Capturing the Light of Transformation in Healthcare Settings in the Glasswork of Lea de Wit

June 8, 2022

Capturing the Light of Transformation in Healthcare Settings in the Glasswork of Lea de Wit

When we consider the field of art and health, we see clearly one of the ways in which art exists in service to humanity. Art in healthcare settings is not only public art, subject to reception by all walks of life, but it is also responsible for promoting healing. In the work of Lea de Wit, glass series and multiples are used to capture light and viewers’ curiosity, animating renderings of nature in transformation, encouraging optimism and hope. Apprehending one’s attention with beauty, these works offer the sublime, the unexpected, to a context that is traditionally austere and utilitarian. In doing so, these pieces act where art serves best, helping us to connect more deeply within ourselves, and to find meaning in a broad, universal web of experience.

Working with archetypal representations of change and renewal, de Wit taps into humanity’s affinity for nature, biophilia, as a source and a mirror for healing. This extends to patients and loved ones undergoing pain or uncertainty, as well as healthcare practitioners, whose long hours and difficult work at times lead to compassion fatigue and burnout. By offering contrasting images, such as the flight pattern of birds freely twisting in the air, or leaves scattering horizontally through space, we are invited into a meditation on the elements they represent. Series’ of glass birds suggest viewing our lives from a higher, more detached or spiritual perspective, one free from the constraints of the ground. Images of leaves blowing and changing color remind us of the natural cycles of shedding and renewal, which may encourage us to shed our burdens or our tears, to allow for something new to grow.

Above left: Lea de Wit working in her California studio. Above right: “Ribbons of Color” at the Saint Francis Health System Cancer Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Collaboration with Skyline Art

These momentary reflection points blend fluidly with the design and use of healthcare facilities, standing in contrast to what might otherwise be a somber or even harrowing experience. De Wit’s work occupies a number of cancer treatment centers, and as many of us might imagine, small things can make a great impact on a patient’s experience. With a mastery of glassmaking technique and composition, de Wit’s sculpture works lift spirits and make space for transformation.

“Part of the magic of art”, according to de Wit, “is the idea of making something from nothing. A glob of molten glass at the point of liquidity can become an infinite number of things.” That potential, that inherent metaphor, is physicalized in art, particularly in glass, and translates through to its audience. “Glass is both fluid and fragile” she says, “echoing the fragility of life. If it’s cooled too quickly, or pulled too thin, it can crack or break”. On a visceral level, viewing one of de Wit’s pieces, we have that perception of their solidity, be it a leaf or a bird, the sense of weight that comes with glass. These pieces are quite thick and resilient. And yet the material comes with a poetic element of danger. We attribute fragility and care to these objects, perhaps even assigning a quality of soul, reflecting the light as it dances through them.

De Wit was first drawn to the arts through painting and photography. These early influences can be seen through the way her sculptures take root in a series of objects that traverse a wall or space. This results in a 2D narrative, as we might see laid out on a scroll or canvas, as well as a three dimensional one. By layering rich color and texture, de Wit might subvert our expectations, combining the form of a bird with colors and patterns of water, suggesting a connection between emotion and thought. Suspension adds a drawn line element to other pieces, orienting the viewer to look up, lifting our gazes from the earth-bound to the ethereal. De Wit describes glass as a rhythmic process, which translates through to its composition and the physicality of her sculpture’s episodic, lyrical arcs.

Above: “Cascade of Tranquility”, Johns Hopkins Medicine – Suburban Hospital, Bethesda, MD. Above left courtesy of Artist’s Circle Fine Art

De Wit speaks dynamically of the arc of her life, and how it intersects with her work in healthcare settings. As a late-teen, the artist was struck with a life-threatening spinal tumor, confronting her with mortality and the impact of the medical system. De Wit turned this experience into fuel to pursue her passions and to give back, to contribute to the healthcare environment using some of the tools she had developed to heal herself. “Many people turn to nature for healing, meditation, and solace,” she says. They turn to art for similar reasons. De Wit continues to be inspired by the traumas and resilience that surround her, echoed in nature’s capacity for renewal. Her home and studio occupy a burn scar area, one that was ravaged by wildfires two years ago. She speaks of the devastation, post-traumatic stress, and rebuilding she sees in her surrounding community. “Making or creating is the highest form of hope,” she says.

Difficulty visits us all at different times, and de Wit’s works remind us instead of the energy of life, of that pure potential of creation. She remarks on improvements she’s seen in the healthcare industry, of a richer connection between the way these facilities are being built, and the artwork they hold. It’s an optimistic future, for patients and providers, one where our low points might be lifted, our difficult times supported, in small but meaningful ways, through design and art.

Check out Lea de Wit’s projects on CODAworx here.