Mural aimed at pepping up tiny patients

It will grace Legacy Salmon Creek hospital’s pediatrics entrance

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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The stark hallway leading to the pediatric emergency department at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center is getting a little color.

The sand-colored wall that distressed parents and children pass by when entering the emergency department is being replaced with a painting of playful children and their furry friends.

Young visitors will now be greeted by a little girl in a dress and striped tights flying a kite. A little boy doing a handstand smiles at passers-by while a red-haired girl does a cartwheel. Three pooches watch the kids play from behind a chain-link fence. A leafy green tree in the distance provides a platform for a brown treehouse. And two perfectly puffy white clouds float in the blue sky.

The goal for retired art teacher Rebecca Anstine, the artist painting the mural, is to comfort traumatized parents and children.

“I believe art can be used to create a positive environment for children,” Anstine said. “Kids should not have to feel distressed; but in a less-than-ideal situation, art can help mitigate a turbulent mood.”

Anstine was chosen from a pool of 15 artists who submitted designs for the 15-foot by 10-foot wall. Anstine’s entry was the overwhelming favorite because of its cheery, positive feeling, said Brian Willoughby, spokesman for the medical center.

“The play is robust, and the kids are happy and having fun,” he said.

Willoughby and the pediatric emergency department reviewed the designs and se

lected Anstine’s drawing, but it came with a caveat. Her original sketch had the children jumping on a trampoline.

“We did ask that the trampoline be removed, because too many kids come here because of trampolines,” Willoughby said.

So Anstine swapped the trampoline for some green grass and went to work. Three days into the effort, Anstine had already outlined the scene using stencils, painted portions of the grass and sky, and begun coloring the children’s clothes. In another three or so days, the mural should be complete, she said.

Hospital staff praise Anstine’s work as they walk through the hallway and marvel at how quickly the scene is coming to life.

“It’s just a wall,” Anstine said with a smile. “Anybody else painting it would have it done in half an hour.”

It may just be a wall, but the mural is more than just a painting. It’s also a memorial.

One of the three dogs in the mural is special to Anstine. The black-and-white springer spaniel wearing a red collar is Mika, the 16-year-old companion Anstine had to put to sleep last spring. Anstine drew Mika’s likeness from a photo of the dog taken after she had chased a cat up a fence.

“I burst into tears every time I worked on this part,” Anstine said.

The other dogs were drawn from photos in a book. But after talking with hospital staff, Anstine decided to make an alteration: The generic dogs will be replaced with two therapy dogs that frequent the hospital: Sasha, a 12-year-old German shepherd mix, and Mukaluka Dirtypaws, a miniature schnauzer.

Legacy Salmon Creek is paying for the mural supplies, which will cost less than $100, and giving Anstine a stipend of $500. Hospital staff hope to partner with Anstine to brighten other areas of the hospital and medical office building where children visit, Willoughby said.

Anstine said she looks forward to replacing more sand-colored walls with depictions of playful children.

“I’ve just retired from teaching these kids,” Anstine said. “So this is what I want to do — just have fun.”

Marissa Harshman: http://twitter.com/col_health;http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;marissa.harshman@columbian.com; 360-735-4546.