Art from the Heart

When the time came to select art for display throughout the new VacaValley Wellness Center, it wasn’t just a matter of decoration. NorthBay Healthcare proudly focuses on serving the local community with it’s mission of Compassionate Care, Advanced Medicine, Close to Home.

From paintings created by a former local newspaper publisher, to a sculpture by a local cancer survivor to commemorate her battle with the disease, the art displayed in the new center is designed not only to enhance the environment but to reassure patients and their loved ones of NorthBay’s ongoing commitment to the communities we serve. Here’s a look at the local artists and their work.

Judy Neal

Solano Jack is one of more than two dozen jack rabbit statues created as part of the 2015 “We Know Jack” public art project in Vacaville, which raised art awareness and more than $90,000 for the Vacaville Museum. Created by Vacaville artist Judy Neal, “Solano Jack” was sponsored and later purchased by NorthBay Healthcare. It has been on display at NorthBay’s headquarters in Green Valley for the past year and will now find its permanent home at the new VacaValley Wellness Center.

She was inspired by the region’s scenery in designing the rabbit. “My paintings continually pay tribute to this region’s fertile land and golden hills dotted with the old fruit and nut trees,” she said.

Richard Rico

Like each of his paintings, “Lagoon Valley,” by Richard Rico reflects his deep appreciation for the land where he grew up; the color palette heightens the natural beauty of the area.

Richard is a native and lifelong resident of Vacaville where he and his family published The Reporter newspaper for nearly 70 years. Raised in the business, he was involved with virtually all aspects of newspaper publishing and grew his artistic talents through newspaper design and photography.

It wasn’t until about 1993 that he began exploring the world of art and painting. He says that “what started as a pastime and a personal form of expression became a new adventure. With it, over time, came the freedom to take familiar objects or scenes and touch them with bits of fantasy or whimsy.”

He writes on his website, “Imagined or real, fact or fantasy, what tends to emerge out of most of my paintings is a level of emotion, even spirituality. Perhaps it comes from my own passion for the sites and scenes that I try to capture. How deep is that passion? I’ll let the colors do the talking.”

His print on the first floor of the the VacaValley Wellness Center depicts Lagoon Valley in Solano County. The piece was among several selected for display at the state Capitol in 2015. At the time, he told The Reporter newspaper, “Lagoon Valley is one of those gems of nature that helps balance the growing changes in our immediate world. The gift of nature also gave Vacaville (Solano County) its roots. It was part of a land grant awarded to Juan Pena and Manuel Vaca in the 1800s, after they traveled overland from New Mexico. Vaca sold part of his grant on condition that a town be established, and named Vacaville. The pine trees are in a Hospice Grove, sponsored by NorthBay Healthcare.”

Wendy Wasserman Kellogg & Tara Baumann

Vacaville artists Wendy Wasserman Kellogg and Tara Baumann designed “Jewels,” which depicts Wendy’s breast cancer journey. The piece was purchased by NorthBay Cancer Center oncologist and hematologist Jonathan Lopez, M.D., at a Soroptimist International of Vacaville fundraising event in October 2015 and is featured in the new NorthBay Cancer Center in Vacaville.

Wendy was diagnosed with metastatic lobular breast cancer in March 2014. After medication and a strict diet, she was cancer-free until April 2016, when it resurfaced, this time as metastatic ductal carcinoma, with tumors in her liver. (See her story on page 4.)

“Jewels,” on the third floor, is the bust of a woman, encrusted with carefully selected jewelry from top to bottom. Earrings, bracelets, sparkling charms and chains make up her patchwork skin.

“The stomach area in front is all black jewelry,” Wendy explained, “because it represents the pit in my stomach when I found out I had cancer.” As you move up the torso, bright colors take over. This was the façade she showed to the world. “My message was always, ‘I’m great! I’m going to beat cancer.'”

But on the back, red jewelry runs from the base up the spine. “It represents the fear I didn’t want anyone to see,” admitted Wendy. “I was hiding from my family and friends.”

As you move up the back, the jewelry becomes pure white. “It was me, pushing my fear away and going for a cure.” On the neck, the colors alternate between black and white. “I’m cured. Maybe not. I’m cured. Maybe not. It represents the big question,” said Wendy. “Are we ever really cured? It’s the big wonder.”

For Tara, the chance to team up with her good friend and be a healing part of Wendy’s journey was a blessing. “When someone so very dear to you has cancer, there is no magic wand to take away the disease,” she said. “Yes, we desperately want one, but the only thing anyone can do is be there for the highs and lows of the healing process while staying positive as the patient battles the beast.”

Working on “Jewels” was more than an art project, it was therapy and a celebration of healing all rolled into one, she explained. “Wendy and I have known each other for years, but never worked together on a piece like this. It was the most synergistic experience I have ever had,” she said. “We completed and expounded on each other’s thoughts while gluing donated jewelry to the vintage mannequin.”

The pair collected the jewelry from the community, neighbors, Soroptimists, Rotarians. One woman donated her mother’s jewelry after her passing, so the sculpture could pay tribute to her memory.

