Thursday, May 19, 2011

Painting at Pennsylvania Hospital

Kate Kern Mundie, Above the Old Surgery (Pennsylvania Hospital)
oil on masonite, 20 x 16 inches, 2011 
I have painted several times in the historic building at Pennsylvania Hospital. The Pine Building at Pennsylvania Hospital houses the surgery depicted in Thomas Eakins' famous painting The Gross Clinic.  The stairs and halls feel mysterious in the secluded attic area above the surgery. It is a challenging space to paint: several roof lines come together, a curved wall, and winding stairs creating some daunting challenges for draughting. 

This space makes me think of the short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman. It is a story of a “hysterical” woman who goes insane from boredom locked in an upstairs room. Gillman wrote the story after being told to “never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again” to cure her own “melancholia”.  I have felt a little “hysterical” at times in the past few years while trying to paint, raise two small children, and manage everything on very little sleep. Painting in the empty, very quiet attic space at Pennsylvania Hospital reminds me of Gilman’s story of a woman’s descent into madness. However, instead of going mad, I sat for several hours working quietly rejuvenating my spirit.

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