. The installation will include about 150 blown-glass fish dangling from the high ceiling, displayed like a school of fish moving through the air.
The artist wanted input from the patients, and the entire hospital community, on what the fish should look like and how the design might evolve.
As the children made drawings, he and the hospital staff collected them. One was a twilight blue fish with a black tie. Another, a splotchy red and purple design.
Statom, will blow the glass fish in the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio for five days starting Oct. 21. The Chrysler Museum of Art has offered free studio time and free glass to Statom for this project, for which he is charging no fee. The museum will also allow the public to watch him work for free.
When he's at the glass furnace, he'll be looking at those drawings for design and color inspiration, he said. So the piece will be coming from the children, too.
Art therapist Leigh Dickinson happened by Statom's workshop and instantly saw merit in his method.
"I believe that this hospital is the kids' world, the patients' world. And the fact that the artist would ask their opinion and want to have their insight as to how to create the piece is very therapeutic in itself," Dickinson said.
"Once the artwork is done, when they walk through the lobby, they can feel a sense of pride, and a sense of belonging. They can say, 'I met that guy and I showed him what I thought should be done and he listened,'" she said. "He listened."
Statom has worked with about eight children's hospitals or pediatric wards, sometimes just doing the workshops and often making art with them for permanent display. He started out making art with children with cancer in the 1980s at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
"I'm interested in art and medicine," said Statom, the son of a family physician and a preschool teacher.
Statom's connection to Norfolk began in 1999, when the Chrysler Museum exhibited a major installation of his for the first "Art of Glass" festival. A local glass-art collector steered him toward Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters. A little research and a visit hooked him.
"This workshop justifies the whole project," he said, as it wound to a close. He was thinking of the children's reactions, and his own response to them.
"I got paid today. Paid in spirit."
Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com