Tom Day with some of the works featured at the Community Gallery of the Hillsborough County Southshore Regional Library
The Arts@the Clinic program celebrated the opening of Tom Day’s first solo exhibition of original oil paintings in July at the Community Gallery of the Hillsborough County Southshore Regional Library. The twenty-four oil paintings shown chronicle Day’s remarkable development, selections range from the first paintings made two and a half years ago when he began, to recent works based on his photos of the natural world, a longtime special interest.
Day, who spent his career as an Air Force test flight engineer, suffered a stroke in 2009 that left him with Broca’s Aphasia and Apraxia; damage to the area of the brain involved in forming sentences, which makes it profoundly difficult to speak. He was also left with only the use of his non-dominant left hand for any activity. Before his stroke Tom had no interest or experience in drawing and painting. Pushed to “draw anything” as an aid for communication by his clinician, USF Clinical Faculty Cheryl Paul, he began to discover previously unknown abilities and a new passion. Paul sought assistance for Tom Day from Art in Health’s Studio Instructor Dolores Coe, who was inspired to initiate a small pilot project to work with Day and others seen in the Communication Disorders Clinics.
Dolores Coe, Art in Health Studio Instructor
Now in its third year, Arts@the Clinic is a guided studio-based program that meets weekly for two-hour artist-led sessions. It is open to people with Aphasia and their caregivers, and clinicians who work with Aphasia clients. The sessions are facilitated with advanced arts interns from the School of Art and Art History and Coe, who work side by side with participants as artists in the studio environment. Space within the clinic is transformed into an active studio, art supplies such as charcoal, inks, acrylic and watercolor paint are provided—and always, music! Sessions launch the group into arts ideas, new materials, skills and processes—which can involve anything from tackling skeleton drawings, ambitious charcoal or acrylic still life paintings, to collaborative large scale pieces, to invention and abstraction, self-portrait—all grounded in “yes you can” representational drawing.
Like Day, for many people with Aphasia or traumatic brain injury, the language centers of the brain are severely impacted, but the centers that are home to visual processes, drawing and symbolic arts-related systems are relatively unimpaired. Most people, with or without brain injury, have never really engaged in the development of these capacities. What is known in the arts is that much can be developed and learned and is available to tap into. The clinic program builds on the potential power of such discoveries—whether for the Aphasia client, caregiver or health care provider.
Clinic sessions create a shared common experience and focus that is independent of verbal language. Clients and caregivers step out of their usual roles while each are engaged in creating their own artwork. Clinicians participate alongside clients. Creating with visual language takes the stage—with a lot of sharing, humor and encouraging of one another.
Arts@the Clinic is a project of the USF Art in Health program of the USF Contemporary Art Museum.
To see more of Tom Day’s paintings visit his blog, Artist by Day.