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Fine Arts Exhibition showcases works by artists with disabilities

More than 80 works of art, from paintings to photographs and drawings, will be featured in the Mary Free Bed Fine Arts Exhibition, which opens Monday and runs through June 27. The 35th annual event, sponsored by the Mary Free Bed Guild, will spotlight pieces by 31 artists with disabilities.

The exhibition kicks off with an artist’s reception from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday in the Mary Free Bed Professional Building, 350 Lafayette Ave. SE. Visitors are welcome to attend the artist’s reception to meet the artists and view their works. Refreshments will be provided.

General hours for the exhibition are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.

The event is an extension of Mary Free Bed’s efforts to incorporate art into the inpatient and outpatient environments throughout campus to help with the healing process. Several works are by former patients and West Michigan residents with disabilities who participated in the exhibition. The Guild purchases selected works each year for permanent display on campus.

“The artists look forward to helping put on this show every year, and they enjoy seeing their artwork displayed around the hospital,” said Guild member Susan Steketee, co-chair of the Fine Arts Exhibition. “The artwork and artist bios next to the pieces help give inspiration and hope to patients.”

This year’s featured artist is Grand Rapids native Elaine Hoogeboom, whose piece, “Bloom #1,” was purchased by the Guild in 2011. It hangs in the lobby of the hospital’s main entrance.

Elaine, who worked as a social worker for 25 years, knows firsthand that art can help people cope with the ups and downs of recovery. She came to Mary Free Bed for rehabilitation after a childhood injury led to a series of three back surgeries in four years. As part of her physical therapy, Elaine walked at least two miles each day.

“During these walks is when my love for photographing nature evolved,” she said. “I would always take my camera with me and snap pictures of birds, butterflies, flowers and animals.”

After her third surgery about five years ago, Elaine experienced aphasia caused by the anesthesia. Unable to speak, she spent a lot of time in solitude. She was given watercolor pencils and a canvas to help pass time.

“Once I found the Zen state that art put me in, I couldn’t stop,” she said.

Since then, Elaine has participated in Celebration of the Arts, ArtPrize and other art festivals and competitions, including Mary Free Bed’s exhibition.

“I continue to practice and work with my gift daily,” Elaine said. “I believe my ability to draw and paint is the gift I received in exchange for the loss of my speech.”

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