indy Craig doesn’t remember much about the view from her hospital room a quarter-century ago.
She certainly saw no pastoral landscape. It was inner-city Cleveland. Concrete. Cars. Perhaps small patches of trees or grass like indistinct smudges on a window.
An artistic 15-year-old at the time recuperating from surgery for a rare bone cancer in her right knee, she turned to her sketchpad to help fill the unending hours of treatment that eventually led to a full recovery.
Around her 40th birthday in 2014, she got devastating news: Her osteogenic sarcoma had returned. This time, Cindy was enjoying a thriving career at the University of Florida as a psychology and sociology librarian, traveling and enjoying life. Once again, she turned to art to help her body and mind navigate the tumultuous road ahead.
Cindy did not travel that path alone. Like the thousands of patients who pass through the doors of UF Health’s many medical units every year, each one carrying their hopes and fears, Cindy leaned on teams of skilled caregivers there to help guide her back to good health.
One of those heroes is an unassuming artist who brought solace to her world with his periodic visits. He also brought an aging piece of equipment and an idea, one that would grow over the weeks into a project that, in turn, has become an online affirmation of the importance of beauty and art in healing.
In fact, the UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital where Cindy received treatment incorporates design elements that recognize how aesthetics aid healing. That’s a philosophy that has also guided the design of the two new hospitals rising along Archer Road, adjacent to the cancer hospital.
In the weeks of treatment that followed, Cindy took in intriguing views from the eighth floor of the hospital and found a way to harness the power of a room with a view.
This time, Cindy used a borrowed video camera. She pointed it in a direction that served as the title of the project: Out the Damn Window.
A life-changing visitor
It’s hard to know what will spark a patient’s enthusiasm when Dylan Klempner visits. It might be painting or sketching or writing a poem. Sometimes, it’s simply ordinary conversation, like friends bumping into each other at the grocery store.
He poked his head in Cindy Craig’s room one day while she was undergoing grueling chemotherapy because she looked lonely. An artist-in-residence with UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine, Klempner had an art-supply cart that he rolled through the hospital. She painted as they just talked. They hit it off.
As he was leaving, Cindy showed him her finished painting: An X-ray version of her right knee with its new “mega-prosthesis.” She titled it “Mega-Cindy.”
The distant views of Paynes Prairie were often a conversation starter for Klempner when he made the rounds. He always thought it was a pretty scene and had toyed with the idea of filming it. One day, he suggested Cindy do a time-lapse video.
With Cindy’s background in art — she held master’s degrees in library science and art therapy — and her introspection, he thought it might be a way for her to claim a voice, to bring her experience as a patient into focus.
He provided his personal video camera, a Canon GL2, circa 1998. He had filmed a documentary on the American chestnut using it.
Cindy wasn’t a camera enthusiast, but to Klempner, she seemed open to art experimentation. She was creative and smart. Like him, she seemed to get that a video camera could do more than record a family vacation.
It could be her paint brush.
Mom tries to make it right
Cindy was in the chemotherapy blahs.
Her mother would bring in art supplies, but Cindy didn’t have the energy to use them. She was bored, watching a lot of TV. But she couldn’t bring her mind around to drawing.
“It was really hard for me to concentrate or feel motivated to do anything,” Cindy said.
Klempner’s camera was the perfect foil, a passive project that would take its time-lapse shots on autopilot.
At times, she struggled to set up the camera, crying as she tinkered to get the focus and the white balance right. But she stuck with it.
One night, as the camera took its frames like an inexorably beating heart, the line to Cindy’s port came loose and a nurse came into the room to reconnect it. Cindy didn’t realize the encounter, reflected in the window, was captured on her video.
As bags of saline flushed the chemotherapy drugs out of her system, she and her mother, Della Craig, would gaze out the window over small talk. Cindy felt like she was in a bubble, a different world. The Land of the Sick, she called it, a line she remembered from a writer whose name escaped her.