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December 24, 2008 > Unique Glass Art Calms and Comforts Women

Unique Glass Art Calms and Comforts Women

When Washington Hospital opened its Women's Center in spring 2007, it had created the unexpected. The Center is a place where local women come for tests, such as mammography, ultrasound or other procedures - an experience that can cause stress and anxiety. And yet, women here often feel calm and comforted.

Located in the Washington West building next to the hospital, the Center offers diagnostic services, including digital mammography; breast health care, including counseling, education and treatment; and wellness classes and programs, such as exercise and nutritional services and massage.

The Center's experienced, compassionate staff and the personalized approach they take with each woman contribute to the positive feelings experienced there. Another key factor is the unusual and eye-catching artwork displayed on its walls.

Created from kilnformed glass by local artist Susan Longini, each piece was made to suit the particular space where it is installed. The art is also designed to blend with the Center's philosophy of honoring and supporting women while helping them to feel relaxed and uplifted.

"Art is a form of communication," says Longini. "I created these pieces to be healing and calming, and this is critically important in a place where women often experience heightened anxiety because of the procedures they may be going through."

Longini has been working with glass for more than 30 years. Kilnformed glass is fired to its final state in a kiln, instead of a furnace, as with blown glass or worked cold, as in etched glass.

"The great thing about glass is that it transforms differently, depending on the amount of heat applied," Longini explains. "Creating kilnformed glass pieces is a very labor intensive process and also very meditative. This allows me to think about what I'm trying to convey as the piece develops."

Longini has created three major pieces for Washington Women's Center. The signature artwork is the Harmony Quilt, a six-foot square glass "quilt" located on a wall in the post-registration waiting area. The quilt has six separate square designs made using the ancient "pate de verre" (paste of glass) technique. The various squares interact to form an overall pattern of blues, violets, greens and browns that becomes lighter and brighter as the pattern rises.

"Pieced quilts are traditionally women's art," says Longini. "This quilt honors the work of women, their resourcefulness, sense of community and eye for beauty. The glass is symbolic of both the strength and fragility in our lives."

In a long, curved hallway area leading women from registration to the dressing area, Longini has created the Voyage Wall of kiln laminated and slumped glass. Reminiscent of the sea, the blues and greens of the glass swell and wave.

"As each woman walks the hallway, she moves along her personal journey," continues Longini. "These gentle waves are meant to bring calm during the voyage to an unknown destination."

Located at the entrance to the Imaging Center, Longini's third piece is called Shadows. Here, the colors vary as women walk the 15-foot length of the installation.

"The color of the glass changes, depending on the angle viewed and the shadows cast. The hues of the shadows are entirely different than those of the glass itself," she says. "Shadows is a metaphor for the tests administered in the Imaging Center, where careful reading of the lights and shadows of the CT and MRI images, taken at various angles or levels, reveals the nature of the image viewed."

There are some large walls within the Center, and the artwork helps break down the spaces and make the overall environment warm and inviting. As someone who works at the Center and has seen how women respond to Longini's art, Center Coordinator Kathy Hesser, RN, shares her perspective:

"I love walking past the Voyage Wall because it reminds me of the way life is," Hesser says. "As I pass the length of the piece, there are times when I see a few areas of choppiness, just as we sometimes experience in our lives. At each end, though, the waves are calm and gentle. The overall piece is a beautiful sight."

Hesser has also noticed the reactions of women who come to the Center.
"I've observed and spoken with many of the women, and they often comment on the great match we have here - a beautiful staff and beautiful artwork. When they first come, women often anticipate a worrisome and anxious experience. Instead, they encounter the unexpected - a calmer and more hopeful feeling."

To view more of Susan Longini's art, visit her web site at www.susanlongini.com. To learn more about Washington Women's Center, go to www.whhs.com and click on Services and Programs, then click on Women's Health.

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