Spartanburg artist Kristofer Neely and the staff of the Converse College Wellness Center have collaborated to blend interactive artwork with wellness services in a creative approach to supporting the emotional, mental and physical health of the campus community.
An exhibition of Neely’s work, Prayers for My Daughter, opened in the Center in November and will continue through February 1, 2012.
“I began to think of these pieces as simple prayers for my own daughter, and by extension for every daughter who might experience them.”
“Many students who visit the Wellness Center are going through difficult times emotionally or physically, so we want the space they encounter when they come for help to be peaceful and reassuring,” said Dr. Carol Epps, director of counseling services at Converse. “We feel Kris Neely’s artwork has aided the Wellness Center in fostering a creative yet caring atmosphere for all our visitors.”
The public is invited to view the exhibition during a Community Open House on Friday, Dec. 9 from 3 – 5 p.m. The Wellness Center is located at the rear of Andrews Residence Hall. Guests should enter the building from the Wellness Center entrance, which faces Fairview Avenue. The Wellness Center is also open from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Neely, who is assistant dean and coordinator for studio art at Wofford College and owner of Wet Paint Syndrome in Spartanburg, found inspiration from his own daughter when creating the exhibition. “When I was invited to create an exhibition of my work for the Wellness Center, I was honored by the opportunity. I was also overwhelmed. The space was large and divided by many doors. The show needed to provide a comforting climate while simultaneously brightening up this functional space. I tried to imagine what I would want to see in the Wellness Center if I were a Converse student. This approach did not seem to work. I still felt removed and distant from the project.
“Then I watched my sixteen-month-old daughter, Allie Louise. The way she observes, reacts, and investigates her world is a delight to witness each day. This changed the question. What would I want my daughter to experience in the Wellness Center when she is a grown woman?
“I began to think of these pieces as simple prayers for my own daughter, and by extension for every daughter who might experience them. You are invited to touch, open and interact with these pieces. It is my honor to install them at the crossroads of so many important services on Converse’s campus.”
The pieces in Prayers for My Daughter feature guardian angels, which Neely began painting for friends and family when they were going through a time of grief or trouble. His angel paintings can bee seen in This Threshold: Writing on the End of Life, which was published in 2007 by Hub City Writers Project in support of Hospice, as well as in church sanctuaries, public parks, homeless shelters, cemeteries, and refuges for people who have been abused or neglected. They are frequently given as gifts for expectant mothers, recent graduates and others for whom a guardian might be meaningful.
The Converse exhibition holds special meaning for Neely because it coincided with Allie’s first full day as his adopted daughter. “We celebrate her life and her remarkable growth since she came to stay with us as at six-weeks-old. These mixed media works intentionally adopt found objects that have gained a new home and purpose in this show. All of the paint brushes used in these paintings were given to me by my deceased paternal grandmother, Louise Hudson Neely. My grandmother also went to her adopted family at six-weeks-old. Remarkably, Allie shares her birthday. It seemed only right to use these inherited artistic implements to create this show.”
The Wellness Center, which includes Counseling Services and Health Services, focuses not only on assisting students with specific problems and illnesses, but also on programs and services that enhance self-esteem, personal responsibility and wellness.
“At Converse, we see wellness as a state of living in which you are making the most of your potential,” said Epps. “Wellness is not simply the absence of illness. It means you feel good physically, your emotions are stable, you like yourself, and you have positive and rewarding relationships. You handle the difficulties in your life successfully and when you are faced with a major stressor, you have constructive ways of coping. You feel motivated, productive and open to life.”