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Columbus Museum of Art makes nurses its latest muse

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"The Way it Was," a 2005 oil painting by Therese Cipiti Herron, is included in the Columbus Museum of Art's latest exhibition. Credit: Courtesy of CMA

“The Way it Was,” a 2005 oil painting by Therese Cipiti Herron, is included in the Columbus Museum of Art’s latest exhibition.
Credit: Courtesy of CMA

For centuries, nurses have been depended upon to care for others in life-changing situations. From the birth of a child to the death of a loved one, nurses are present for life’s moments of joy and sadness. Now, an art exhibition is set to tell the story of the men and women who have made nursing their profession, and explore the impact they have on our everyday lives.

The Columbus Museum of Art is set to show “Shine On: Nurses in Art” Friday through June 21 and its curator, Carole Genshaft, said “Shine On” uses art ranging from pre-Columbia 300 B.C.E. through 2014 to showcase three themes: the rise of professional nursing, the complexity of the nursing profession today and its instinctive beginnings.

Instinctive beginnings is the idea that one human instinct is to care for others when they are ill or to care for newborns, Genshaft said.

This section includes works by American painter and printmaker Mary Cassatt depicting relationships forming between caregivers and the children they tend.

“(It’s) this idea that there has always been these bonds that form between those who are frail, weak, and unable to care for themselves and those who aren’t,” Genshaft said.

Nurse Florence Nightingale was central to the idea for the second part of the exhibition, Genshaft added.

While Nightingale was working in military hospitals during the Crimean War, she found that more soldiers died from the unsanitary conditions and infection than from battle wounds. This discovery set her off on an effort to better conditions in hospitals, especially military hospitals.

Nightingale became romanticized as a “Lady with the Lamp” for visiting wounded soldiers with her lamp during the night when they were suffering.

Though the lamp Nightingale carried was actually a lantern, and somewhere along the lines of history people inflated the idea that it was a primitive oil lamp, Genshaft said.

Since the symbol for nursing has become an image of an oil lamp, Genshaft said she decided to have both types of lighting fixtures positioned in cases in the exhibition so people can see the differences.

Genshaft said the final section on modern nursing is a play on the irony of how the public sees nurses.

“We think of (them) being really empathetic, care-giving, peaceful … but often they are called to serve in the most traumatic types of situations, be it wars or disease epidemics,” she said.

One example in the exhibition, Genshaft said, is a print by Associated Press photographer Charles Rex Arbogast that shows a nurse training to work with Ebola patients.

Along with celebrating the profession of nursing, Genshaft said “Shine On” is also a presentation of how nursing and its surrounding conditions have become better.

“I think we can’t underestimate the importance of nurses in our society, which is one of these reasons why we are having the exhibition,” she said.

 

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