ESHC patient art show proves to be extraordinary

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Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
Pictured are, Judith Slaughter, ESHC Volunteer Services coordinator; Linda Wilcox, ESHC Auxiliary member; Betty Webster, ESHC Auxiliary treasurer; and Anne Neary, Chesapeake College Foundation Board of Directors.

CAMBRIDGE — Sometimes art shows are kind of ordinary; sometimes they are extraordinary. The Chesapeake College Leggett Gallery art show is one of the extraordinary ones. It features the work of patients at the Eastern Shore Hospital Center (ESHC) and touches the spirit with unexpected empathy.

According to Judith Slaughter, the center’s volunteer services coordinator, this show is indeed special as it pays tribute to the memories evoked from 1,000 year old red clay found at The Hill which archeologists and historians believe may be the oldest free African-American neighborhood in the country. A 1790 census lends credence to the claim. It is also the site of a continuing archeological dig that has unearthed old pottery shards and glass.

At the opening reception on April 9, Ms. Slaughter explained, “Two years ago we received a community grant from the Dorchester Center for the Arts to have a guest artist come in and do a clay project with our patients.” Margaret Boozer, well-known ceramicist who directs a ceramics and sculpture seminar at her Red Dirt Studio in Mt. Rainier, agreed. The 11 participants learned how to create graphite slabs and use texture to add design to the clay.

The Hill entered the picture by happenstance. Walking in Easton, Ms. Boozer came upon the excavation site for The Hill area. After a chat with the project director and explaining she was a clay artist and doing a special project with patients at the hospital center she asked if she could have some clay. They agreed and she left with two buckets of old, red clay.

“We did the graphite slabs,” said Ms. Slaughter, but in addition to working with textures Ms. Boozer introduced the red clay. “So anything that’s red on the pieces is 1,000 year old clay which the patients absolutely loved.” Seventy-four pieces were created two years ago and Ms. Slaughter noted that after exhibiting at seven different venues including: Salisbury University, the Dorchester Center for the Arts, our hospital, and currently at the College. The exhibit is down to 15 pieces. “When they are sold they are all gone. We still have some of the 1,000 year old clay so we could do a completely different type of artwork.”

Little clay coins were formed from leftovers of the designs cut from the graphite slabs. Ms. Slaughter noted, “The patients said, ‘we have this 1,000 year old clay so we have to use it,’ and they made the pieces into these coins. They’re only $3 apiece and anybody can take home a memory. When we sold them around Christmas time people used them to decorate their trees; or as a display in their homes. Every single penny we get from the sales goes back to the patients.”

A retired, former Chesapeake College psychiatric nursing instructor, Anne Neary brought her nursing students to ESHC for their clinical rotation. “The students and I worked with the clients,” she explained, “and students attended the art therapy classes along with the clients as well. It was mutually beneficial.” That is where she met Ms. Slaughter whom she considers “such an advocate for the clients.”

Ms. Neary is now on the Chesapeake College Foundation board of directors and enthusiastically supports the “great collaboration” the unique art show represents. “The art show is absolutely breathtaking,” she said. She praised the artwork’s creativity and said “the origin of the clay is so fabulous. The way the clients have worked with it and the expertise of the artist who is working alongside them is wonderful. And they also have this opportunity to have their talents displayed. I’m so delighted. It’s truly a win-win situation.”

Carlene Phoenix, president of Historic Easton, Inc. and treasurer Priscilla Morris knew about The Hill. “All my life,” said Ms. Phoenix, “it had always been an African-American community.”

What they did not know until recently was the connection between The Hill and the ESHC’s art project.

Ms. Morris explained, “We have funded the project for four years. This is the 5th year of archeological digs on The Hill. That’s the role of Historic Easton, Inc. Being a fiduciary.”

Ms. Phoenix said, “This clay came from the Talbot County Women’s Club during our 2nd year dig.” She noted that Ms. Slaughter sent an email explaining the project to ESHC employees.

“One (of the employees) happened to be my cousin. He knew I was involved with The Hill and he sent me the e-mail. We got excited and said ‘we need to go see this.’”

And see it they did. At the art show opening they not only saw the exhibit which runs through May 31, at the Leggett Gallery at Chesapeake College (518 Race Street), but purchased pieces of art as well. Memories. Memories in clay.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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