top of page

Selected Artwork:

HOPE bannerwebsite samples.jpg

Featured Stories

"Breaking Bad" Scott Stoner, Artist in Residence

One of the most gratifying aspects of my work as an Artist in Residence is to observe the way in which some patients embrace the opportunity to explore and discover the transformative power of creative work as core to the healing process. I have referred to “N” as a poster child for benefiting the most from the Artist in Residence (AIR) program.


When I met N and her spouse (“M”) at the beginning of four months of chemotherapy treatment, she was hesitant to engage in creative activity, although she did note she had enjoyed making jewelry (bracelets) at home. Her second session took place close to St. Patrick’s Day and I suggested she create a note card around that theme. She said she would try it and spent the session carefully coloring in a Celtic cross symbol, asking for suggestions about color and design of the card, but working steadily on her own. We were both pleased with the outcome.

breaking bad 1.png

For our second session, I suggested that she and M might work on a collage together. Both seemed hesitant, having never created a collage or worked together on a creative piece. N took the lead in selecting words from my 
“word box” and as they flipped through magazines, M cut out and around selected images. As they worked, N spoke of her background and her experience thus far with what appeared to be a complicated cancer diagnosis. Curiously, she has a twin sister (now living in another country) who was also diagnosed with cancer (but with a different type) as the same day N was. N was researching all that she could find about cancer treatment and a range of options to promote health and healing. 


As I listened, it struck me that N was going to be “all in” as a highly informed and motivated participant in the survival process. This image for the first collage was a large photo of a beautiful sunflower, over which the following words were placed: “Baggage Check, Experience, Redefining, Next, Circle, and Thank You.” 

As is often the case, patients may experience fatigue (difficulties sleeping), pain, and general discomfort at various stages as they progress through the chemotherapy treatment. N was experiencing the above at the next session, but she wanted to tell me that was reading about and wanted to try making decorative soaps at home (the neuropathy in her fingers, another side effect, made it impossible to continue with the jewelry making). I encouraged her to explore the craft of soap-making.


The following session, N was excited to relay that she purchased the necessary materials and equipment and was experimenting with making soaps, and integrating elements from nature. I said I would look forward to seeing them, and speaking of nature, suggested she and M create another collage around an environmentally-conscious theme to celebrate Earth Day. They went to work and created what I think is a beautiful and powerful piece (both collages are represented on the HOPE Sculpture installation). 

breaking bad 2.png

It was fascinating to watch how their process of creating the Earth Day collage unfolded. After the images of sky, water, land (with a waterfall) and foliage were cut, N decided to further cut them apart - to cut the water and clouds into heart shapes to reflect the care and respect we should have for basic elements, and cut the landscape into pieces to reflect the harm that can affect our planet. There was healthy “creative discourse” between the two of them about why and where pieces should come together – all of which culminated in such a unique and compelling piece.


Northern Virginia (indeed the Washington metro area) was invaded by the 17-year brood of cicadas in the next month, so I brought various drawings and photographs of cicadas as inspiration for creative expression. N chose a large drawing of a cicada and promptly went to work filling it with rainbow colors. After this, she said “I don’t know why but as I’ve been working on this, I keep thinking about [the popular TV series] “Breaking Bad” – she then used lettering templates to add the script across the piece. She took it home with her, cut around the image and letters, and photographed it on a slatted wood deck, to suggest the bars of a jail. Meanwhile, M colored a drawing of a cicada on a branch. 

Several months into her chemotherapy treatment, N was heavily invested in her soap-making craft at home. She would bring in her latest samples in small gift bags to share with me and Infusion staff. After mastering the basic process, she successfully experimented with incorporating various scents in the soaps. Here are some examples of the many soaps she has made and so generously shared with healthcare workers and newfound friends in the cancer community.

Four months later, on N’s last day of chemotherapy, in addition to bringing soaps for staff, she brought in all of the collages and other work she had created during the AIR sessions (she had laminated every piece at home), and lined them up across the window. I suggested she and M create one more collage, which they did, and decided it should reflect their plans to travel to various places around the world in the future. The chemotherapy sessions were only the beginning of N’s extended treatment for her cancer – she has since had radiation and surgery. Following her radiation treatment, she invited her close circle of friends and colleagues to attend the bell-ringing event. She created a piece for the HOPE Sculpture that incorporates a photograph from that day.

I continue to remain in touch with N, who has bounded back to a relatively full life that included a recent cruise with M and, of course, a continuous output of the beautiful soaps. I regularly draw upon her generosity to share how and why creative engagement has been critically important to her healing and well-being. She has written: 


“By introducing me to Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, its programs, and Inova Schar’s sponsorship, I feel that you ‘gave’ me AIR (during chemo of all places where i could have felt ‘stuck’ [not just by needles but with the situation and circumstances]) … Thinking more on that, as an adult getting to ‘do’ art, i realize that pieces of art have life. Each artist as a creator instills themselves into their pieces - such that the HOPE sculpture is not an inanimate object, but it brims with life. The energies that went into the making of the pieces remain, collectively representing, presenting, and reflecting life - that shows & tells to those who look at it, and listen to it, saying different things to each person. Such that the sculpture is not Still Life. It is instilled [with] life, not stilled life but still with life.”

bottom of page