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From Textiles To Doll Furniture, Concord Health Care Workers Transform Hospital Into Art Gallery

During the pandemic, health care worker Susan Montgomery started making doll furniture. She built pieces, carefully arranging tiny scraps of wood, popsicle sticks, tiles and fabric to create a table, bureau and couch. When she didn’t have a place to put all she had made, she realized she needed to construct something larger to hold it. She started to build a dollhouse.

With the pandemic going on, Montgomery says working on the dollhouse has been “a way to get away. I went to my own little house.” The house is two stories tall, with hardwood floors, patterned rugs, and a spacious bedroom.

The kitchen and bathroom of Montgomery's dollhouse.
Credit Alli Fam / NHPR
The kitchen and bathroom of Montgomery's dollhouse. The kitchen table was one of the first pieces of furniture Montgomery made for the house.

Montgomery’s dollhouse was one of over 70 pieces of art that lined the entrance of Concord Hospital as the space transformed into an art gallery, featuring pieces made by staff.

Because of the risk of COVID-19 transmission, the exhibition was open only to staff and family members. But the closing reception didn’t feel empty. Visitors marveled at their colleagues’ pieces. Kids grabbed snacks as they pointed out their parents' artwork.

The exhibition was titled “Moving through the COVID-19 Experience: Artistic Reflections at Concord Hospital.” Some artists addressed COVID directly in their work, like incorporating charts of COVID-19 cases into a collage. For others it was the opposite. The art became a respite from the pandemic.

“It was a way to get away. I went to my own little house.”

Just like a life-sized construction site, each component of Montgomery’s house meant a new project: tiling (and re-tiling) the bathroom floor, constructing a slide-out living room floor that doubles as a patio and finding the perfect miniature tea cups at a doll shop in Amherst.

The house, Montgomery says, is still a work in progress. There are still plans for swings, and a roof. The final product will be a gift for her granddaughter.

“It feels like a bigger story.”

When Aimee Valeras sees health care workers in the news, she said it’s often tied to  “COVID cases, illness and death.”

Aimee Valeras, who helped coordinate the event, stands next to her poem COVID Anxiety.
Credit Alli Fam / NHPR
Aimee Valeras, who helped coordinate the event, stands next to her poem 'COVID Anxiety.'

Valeras, a social worker and faculty member at NH Dartmouth Family Medicine Residency Program, helped coordinate the event. She says the exhibition was a way for health care workers to “have another side of their experience embraced.”

Valeras had gotten each piece in the exhibit one at a time from the artists. When she looked out at the complete collection, she said it really “feels like a bigger story.”

Valeras’ own poem, “COVID Anxiety,” was on display. The poem spoke to both a collective experience of surviving the pandemic and Valeras and her husband’s own anxieties.

Valeras pointed to a few lines in her poem that stood out to her as particularly personal and emotional.

And suddenly we went from soccer game sidelines to writing our will,
from coffee with friends, to brainstorming which of them might fulfill,
the untenable role of being substitute parents if we become ill.

“It surprised me when I sat down to make this.”

Liesl Matzka, resident physician in the NH Dartmouth Family Medicine Residency Program, created a textile landscape by sewing together scraps left over from mask making.

She said the disparate pieces came together to build something new and something beautiful.

Liesl Matzka, resident physician in the NH Dartmouth Family Medicine Residency Program, shows off her textile landscape, which she made using leftover scraps from mask making.
Credit Alli Fam / NHPR
Liesl Matzka, resident physician in the NH Dartmouth Family Medicine Residency Program, shows off her textile landscape, which she made using leftover scraps from mask making.

Sitting down to make the piece, Matzka said she felt surprised that she was trying to convey a hopeful message. She’d expected the work would reflect the darker, harder sides of the pandemic, like “long hours, and a fear of death.”

The landscape, she explained, is based on a view from a third floor corridor at the hospital. From there, she says, “you can see the mountains and you can see the sunrise and sunset, if you happen to be here that early or that late.”

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