Connected \\ April 6, 2020

From paint to patient

In honor of World Health Day, April 7, PEM extends our deepest gratitude to all the medical personnel across New England and around the world working to keep us safe and healthy. The museum was recently privileged to welcome a group of nurses from Salem's North Shore Medical Center. Their devotion to the art of caregiving was readily apparent that day.

Nine nurses from North Shore Medical Center recently came to PEM for a conversation centered around close looking and critical thinking. As part of the Salem hospital’s Paint to Patient program, new graduates are invited to study selected works of art and consider how to apply those same observation skills to benefit the care of their patients.

Three women seated looking at a ppiainting on a wall on a yellow wall in a room with other paintings hung on the wall

NSMC nurses discuss Panel 15 from Jacob Lawrence, We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility . . . —17 September 1787, and make correlations to today. Photo courtesy of The Salem News.

Within the Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle exhibition, several nurses said they could identify with how the artist sought to deliver difficult truths yet still convey the power of the human spirit to endure. “For a lot of patients, we have to create that sense of hope and give them a goal to work towards,” said Registered Nurse Delaney McDaniel. “It may not be easy, but we have to paint that picture for them.”

Close up side view of three women seated, the middle woman is mor in focus

Registered Nurse Delaney McDaniel offers her thoughts during a group discussion about a portrait inside PEM’s Nancy and George Putnam Gallery. Photo courtesy of The Salem News.

Standing before Lawrence’s Panel 6, ...we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour—4 July 1776, the group traced the connection between those words and the vows pledged during their own graduations — to be the best human they can be for the cause.

They did a really interesting job seeing how Jacob Lawrence was expressing the struggle, but also hope,” said PEM Guide Program Manager Ellen Soares. “It’s a struggle, an ongoing struggle, but in the ideal world, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Entering the museum’s Nancy and George Putnam Gallery, the group took a seat in front of portraits of Massachusetts businessman Timothy Fitch and his wife, Eunice Brown Fitch, who lived during the 1700s. Soares asked the nurses to describe the paintings, with common words surfacing like opulence, grandness and comfort.

Gold framed painting of a seated man with white hair, wearing a brown suit with knee length trousers, white shirt with frilled cuffs and white stockings.

Joseph Blackburn, Portrait of Timothy Fitch, 1760. Oil on canvas. Bequest of Caroline Derby, 1878. 1961. Photo by Jeffrey R. Dykes. On view in the Putnam Gallery.

A painting of a woman in a pink silk dress with blus sash and white lace areond neckline and cuffs. She is seated next to a table with a basket and column in background

Joseph Blackburn, Portrait of Eunice Brown Fitch (Mrs. Timothy Fitch), about 1760. Oil on canvas. Bequest of Caroline Derby, 1878. 1962. Photo by Jeffrey R. Dykes. On view in the Putnam Gallery.

“We came to a lot of conclusions about who they are just based on what we saw,” Soares said. Pointing to Timothy Fitch, she explained that one of the things he traded was people, having sent ships to the west coast of Africa to bring human beings back to Boston as slaves.

Forming a first impression about who is in front of you is part of a nurse’s daily routine. “When you initially go into a patient’s room, you look and assess them,” added McDaniel. “But you never know the patient until you talk and really get to know them, personally.”

Looking at the picture in front of you and using your skills to diagnose a sick patient is crucial, even if you find someone particularly unpleasant or hard to treat. “Your job as nurses is to take care of everyone,” added Soares. “We’re all human beings.”

The PEM staff wishes everyone health, safety and calm during the COVID-19 shutdown. Museums provide light and inspiration during challenging times. We will be creative in maintaining PEM’s relationship with you in this time of crisis. We look forward to welcoming you back to the museum when the public health crisis has subsided. For more information and updates, please visit and keep in touch through our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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