The colorful mural of birds in flight across the walls of the Bridge of Hope—the long corridor connecting BWH with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute—was designed to raise visitors’ spirits. Completed in 2005, the project was conceived by BWH patient and medical historian Estrellita Karsh, in collaboration with artist Nan Freeman of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (SMFA). Karsh credits Harley A. Haynes, MD, with the idea to transform the space.
“Harley took me to this dark corridor and explained that everyone who walks through, especially patients, is connected with cancer,” Karsh says. “We agreed it was terrible. He urged me to fix it.”
Karsh—whose late husband, famed photographer Yousuf Karsh, was a patient of Haynes—shared Haynes’ belief in the healing power of art, and how it can transform a depressing space into something inspiring.
With the support of BWH and the MFA, a floor-to-ceiling mural of birds carrying medicinal herbs in their beaks was started. While painting the Scarlet Ibis, Freeman’s assistant noticed four-year-old patient, Emily Eaton, reluctantly headed for chemotherapy.
Karsh recalls, “The assistant offered a tiny paint brush to the frightened child and asked, ‘Would you like to paint this bird?’ Emily timorously applied a few tentative brush strokes and to everyone’s surprise, she stepped back and proudly exclaimed, ‘That’s my bird!’ Every time she went for treatment, she stopped to visit with her bird.”
Karsh later received a letter from Emily’s grandmother, who remembered the bittersweet mission of taking Emily to chemotherapy, “Since Emily discovered her bird, it has helped her through her treatment.”
To boost the spirits of other young cancer patients, Haynes and Karsh enlisted the talents of Haynes’ son, Ethan, an artist, and Jennifer Munson, the MFA’s senior graphic designer, to create a coloring book based on the mural. In 2007, ‘That’s My Bird: Bridge of Hope Coloring Book’ was published in Emily’s honor.
“Harley sponsored the coloring book from his own pocket,” Karsh says. “With his compassion and understanding, he knew how much it would help.”