Together Again: Physician and Patient Reunited as Artists

Goldberg/Saylor Exhibit and Art/Medicine Symposium Upcoming at Villanova University

About 30 years ago, painter and teacher Carol Saylor began a journey into progressive blindness and deafness, and found new dimensions of creativity in sculpting. Along her way, she met Dr. Richard E. Goldberg, a retinal surgeon and self-taught painter with a zeal for unmasking linkages between the worlds of medicine and art.

Their two-person Exhibit, “Together Again: Physician and Patient Reunited as Artists”, opens Oct. 22 in the Villanova University Art Gallery.  A free public reception is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 29, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Art Gallery, located in The Connelly Center. The Exhibit continues to Dec. 6.

The latest in a series of regional symposiums integrating the worlds of medicine and art will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 9, from 6 to 9 p.m., in The Connelly Center Cinema.  The assembly brings together eye physicians, artists with visual impairments, and Philadelphia Museum of Art staff lecturer Matthew Palczynski. 

Among commonalities linking medicine and the arts are the essence of subject, the fact that practitioners of both professions are privileged observers, both can be therapeutic and strive for integrity, notes Goldberg. The Exhibit and Symposium are both open to the public free of charge.

Contemplative work which challenges the viewer to study and participate in the artistic process is a unifying force throughout the exhibition.  For instance, among Saylor's work is Sisters, two clay sculpture forms enclosing figures and textiles that are meant to be touched and even rearranged.   Goldberg's most recognized images are ethereal landscapes and still lifes that morph into landscapes by virtue of his use of light, color, and atmosphere.                                                                            

What stirs Saylor and Goldberg most about the symposiums are the exchanges that take place. Relates Goldberg: “It is a tremendously uplifting experience.  Attendees often share that while they may have lost sight, hearing, or other physical capacity, they have not lost their creative spirit.  They reveal how they have transitioned to even more rewarding expression and accomplishments in new subject matter and media.”     

This is exactly what former watercolorist Saylor of Roslyn, Pa., did. “Blindness and deafness have taught me that I am not a body, but a mind and a spirit. My body's eyes have nothing to do with vision and my body's ears have nothing to do with listening,” says the award-winning sculptor. 

The mother of five began losing her eyesight and hearing to an apparent genetic disorder shortly after graduating magna cum laude from Tyler School of Art at age 39.  Her worsening condition soon forced her to leave her job as a junior high school art teacher, and then to give up painting.  Saylor's entry to sculpting came through papier mache, which she worked with to relax. The experience proved an epiphany.

“I came to know,” she says, “that I would always be able to make art, even when I became totally blind and deaf.”  She works in clay, plaster, wood, bronze and other materials, many of which are finished with the random patina of smoke firing.

Female forms in abstract and representational renderings are a major focus of her work. In them she often creates unseen 'hidden spaces' which can only be experienced by touch, which she hopes viewers of her work will gently do as a means of gaining a tactile sense of her art. “My work,” she notes, “expresses the emotions of a lifetime, from loss and grief to gratitude and hope.”

Saylor shares about her art and how her physical senses relate to her mind's eye at the numerous presentations and workshops she gives at Philadelphia area art schools and associations.  She has been accorded Best in Show and the Purchase Prize of the Women's Committee at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Lois Levy Award of Princeton (N.J.) Hospital, and first in sculpture at the Moss Rehabilitation Hospital of Philadelphia.

Her sculptures have been included for many years in National Exhibits by Blind Artists (NEBA). From 2006 to 2007, she had a solo exhibit at the Touch Gallery at the Philadelphia Library for the Blind sponsored by NEBA.

While Saylor has found gifts in blindness, deafness concerns her. Although she worries about not being able to communicate, she's also confident she'll find ways to work around it.

Goldberg describes as seamless his transition from physician to artist. “For me, doctor and artist are one.” he says.  He resides in Huntington Valley, Pa.

Surreal elements and pared composition are typical of Goldberg's works.  His painting Bucks County Winter conveys a sense of peace and security in the soft icy blue haze that shrouds a distant farm house. In Silence, a large, open work of soft, light hues, the only shapes are three softly rendered lemons and their gauzy shadows. Two are positioned next to one another in seeming communion.  He frequently creates a feeling of intrigue and mystery that he hopes will evoke emotional responses with the viewer thinking, “I wonder what would happen if…”

Like an iconographer of sacred art, he strives to leave no evidence of his hand at work in his paintings. Brush strokes are kept as imperceptible as possible. “In deliberately leaving no footprint, I want to create as direct a relationship as possible between the work and the viewer.”

Goldberg's work has been widely exhibited in juried, group and solo exhibits throughout the Philadelphia region, and is held in public and private collections. He lectures and participates in seminars.  A fascinating subject for him is impressionistic painter Edgar Degas, who was very adaptive. As Degas’ central vision diminished, he shifted from photography, printmaking, pastels and oils to the more tactile nature of sculpture.

The Villanova University Art Gallery is open weekdays from 9 am to 5 p.m. For weekend and extended hours, and other information, telephone the Art Gallery at (610) 519-4612. Selected works for the Goldberg/Saylor exhibit may be previewed on the gallery’s website at www.artgallery.villanova.edu.