Tai Sophia Institute for the Healing Arts believes its lobby, the newly dedicated Himmelfarb Gallery, can be a place for healing and well-being

Promoting fine art and good health


Hands, trees, water and flowers all seemed like appropriate subjects to Columbia photographer Diane Dunn for her exhibit at Tai Sophia Institute for the Healing Arts in Laurel.

"I chose images with a more reflective and more spiritual quality," Dunn said.

Her soft-edged, ethereal photographs include ones that have been hand-tinted in pastel colors, taken with infrared film or captured in glowing afternoon light. They will be on display through Feb. 10.

Since it began displaying work by local artists in its lobby in spring 2003, Tai Sophia Institute has offered an outlet for about four artists each year.

In addition to work that is technically and aesthetically high-quality, organizers are looking for art that fits in with the institute's mission. Tai Sophia offers master's degrees in acupuncture, herbal medicine and applied healing arts along with other health and wellness programs.

"It is an opportunity for the artist not just to hang pretty images, but to really come up with a statement of how their work fits into the community of Tai Sophia," said Carol Cathcart, a fine-art photographer and member of the institute's art committee.

She said the purpose of the gallery is described in a letter she wrote to the administration when the school moved to its new location in 2002.

"Art has the power to offer our patients, staff and students a real reflective encounter," Cathcart wrote. "This is the quality of art that goes beyond decorative. To bring personal growth, healing and transformation. Art, like needles, herbs and conversation, has the ability to create openings and movement toward healing, growth and understanding."

The art exhibits have become better-known over the past 2 1/2 years. The art committee has booked the exhibit space for the next year, said John C. Wilson, director of publications and a member of the committee. And last month, the lobby space was officially dedicated as the Himmelfarb Gallery, after a million-dollar gift by the Helen M. & Annetta Himmelfarb Foundation.

"The institute sort of started it as an experiment and has become attached to it," Wilson said. "It really creates a sense of peace and healing, I think, in the building. ... We have worked hard to keep the healing theme in some way."

Dunn said she has been told that her photographs evoke memories of dreams. In her artist's statement, she drew on that idea to explain her work's connection to the institute's mission.

"One of the healing benefits of art - and one of the reasons people want to create it - is that, like dreams, it has the ability to transcend individual consciousness and connect us through a larger shared reality," she wrote.

Dunn studied art while she majored in Spanish at Pennsylvania State University, and she said she focused for many years on watercolor painting.

In the 1990s, she was producing publications for a college and needed to develop her photography skills. She went on to take a number of photography classes at Howard Community College. About three years ago, she started working as a communications consultant and focusing more on her photography.

Dunn is a member of the Artists' Gallery in Columbia, where she will have a show in April. She has also exhibited at several area galleries, including a current group exhibit at the soon-to-be-closed Tatiana gallery in Glenelg.

Dunn said she often takes photographs while traveling. Her exhibit includes images from France, New Mexico and Costa Rica, as well as a couple from Maryland.

"A lot of the time something just captures me," she said. "It's a lot about the light for me."

Dunn also said she enjoys developing her film in a darkroom at home because it still seems like magic to see the image appear.

And she said she likes playing with the images for an artistic effect, whether by coloring them, blowing them up or using them to make etchings for printmaking. She is experimenting with a process that transfers the pigment in a Polaroid onto paper.

Dunn said she is happy that more public spaces, such as coffeehouses and office buildings, seem to be using their walls to exhibit original art.

"People are taking them a little more seriously as venues to exhibit their art," Dunn said. "It is just great to give people the opportunity to have their work seen."sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

The Himmelfarb Gallery is in the lobby of the Tai Sophia Institute, 7750 Montpelier Road, Laurel. Hours and information: 410-888-9048 or tai.edu.

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