Gratitude, Healing & Hope: The Paper Crane Project at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital

left to right: Dori-Fay Barteski, Anne Moeller and Betty Campbell showing their paper cranes.

View the full photo album of Gratitude, Healing & Hope: The Paper Crane Project

If you’ve been to St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish recently, you may have seen Artist-in-Residence Rachel Power, or one of her volunteers, folding paper cranes with patients, their loved ones or staff members.

For the past couple of months, Power and her volunteers have been gathering these folded cranes, which are filled with personal messages, for a larger project unveiled last week.

The Paper Crane Project was initially created as part of art therapy for cancer patients and their loved ones, Power said.

“We wanted something that people could do without being intimidated by the prospect of art making, and something that would appeal to them as being part of a larger installation,” Power said. “Then it came to me: origami.”
Power said messages are written on the white side of the origami paper and folded so that the colourful side shows outward. When necessary, she acts as scribe. The message can be shared or private. She and her volunteers have even developed the ability to fold without looking down too much at the paper!

Betty Campbell is a cancer survivor. She supports the project and affirms the positive influence art can have on healing.

“Cancer is a journey that I did not choose to take. Once the trip started, I decided that I would have a say in how the journey would end,” Campbell said. “I may have started with tears in my eyes, but I never for a moment thought of anything but a positive outcome. A fantastic medical team, heavy duty drugs, surgery, radiation and a lot of prayer and positive thoughts later and I am officially in remission. With my family and friends by my side, I found everything was possible.”

“Now I have entered a different phase,” Campbell added. “I will call it the aftermath. I find goodness in almost everything. I am so grateful for family and friends. I enjoy the company of others who are or have been on a similar journey. I look forward to my Wednesday art classes that make me stretch creativity that I never knew I had. To think I started with origami cranes and now water colors. I will let you in on a little secret. My message written inside the crane says, ‘Cancer messed with the wrong woman. Life is good!’ ”

Power said while the response to The Paper Crane Project has been overwhelmingly positive, not everyone is comfortable with it and that’s perfectly understandable. No one is pressured to participate. But in an effort to seek more participants, Power began looking outside the oncology unit.

“More and more, I see this project as a way for people in the hospital to connect with feelings of hope and love,” Power said. “And what has been most surprising is how forthcoming people have been to open their hearts and share their stories. My volunteers and I feel so blessed to be welcomed into the lives of many of the patients, loved ones and staff through this project, and this is just the beginning.”

Heather-Ann Burrell, a St. Francis Xavier University student volunteer, said the project offers her an invaluable interactive opportunity to form meaningful, personal connections with patients. Johnathan Maillet, another St. FX student volunteer, agreed.

 “The Crane Project at St. Martha's has been an excellent way to connect with patients on a personal level,” he said. “This project is capable of promoting self-expression, emotions and feelings.”

The project also involves an accompanying seven-foot by four-foot artistic mural. This mural was part of a Canada 150 event organized by Antigonish County Recreation and Antigonish Culture Alive, which was held at a local junior high school on Canada Day. Kids of all ages helped in its creation by throwing paint-filled balloons, splattering the canvas and creating the background.

Out-of-hospital contributions to the project have been from Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!) and Sionnach Lukeman and Jacqueline van Wijlen’s students in the Rankin School of Nursing course Care of Families in Transition: Childbearing & Childrearing Years. Power said she is grateful for their enthusiasm and welcomed the community participation. She added St. Martha’s Regional Hospital Auxiliary is very supportive of the project and her work in the hospital.

Last Friday, Power unveiled Gratitude, Healing & Hope: The Paper Crane Project near the hospital’s Peace Garden.

There are 417 cranes strung with wires across the trees. In order for patients to see the cranes at night, they were painted with a light dusting of glow-in-the-dark paint and sprayed with a protectant against the weather.