Sue Ellen Webber wins Transitions Art Show prize at Toronto Private Hospital on World Mental Health Day

A FORMER high school art teacher who hadn’t picked up a paint brush in 25 years has returned to painting at an unlikely place, and with unexpected results. 

Sue Ellen Webber, 67, of Hamilton South, was named winner of the judges’ prize at Toronto Private Hospital’s Transitions Art Show yesterday, World Mental Health Day.

The show featured paintings created by participants of the hospital’s in-patient program for people dealing with mental health challenges. 

Ms Webber said she turned to the program while dealing with issues, including post traumatic stress.

“When I came here I was really down, and I had no words,” she said.

Despite not having picked up a brush for 25 years, Ms Webber said she was encouraged to take part in the hospital’s therapeutic art classes.

She said rediscovering art had helped her to find her voice.

“Doing my painting has given me inner peace again,” she said. “I’m back on track now.”

Her oil-on-canvas work, The Child with No Words or Voice, was judged the best in a 20-strong field of submitted paintings.

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“I wanted to express confrontational trauma, but to do it symbolically,” Ms Webber said of her work.

While each of the items in the painting has very specific symbolic meaning to her, she’s happy for people to have their own interpretation of the work.

Ms Webber urged anyone who is troubled by mental health concerns to take action.

“Get to your GP, talk the matter through, and get referred, if needed,” she said.

Ms Webber said the hospital had provided her with expert clinical help, while the social aspect of the art classes had been very beneficial.

Chief executive officer of Toronto Private Hospital, Jason Thomas, said about half of the participants in the hospital’s in-patient program opted to participate in the art classes – with good results.

“Self-exploration through creative expression often leads people to insightful conclusions about themselves,” he said.

“The art show encourages members of the community who are currently, or have in the past, lived with a mental health disorder, to explore what inspires them through the use of art and creative expression.”

He said patients typically found a form of expression in their painting which they could not convey in words.

“And the process of painting, itself, is a calming release,” he said.

Mental health occupational therapist Cath Bunton said art therapy was an increasingly popular way to help people cope with challenges and stress and speed up the recovery process.

“Our patients use art therapy to project their repressed desires and emotions which they can bring to life or abolish as they see fit,” she said.

Anita Morris won the People’s Choice award.

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