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Painting With Spirit: Yackandandah Hospital’s Spiritual Garden

Yackandandah stands in the foothills of Victoria’s High Country not far from Albury-Wodonga. The local bush hospital now operates mainly as a nursing home and approached Tom Millar to direct a Community Arts Project associated with the building of the new Spiritual Garden. This involved one large panel mural and multiple tile works which were grouped around the gardens. Being a small town, many sections of the town community were involved in building and creating the art work, hospital residents, family members, staff, volunteers, inmates from Beechworth Prison and year 6 students from a local school.

Chroma Australia donated all Jo Sonja’s medium, sealer, varnish and paints for the project. A tile retailer in Albury donated unglazed 300 x 300 mm floor tiles which were first sealed with a 1:1 mixture of Jo Sonja’s All Purpose Sealer and Jo Sonja’s Background Colours. The mural was painted on fiber cement for durability sealed in the same way.

Tom Milllar painted a double-sided mural at the entrance of the garden to draw visitors into it and screen an unsightly air-conditioning unit from view. The painted image represents two spirits travelling through life, be they swans, friends, or couple, the intertwined nature of the shape indicating the way that relationships can enhance life.

The theme of the garden is Monet’s Waterlilies, the project being as much about reflection as about flowers and gardens. Whilst the subject matter delighted the elderly ladies it was more difficult for the primary school children. They produced a very diverse range of subject matter, from places and activities to cups of tea, and overt symbols of faith.

Tom Milllar helped and guided most residents, chatting about the subject matter, interpreting a memory, drawing a scene, and adding finishing touches. Finally the women were overjoyed when their memories took physical form. Over the course of the project, many participants dexterity improved noticeably although they had faced challenges with their eyes, hearing, memory, reach, or their hands. While only a single male resident would try painting, the prisoners from nearby Beechworth, all men, were inventive and carefree artists. They felt it was far better to be painting and contributing to the community by building the garden, than to be back at the prison.