Roswell Park patient paints a wing on the phoenix

Bringing the Phoenix Legend to Life at Roswell Park

Pictured: Joe Garguilo, left, watches Karen Morrison at work on the phoenix painting.

The ancient Greeks told of a miraculous bird called a phoenix that lived for 500 years. When it began to lose strength, it built a nest of cinnamon wood, spices and resin, which caught fire in the sun. The phoenix perished in the flames but later was reborn from the ashes, young and strong enough to live another 500 years.

For Joseph Garguilo, a new member of Roswell Park’s Creative Arts Team, “the phoenix represents the stories of survival I’ve heard at Roswell Park.” Inspired by the idea, he painted the outline of a phoenix and began inviting patients and survivors to pick up a brush and fill in the outstretched wings, choosing colors from a palette to suit their personal artistic vision. (Above, he watches Karen Morrison at work on the piece.)

“I also ask them to think of what healing means to them and then to write that word somewhere in the feathers,” he says. The piece will weave together the contributions of people who come from different backgrounds and have different types of cancer, but who share the same hope of healing.

The phoenix painting is one of many activities that Garguilo and his fellow team members offer as a distraction from medical worries. But it’s more than a distraction: Studies show that engaging in music and the visual arts has the power to relieve anxiety, depression, pain and fatigue, while improving quality of life for cancer patients.

The activities also give everyone at Roswell Park — including visitors — a chance to discover the joy of creativity. Six artists circulate through treatment centers, patient rooms and public areas, equipped with paints, markers, silk scarves, ceramic tiles and other supplies, or musical instruments — a guitar, drum, xylophone or tambourine — for anyone who wants to try something new.

Watercolors, paint tubes, brushes, and other art supplies

Garguilo finds special satisfaction in seeing “very young patients experience the process of making art, mixing watercolor pigment and water, and discovering the beauty in color. I’ve seen so many people experience the catharsis of playing with paint. I’ve seen their state of mind transform from fear into relaxation, even in just five or 10 minutes.”

He’s already thinking ahead to another project he has in mind. “We have all these beautiful circular tables around the hospital,” he says. “I want to set up watercolor mandalas that people can create and share, to bring everybody together at a table, to share stories.

“There are so many ways to touch people’s lives, and artwork is an underlying way to connect. I’d like to give people an alternative to digital stimulation with something tangible and tactile.”

As for the phoenix, it’s still a work in progress. Patients and survivors can contribute to the painting in the lobby of the Roswell Park hospital on Mondays and Fridays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. until the piece is complete.

The Creative Arts Team is one of many services available to patients and families through Roswell Park's Wellness Program. Made possible by generous donations, the team is funded entirely by the Quality of Life Program of the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation.

Wellness Programs at Roswell Park

Get more information about other activities available to patients, survivors, caregivers and volunteers.

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