Art Heals At Winthrop

The new mural outside of Winthrop University's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that was donated by Jim and Ellen Riley of Garden City
The new mural outside of Winthrop University’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that was donated by Jim and Ellen Riley of Garden City

As a former board member of Winthrop University Hospital, a place where his four daughters were born, Jim Riley always had warm feelings for this place of healing. When the former Garden City resident was looking for the recipient of his next philanthropic contribution, it was during a time in 2015 when there were studies and articles written about how artwork in hospital settings proved to be therapeutic for not only patients, but visiting family members and hospital medical staff. It was enough for Riley and his wife Ellen to commission Philip Jordan to create a mural for Winthrop, an endeavor that was fully supported by the hospital administration.
“Having done a little bit of homework and realizing that there’s been quite a bit of work done on the healing power of art in hospitals. The thought process behind our thinking was there was something we could do that could take the patient’s mind off the pain they’re in or the current situation their family might be dealing with,” Riley explained. “It was about making them think about the medical field from a research and historical perspective. As you go through the mural, you can see that there’s a history of some famous doctors, nurses and researchers and the concept being that you instill some confidence in the patient and the family that Winthrop’s nurses, doctors and staff are all in this together.”

The dynamic mural is bursting with color and is nine feet high by 32 feet long. The nearly year-long project is located near the New Life Center for labor and delivery on the main floor of the library in a brightly lit hallway across from a heavily trafficked elevator bank. This walking tour of medical history is dominated by a depiction of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, whose Hippocratic Oath can be found on the far left side of the mural. Other notable details are the inclusion of modern nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale, people exercising and eating healthy and even a nod to eastern medicinal traditions including acupuncture and yoga. With guidance from the Rileys, it wound up being a creative choice Jordan made that ably fulfilled what his sponsors were looking for.

Artist Philip Jordan
Artist Philip Jordan

“It was a challenge for me to combine art and science together and it took months of research just to wrap my head around all the deep history of medicine,” Jordan said. “I thought a mural strictly historical would be too boring, so I added elements of fantasy and color in collage form to breathe interest into the historical aspects of medicine and Winthrop’s role as a leader in the healthcare community.”

Woven into this unorthodox tapestry are a number of scenes also depicting life on Long Island. It’s a nuance Riley wanted to make sure that Jordan captured.
“We’re Long Island people. My wife and I and our daughters spent our entire lives on Long Island. So we asked Phil, who is also a Long Islander from Huntington, to blend in beach, water, park and boating scenes—things that we as a family growing up did,” he said. “Those are our best memories and I think if you can look at something that brings back good memories, it can help you in a very stressful period of time. I think that’s what made us think about doing something a little bit outside of the box.”

Ideally, Riley hopes the mural winds up being a blend of positive experiences coming from emotional, educational and nostalgic perspectives.
“It’s on the way to the maternity ward, so you have little kids walking by for who it can be educational too. You can stop and point out where history has started in the medical field and maybe point out some locations when you were growing up where your parents might have taken you on Long Island,” he said. “To me, as a family, we’ve been very fortunate and lucky and we want to make sure that the hospital has the support of the community behind them. That’s what we’re trying to do is remind people where they came from and what the hospital has done.”

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In addition to being editor of Hicksville News and Massapequa Observer, Dave Gil de Rubio is a regular contributor to Long Island Weekly, specializing in music and sports features. He has won several awards for writing from Press Club of Long Island (PCLI).

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