Mural Therapy

Brookside residents ‘walk toward the mountain’ courtesy of artist Ron Phillips

The residents of the Alzheimer’s unit at Brookside Manor can’t see the forest for the trees. And that’s just what Ron Phillips wanted.

Phillips recently finished painting a landscape mural in an 80-foot hallway at Brookside, a job that took him three months. The mural is a sweeping, colorful vista of mountains, rivers, lakes and forests. Deer nibble grass in a field and birds nest in trees.

The hallway links the two wings of the Alzheimer’s unit, and residents often walk the hall for exercise.

“There are a couple of gals who walk by regularly,” Phillips said as he was putting finishing touches on the mural. “One of them always says, ‘I’m coming to walk through the woods today.’”

Nurses at Brookside Manor decided to paint the hallway to make it more visually interesting to the residents, who aren’t allowed to wander freely outside. Painting it with a mural also served practical needs.

“We use it as direction,” said Tonya DeHart, activities director at Brookside Manor. “We say, ‘Head toward the mountain.’”

Phillips, who was born and raised in the Hood River Valley, has been an artist all his life. In spare time from his professional career as a meat cutter, Phillips has taught art up and down the valley to people from “age 8 to 80.”

He favors local scenery in his landscape paintings, and the Brookside mural is no exception. At one end of the hallway stands Mt. Hood, at the other, Mt. Adams. A view of the Columbia River sweeps across the middle of the hall. In between are forests and lakes, expanses of sky and plenty of wildlife.

At the end of the hallway, Phillips painted right over a set of double doors that residents frequently tried to exit through despite opening only with a code.

“It keeps us from having to say, ‘No, you can’t go out the door,’” said DeHart. Now, instead of locked doors, residents see lush rhododendrons flowing over a rock wall.

Phillips painted the thigh-high rock wall all along the hallway at the request of DeHart and Brookside staff, “so residents don’t walk right into the picture,” DeHart said.

According to DeHart, the residents are enjoying the new scenery.

“They have such a hard time because they don’t get to walk outside whenever they want to,” she said. “Now, they can feel like they’re walking outside.”

Phillips calls his work on the mural “therapy.” He suffers from back problems — most recently a ruptured disk — which have forced him to do some of the painting sitting down. But, when asked, he jumped at the chance to paint the mural.

“It’s not often someone gives you an 80-foot wall to paint,” he said. “It’s nice to have a little canvas to paint on.”

Having been confined himself due to his back problems, Phillips says he “knows what it’s like looking at four walls.” He painted the two mountains so that they can be seen from the lounge in each wing.

“It’s neat to be able to help people relate to things,” he said. “And it’s nice for the residents to have something beautiful to look at.”

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