Byline: Charlie Patton
The nine artists whose work now hangs in the halls of the fourth floor of Wolfson Children's Hospital have several things in common.
None was trained as an artist. All taught themselves to paint. Most grew up in the rural South. And all became friends with art collector Doug Gitter, who lived in New Orleans for most of his life.
The son of a prominent art collector, Gitter spent his law school years traveling the rural South, getting to know some of America's finest folk artists and starting to collect their work. What he responded to, he said, was not only the quality of their work but their lack of pretension.
"You had to tell them they had created works of art."
A phrase Gitter likes to use to describe such art is "art from the heart."
That sounds very much like the successful program Art with a Heart in Healthcare, which, since 2001, has been using art programs to "enhance the healing process and bring comfort, joy and hope to patients and families in crisis" at Wolfson and at Nemours Children's Clinic.
Now Gitter hopes his gift of 30 folk art prints to Wolfson will demonstrate the therapeutic value of art.
"In a hospital system, your patients are not here because they want to be here," Gitter said. "They are here overcoming certain obstacles. If this art allows them - even for a fraction of time - to enjoy the day, the mission of the artist and my mission has been accomplished," Gitter said.
Mike Aubin, Wolfson president, said the art creates "little moments of distraction" for patients. He said the fourth floor was chosen because it is Wolfson's busiest floor, but that in the future he would like to put art in every patient room in the hospital.
While he makes his living as a financial adviser, Gitter also runs an online gallery, gittergallery.com, that sells high quality reproductions on canvas called giclee prints of the work of 10 prominent folk artists.
Some of the giclees are of work in his own collection or his father's collection. Others can be found in places like the Smithsonian Institute and the American Museum of Folk Art in New York.
A Jacksonville resident since Hurricane Katrina flooded his house in New Orleans, Gitter last week visited Wolfson Children's Hospital to which he donated 30 giclee prints of work by nine folk artists: Rev. Benjamin F. Perkins, Mary Klein, Rev. Howard Finster, John Williams "Uncle Jack" Dey, Philo Levi "Chief" Willey, Malcah Zeldis, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Bernice Sims and Toby Hollinghead. …