Students seek to soothe mental health center halls, clients

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Some senior art students from St. John’s Catholic Prep stared intently at a mural of swooping green and purple mountains in the halls of the Mental Health Association of Frederick County.

Paint brushes in hand, they expanded the landscape as they traced over old ridge lines with new ones. Some chatted with one another; some concentrated silently.

Each student’s calculated stroke brought the larger scene into focus: a mountainous region with coolly colored expanses basked in warm orange-yellow sunlight.

The hallways and mural lines all lead to a sun in the middle corridor, eclipsed by a majestically posed bird, standing on a tree branch with its beak held high.

The bird was the idea and creation of St. John’s senior Juliana Workman, who stood a few feet away, painting a mountain.

Workman said the bird embodies someone with confidence who has grown out of their mental struggles.

“The fact that it’s against the sun and being highlighted by the sun, it’s absorbing all the things that are positive,” Workman said. “It’s sitting on a branch, so it’s high above the rest of the mountains. When you reach a point where you finally overcome your mental struggles, that’s how it should feel.”

Workman’s theme is emblematic of the students’ mural as a whole.

It was requested by Rebecca Layman, director of marketing and development for MHA, to bring life to MHA’s recently renovated counseling wing and its neutral, beige walls.

She had recently provided a tour of the wing to St. John’s counselors and thought that students would be the perfect artists to spruce the place up.

“We wanted it to be a warm, friendly, comforting space for our clients who come in and use our services,” Layman said. “I’ve always loved art and felt like art speaks to so many people, especially in healing.”

St. John’s art teacher and independent artist Bernadette Miller answered Layman’s call. After speaking with Layman, Miller plotted out the landscape now adorning the walls with input from her senior art students.

Miller and her class began painting the mural in early March — periodically returning to it throughout the month, adding color and contours.

“It’s a great collaborative effort,” Miller said. “The school loves for us to be able to go out in the community and put our mark in different ways. I really feel like the students, that’s where they build memories. That’s where we kind of bond as a community.”

Workman and her classmates explained how they hoped their artwork would soothe those who walk MHA’s halls and shared how their relationship with art affects their own mental health.

Workman hopes to become an animator for children’s TV shows.

Though not everyone plans to pursue art education after they graduate this spring, seniors Adrianna Cortes and Annabelle Browning predicted art would continue to serve a special role in their lives

“I’ve always loved art,” Browning said. “It’s kind of been my thing even as a young kid. I’ve always just went and painted if I was having a bad day.

“When I’m older, I want to be a school counselor. So, I’m hoping maybe I can make my own pieces and hang them up in my room.”

The act of holding a paint brush is freeing to Browning. There are no rules when she has a paint brush in hand and she feels a sense of control.

To Cortes, art similarly serves as a stress reliever.

Both students relished the idea that their contributions to the mural and the individual watercolor paintings they made would be seen by community members for years to come.

“I never would have thought that my art would impact other people’s lives,” she said.

Browning added, “It’s going to help someone, whether we know it or not. It’s just kind of nice to know that a painting can make someone smile, even if it’s not for a whole day. But just the fact that someone smiled for a second … makes me feel good.”

Layman hopes clients will internalize the calmness of the alpine scenery and think about how it relates to their own path toward counseling and support.

“We know that not everybody comes and leaves and feels hopeful, but perhaps it’s the beginning of the healing process for them,” Layman said. “The clouds will dissipate a little bit, and I know that it’s not a cure or a fix, but it’s the start.”

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