Sabra Field Designs Windows for Jack Byrne Center at DHMC

There's something mesmerizing about a construction site. With every trip to DHMC, if you are coming from the Hanover entrance, you’ve been keeping an eye on the construction of the Jack Byrne Center for Palliative and Hospice Care. You might be noting the constant changes as you view the outside of the building in progress. Marianne Barthel is pondering the inside, and she is thinking about art.

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As the Arts Program Coordinator at DHMC, Barthel’s focus on the Jack Byrne Center (a joint program with the Visiting Nurses Association) is significant and timely as the 12-bed facility plans to open in December 2017. Barthel’s mission is to make sure that everyone—patients, families, staff, visitors—feels welcomed and comfortable in this new space. Art is one way to make that happen.

Renowned artist Sabra Field will be designing windows for the Center's chapel. Field was a natural choice. If you have spent any time at DHMC, you may have stopped into the chapel to view Field’s stained glass window, Night Sky. (See featured photo, above). Her creation for the Jack Byrne Center will bring similar beauty and peace; it will also add a note of familiarity, as her work is known by many in the Upper Valley and beyond.

Marianne Barthel, DHMC Arts Program Coordinator. In the background is Chrysopoeia by artist Gloria King Merritt, Level 3 of the Williamson Translational Research Building 

But Barthel's work is only beginning. After she was tasked with choosing the art for patient rooms, she decided that art is personal, and therefore, she is hoping to allow patients to choose for themselves. She anticipates having 2 or 3 dozen pieces by local artists (two-dimensional, such as paintings or photographs, suitable for hanging on walls); each patient will be able to browse and select an item for display in his or her room. There are stories that this was a custom in the old, pre-Lebanon, location of Mary Hitchcock Hospital. Volunteers would trundle through the halls with an “art cart” from which patients would pick what they particularly liked. Barthel notes that the newer DHMC is probably too big for an “art cart” approach, but it fits nicely in the stand-alone, smaller structure of the Jack Byrne Center.

Jack Byrne Center for Palliative and Hospice Care, in progress

DHMC already has 7 gallery spaces for temporary exhibitions. The Jack Byrne Center will add another, which will have regular openings to celebrate new art. Plans also include a library, a music room, and a multi-purpose activity room. Thanks to a grant by the NH State Commission on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and DHMC's own volunteer board, DHMC’s Creative Arts Program—currently consisting of a therapeutic harpist, a writer, and a visual artist—is already expanding beyond its traditional bailiwick of the cancer and palliative care centers. Barthel expects that its expansion will reach across the road to the Jack Byrne Center as well.

Marianne Barthel surely has one of the world’s best jobs, and maybe one of the busiest. She has held her present position for 3 and ½ years. “Serendipity,” she said when I asked her how she came to be employed as the coordinator. She started as a Reiki volunteer at DHMC and an opportunity arose for a part-time job in the arts program. Aside from her work with the new Jack Byrne Center, she wears other hats. She acquires art for DHMC’s permanent collection, and curates the hospital's seven gallery spaces with temporary exhibitions that change quarterly. (These spaces are coveted by local artists; the galleries are booked two years ahead of time.) She also co-manages the Creative Arts Program that brings visual art, music, and writing to patients at DHMC, often at their bedsides.

Camera Lucida by George Sherwood is part of DHMC's permanent collection. Another sculpture by Sherwood is Wind Orchid, 27 feet tall and stationed just outside the main entrance.

Those live performances you might have caught in the hospital rotunda and occasionally in the East Mall? Marianne chooses and shepherds the artists. She works to establish connections with other local arts programs. Last year, she brought live performances from Northern Stage and Dartmouth College’s Vaughn Recital Series to DHMC. As a study leader of an OSHER at Dartmouth class, Take Two Van Goghs and Call Me in the Morning, Barthel seeks to educate the public about the science of art’s healing powers.

Barthel writes grant proposals as a way to help build and expand the reach of the current programs. Due to the generosity of donors, she has obtained seed money to establish an endowment for the Creative Arts Program. Her goal is to raise $2.2 million over the next 5 years. 

Almost finished, but not quite! Each year, Barthel facilitates DHMC's employee art show, open to all of its employees and volunteers. Submissions will be accepted on March 29, 30, and 31 at the Volunteer Services office on Level 2. The show will run from April through June, 2017.

For further information about the arts at DHMC, Marianne Barthel can be reached via email at and by telephone at 603/650-6187.


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Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge

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