A story of gifts and healing in this season of giving

Posted in More Stories, Spotlight, Visual Art

Whidbey Life Magazine editor
Dec. 17, 2013

It all came out of the blue, she said.

A local artist’s photographs were created to heal and, serendipitously, a healer found them.

Penny Kaela Bauer’s photographs, which depict the very essence of giving, could not have ended up in a more perfect place.  Eight of Bauer’s “Gifts” project photos now grace the walls of a cancer treatment center in Louisiana.

Diane Winston was the one who called Bauer out of the blue to ask if the brand new chemotherapy infusion center at the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center at St. Tammany Parish Hospital in Covington, La. could buy some of her photographs.

“I was asked by my hospital to thoughtfully and deliberately introduce healing arts into the hospital,” Winston said of the Healing Arts Committee that she was asked to lead.

“Art can actually mean healing. Data is available that says it can reduce blood pressure and stress levels in patients. Art in hospitals is not about discretionary money anymore. It’s about ‘Yes, we should spend the time and we should spend the money.’ It’s effective, ” Winston said.

The hospital ended up buying seven (Bauer gave them one more) “Gifts” photographs to hang in a horseshoe-shaped nurses’ station in a new, state-of-the-art chemotherapy infusion area thanks to the  Healing Arts Initiative, a program sponsored by the hospital’s foundation.

“The Healing Arts Committee was so excited to see Penny’s work. We would have purchased 30 photos if we had the money,” Winston said.

The photographs were placed directly in the sight line of the chemo-treatment recliners so that patients see them in courses of treatments that can last from 45 minutes to eight hours. The patients generally return to the center for periods of six to 8 weeks for treatments. It seems already Bauer’s photographs have had a positive effect since late summer, when they were installed. The photos, Winston said, deflect the negative thoughts that may be prevalent during treatment.

“Her photos don’t get old, they are enduring. I’ve seen them now a million times and I never get tired of them,” Winston said. “The patients look at them and say they thnk of their families; say they are calming and soothing. They produce something positive in these patients.”

It’s funny that for a time after having finished the series, Bauer thought the photos might languish in storage and never reach the audience she had dreamed for them. But she had said then that it was fine that way; that it didn’t minimize the effort.

“Moby Dick” is the greatest book ever written, but no one read it in its time. It’s worth following your dreams and doing what you are meant to do,” Bauer said. “I’ve always had to do this.”

Bauer lives in Langley now, but this photographer has spent a good portion of her career in various parts of the world creating gorgeous photographs, while also maintaining a career as a marriage and family therapist for 25 years. Her “Images and Interiors” collection includes series from the Austrailan Caves, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, Ireland, Japan, Lummi Island, Morrocco, Portals and Thresholds from around the world, Venice and Whidbey Island.

For 10 years, Bauer photographed more than 150 elders, who agreed to share a gift by sitting for a black-and-white photograph holding a symbolic object in their hands.  The “Gifts” photographs were created for a film titled “Gifts: Navigating Life’s Journey” in which the pictures were combined with words and music; a film made for healing purposes for those who would watch it.

“Individuals can turn to these images for daily inspiration,” Bauer said of the project, and that’s exactly what ended up happening with the photos bought by the hospital.

Bauer didn’t title the “Gifts” photos because she wants people to see what they see for themselves in them, but she did let the hospital title their own prints, which became “Listening,” “Inspiration,” “Gratitude,” “Determination,” “Receiving,” “Inner Peace,” “Renewal,” and “Transformation.”

Here are some examples of some of the black-and-white images from “Gifts,” chosen by the Healing Arts Committee for cancer treatment center at St. Tammany Parish Hospital and some color photos from Bauer’s “Whidbey Island” series:

fank's garlic pbauer pbauer crescent harbor blueberry farm pbauer eveleyn's temari ball pbauer fist pbauer gifts candle pbauer rocknroll apple farm oak harbor W003 M022 WH009 W113 W018 W001

Winston said one of the best things about Bauer’s work is that it crosses all boundaries; it brings in old, young, black, white, female and male and makes no socio-economic distinctions. Its appeal is universal.

For Bauer, the best part is the healing her work inspires, completing the circle of its intention.

“People see the images, while they are sitting there having their treatment,” Bauer said in an excited voice.

When the petite Bauer speaks about this bit of serendipitous alignment, she gets flush with an enormous smile on her small, round and open face.

“How they see the arts as absolutely healing; well I found the whole thing very satisfying,” she said.

Bauer said she really doesn’t know how it all happened, although Winston said it was a random Internet search for “healing art” that brought her to Bauer’s website.

“It’s part of the great mystery,” Bauer said. “We don’t ever know; we commit ourselves to a dream in doing it; but we just never know. The photographs were meant to take the journey they did.”

On her website, Bauer tells the story of how the “Gifts” project came about.

Many years ago, I had a dream. In a dimly lit space, there is a circle of elders … Each of us enters and stands before an elder and asks “What do you have to offer me at this time in my life?” We then receive a gift.

Inspired by this dream, I began photographing elders offering us symbolic gifts of support. I came to understand there is always an opportunity for generosity and gratitude, regardless of one’s circumstances in life, and how important it is for each of us to develop our gifts and talents in order to share them with others and to facilitate this same process in others.

Bauer said that the time she spent making the images was a fulfilling process ─ a gift in itself. But now that she knows that the images are hanging where those who need healing can see them, a perfect circle has been completed.

“Everything needs to circulate,” Bauer said.

pbauer leek

Click here for the various series of extraordinary photographs Bauer has taken for her “Images and Interiors.” Click here for photographs in which the artist celebrates the culture of Hawaii.


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  1. These photos are just extraordinary! Thank you, Patricia, for introducing us to Penny and her work. I’m going to have to meet her sometime.

    • Aren’t they, though? You’re very welcome, Lynn. I admire Penny’s work so much and this time of the year is a perfect time to introduce her, I think. Thanks for reading!

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