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Around the Columns

Art as therapy

quilt

The quilt that Dawn Sees pieced together from patients' designs is on permanent display at MU Children's Hospital

When Dawn Sees, a College of Education graduate student, decided to work with the MU Art in Health Care program, she took one giant leap out of her comfort zone. Although she was still building her self-confidence in front of a class, she volunteered to visit 30 patients at MU Children’s Hospital and help them 
design quilt squares. Despite her lack of quilting experience, she also signed up 
to sew a 5-by-7-foot quilt incorporating 
the patients’ artwork.

“It was the most challenging but most rewarding experience of my life,” says Sees, who spent more than 400 hours on the project. “I continue to learn from it, and it changed how I see myself. I know I have a lot to give and share with other people.”

For a month and a half, Sees spent hours with Children’s Hospital patients and helped them draw personally meaningful designs into foam squares, which the patients then used as stamps.

“This project became really important for the patients because they were creating their artwork with their siblings, their parents and volunteers,” she says. “The art was therapeutic for so many people.”

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Sees helped the children make prints from their stamps and scanned them into her computer. Once she arranged their designs digitally, she ordered custom printed fabric and began quilting the pieces together.

“Quilting was a new medium for me,” says Sees, who worked with fibers Professor Jo Stealey. “There’s no easy edit or undo button. If I had a wrong stitch, I had to rip it out and start again. It helped me to slow down and be more patient.”

The finished product debuted at a Performing Arts in Children’s Education performance of The Yellow Boat, a play based on a true story about a boy with HIV who expresses himself through art.

The project helped reinforce Sees’ goal of becoming an art teacher who exposes her students to broader perspectives and promotes empathy.

MU College of Education Dean Daniel Clay is working to raise funds so that all education majors can have a culturally transformative experience that leads to personal and professional growth. His Personal Transformational Pathways initiative would allow students to design an experience that’s meaningful to them — whether it’s studying abroad for a semester, tutoring at a homeless shelter or volunteering through an alternative spring break trip.

“Dawn’s project is a great example because prior to her quilt project with the kids at Children’s Hospital, she saw herself as a student,” Clay says. “Now she sees herself as a teacher and a professional who can use art for education, therapy and a vehicle of self-expression.”