Holding art in the art room

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Art and storytelling at the hospice

By Stevan Stratford, Artist in Residence at St Barnabas House

In this blog:


Historically, art has served where words can sometimes fail us. It can offer us alternative means of expression, allowing us to explore, process and share the difficulties of life, death, love and loss, in a uniquely personal way. Equally it can be diversionary, fun and distracting from the challenges. That is the beauty of it, art can be whatever you want it to be, and can serve a unique purpose in a hospice environment, where some people may be struggling to verbalise thoughts and feelings

At St Barnabas House, I have often heard ‘I can’t paint, I can’t draw’, and that may be the case, but it does not mean you are not creative. Everyone has a story to tell – from everyday moments to life-changing events. Telling our story, or part of it, can help us make sense of things, to process and possibly share both the challenges and the joys we experience.

To creatively capture an aspect of our story can be empowering, and enjoyable. We can find a voice through art in so many different forms and my role as Artist in Residence at St Barnabas House is to work alongside you, to support and aid you in whatever way you might choose to tell your story.

Telling your story

Whatever story you choose to share is completely up to you. You can share a small part of your story, or all of it. If you’re struggling to think of a starting point, ask yourself, ‘what have I done with my hands?’

Our hands are one way we engage with the world throughout our life. Many of us use them to earn our living, and to nurture our loved ones, but we don’t really think about all the things we do with them.

A few years ago, I asked a group of patients at the hospice the same question I just asked you. And the results were beautiful. They varied and were individual to each person. Some people focused on their roles in their families, or their professions, whilst others focused on challenging life experiences. We captured these stories by working together to create a series of photographs, each telling a visual story. Everyone who took part was able to give copies of their images to family and friends.

Art and hands

You don’t need to write a book (but you can if you want!)

Telling your story does not mean that you must write a book. Art can be whatever you want it to be – from drawings and paintings to filmmaking and photography, and it does not need to be super skilful or complex.

We’ve used many mediums at the hospice in our art room to help patients tell their stories, including putting on our very own puppet show. We got a group of patients together and spent some time sharing anecdotes and stories from our lives, then worked together to write a script for a puppet show. Everyone could get involved as those who didn’t want to tell their story helped make the puppets, sew costumes, and build the little theatre. It’s important to remember that art is not just about the success or failure of what we create, but also about how we get there, and it’s about enjoying the process.

A few years ago, a patient group worked on a project where their rings were photographed, and they shared the stories behind their pieces. Whether it’s a family heirloom, token of marriage, or souvenir from our favourite holiday, our rings often have stories attached to them, and this project allowed people to tell their stories in a unique way. (Click on the image below to see the full story).

Hands and rings

Your audience is your choice

Once you’ve completed your work – your story – you can share it with an audience of your choosing. It could just be an audience of one (you!), me, your family, or you can share it with the public. It’s your story, your art, and you are in complete control at every stage of this process. From the jewels we wear, the work we do, to the big life moments we experience, the twists and turns of life make us who we are. If you’re a St Barnabas patient and are interested in working with me, please get in touch with the Family Services team or speak to any member of staff. I’d love to work with you and help you tell your story.

Image of our artist-in residence in front of some artwork

About the author:

Stevan is passionate about art and creativity, he has a Fine Art Printing BA (Hons), Fine Art MA, and a Boise Scholar from the Slade School of Art. Before joining St Barnabas House, Stevan was a freelance designer and photographer, producing books, magazines, and exhibitions for national and international charities and businesses, as well as the local authorities.

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