The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Currents

December 13, 2012

Painting with purpose: Bethany art instructor submits to high standards to heal with his art

MANKATO — Recently, William Bukowski’s most frequent customer approved one of his paintings to hang in a birthing center at a Twin Cities hospital.

It’s a large-scale beach scene populated by a group of children varying in age and ethnicity. The longtime Bethany Lutheran College art instructor has worked on the 30-foot mural for several weeks now and estimates he’s about 75 percent finished.

But the approval came with a few stipulations: Open the eyes on the child whose eyes are closed, and put glasses on this other child. Oh, and make one of the babies bald. (Bukowski suspects his customer may also ask him to tone down an aggressive shade of red he chose for the beach ball.)

Some artists wouldn’t take kindly to someone, even a customer, demanding changes to the composition of their work. But in this case, Bukowski is happy to accommodate.

“When you do public work, you have to be willing to shelve your ego,” said the man whose paintings have been placed in hospitals around the state as part of the Arts & Healing program at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. He’s also produced large-scale works on the Bethany campus, such as the chapel mural and the fresco in the science building.

“But with this program, your work is approved, paid for and somebody is excited to get it. For an artist, that’s really exciting.”

Nearly three years ago, Bukowski wasn’t quite sure what he was signing up for when he responded to an announcement posted on a website for Minnesota artists. After replying to the call for artists, Bukowski was met with a 10-page application.

Months later, he was selected along with 58 other applicants to submit a series of paintings for approval by the Arts & Healing program advisors. Artists were given a topic pertaining to children — Bukowski’s first assignment was creating 10 images based on the theme of “children and painting” — and each piece was carefully reviewed to ensure it met a variety of hospital standards.

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