“We lost track of the hours we spent on the project and just looked forward to spending time together,” said Tara. “When “Jewels” was done, we just sat there and stared in awe at all the love that went into the project…”

“The piece reflects many things,” said Wendy, “but mostly, she reflects a collaboration by two best friends to give hope through the cancer journey.”

Don Birrell

The late Don Birrell’s name and work is synonymous with the art community in Vacaville. Though he died in 2006 at the age of 83, his creative touch can be found throughout the community and two of his paintings are on the second floor of the VacaValley Wellness Center. “Buck Avenue Fantasy,” a print that features the tree-lined avenue in Vacaville with rays of light beaming through the tree tops, and “Old Rocky,” a landscape scene of a hilltop in Vacaville.

Born Dec. 6, 1922, in Corona, Don grew up in Sacramento and attended Sacramento City College. He served three years as a staff sergeant in the Eighth Air Force during World War II and was based in Alconbury, England, where he worked on early radar warning systems for the Allied Forces.

After the war, he attended the prestigious Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles where he was trained in graphic and exhibition design. Upon graduation, he was hired to teach design at the University of Alabama from 1950 to 1951. He served as the director of the Crocker Art Gallery in Sacramento from 1951 to 1953. In 1953, Don became design director for the Nut Tree restaurant in Vacaville, a job he loved, and he remained there for almost 40 years.

He painted watercolor landscapes from his many journeys and was also known for his work creating logos and designs for the city of Vacaville, Vacaville-Dixon Greenbelt, Raley’s supermarkets and numerous private labels for winemakers and other food products. In 2003, the Vacaville Museum recognized the tremendous influence Birrell’s work had on and around the community of Vacaville with a retrospective exhibit of his work.

Geri Arata

Artist Geri Arata’s creation for the 2015 “We Know Jack” public art project, received the highest bid at the event’s auction. Heidi Campini, a long-time supporter of NorthBay Healthcare, has kept the whimsical sculpture, “La Dolce Vita,” at her home for the past year. The rabbit is now on display at its permanent home at the VacaValley Wellness Center.

Geri is a San Francisco native who now lives in Dublin. She participated in the project, she said, because of dear friends and connections she has to the community and as an opportunity to give back to a community that “has enriched my life in many ways.”

Nicholas Nourot

Benicia glass blower Nicholas Nourot grew up around the craft. His parents founded Nourot Glass Studio in 1974 and he first learned the craft from them. “Glass is almost as old as recorded history. I try and respect that history and learn from it,” he says on his website. “When I’ve completed a piece of glass that has unique character it feels very good. Everything I do, adds to my inspiration for glass-making.”

That includes two commissioned displays in the new VacaValley Wellness Center. On the first floor, visitors will see “River Gate,” a series of blown glass plates featuring a water theme in blue and gold. On the third floor cancer center, a second series of plates, “Colorado Hills,” features brighter colors designed to “make people happy,” said Nicholas.

Each plate took about an hour to complete, he explained, adding that the displays at the VacaValley Wellness Center are made more unique by the sheer number of them. “It’s unusual to design and display that many of them together,” he said.

Chad Glashoff

The Fairfield-Suisun area sculptor is a 2002 graduate of Armijo High School. His planned sculpture will be the second he has created for NorthBay Healthcare. In December, he made “Wounded Angel” for the NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement program offices and Hospice Memorial Garden, to say thanks for the excellent care his mother received while in hospice.

Art and metal sculpture is in Chad’s blood. He is the son of another successful local artist, sculptor Phillip Glashoff, and was surrounded by art while growing up.

“When I was around 6 years old, I put my hand on the torch for the first time,” he told the Daily Republic newspaper. “That was also when I started really loving art. I didn’t know at the time what I had—not my gift—but being in my situation.

“I watched my dad (weld) my whole life. He didn’t think anything of it when sparks were flying around everywhere and his pants were on fire. I just thought it was a normal part of life. I thought that was the only way to do things.”

Lisa Kokin

Artist Lisa Kokin grew up in a home where books were revered, so the fact that she tears apart older tomes to create her unique and beautiful masterpieces caused a little guilt for her at first.

“If you look at my website you’ll see I’ve been altering books and making them from other materials for years. I use books and the idea of books as an inspiration,” the El Sobrante resident said, adding that she works with recycled and reclaimed materials that might otherwise end up in a landfill.

In “Bloom (for Kato),” her piece for the VacaValley Wellness Center, Kokin selected books with “a message about love” in them.

“I wanted it to include uplifting words for people to look at while waiting in an oncology clinic because I have done that many times with friends and family and I know the stress involved,” she explained. “So I wanted colors and words and patterns that would be calm and offer some solace.”

The work, a series of flowers linked with thread and wire, is named for a close friend she lost to ovarian cancer two years ago, she said.

Lisa hopes the piece will help cancer patients in their battle with the disease.”I hope the work helps them feel they are going to be OK, inspires them and brings them happiness while they are in the midst of a health crisis.”

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