AKRON, Ohio — Inside what's supposed to be a place of emergency trauma, you'll be surprised to find strokes of beauty and color.
“Her paintings are all over,” says Summa Health emergency nurse Gretchen Wildman.
Wildman, who has worked in the emergency department of Summa for four years, is describing the work of her boss, Nancy Donel.
Donel’s hand-painted seasonal portraits are displayed on the hospital's walls.
“She's just got her artwork everywhere and it makes people happy,” Wildman says.
The spirit of joy Donel’s pieces produces is why the emergency nursing director turned to her brushes when COVID-19 hit her team at the hospital.
“I wanted to capture how we all came together and took care of a crisis,” Donel says.
The self-taught artist used the photos to create a painting, which captures the Summa Health Emergency team as caricatures standing in front of the hospital in the rain.
“She (Donel) was going around to all of us individually in our PPE and taking photos of us and we're all like ‘what are you doing,’” Wildman says with a laugh.
Donel says her inspiration came from a day when members of clergy came to pray for the team while they stood outside in sleet and rain. A massive clergy member is painted in the top right corner of the portrait holding an umbrella and a prayer book. His presence hovers over the team like a guardian angel.
“To me, that just kind of spoke volumes of how we all had to come together and support each other, and we have this overlooking us,” Donel says.
“Somebody higher up praying for us to keep us safe from this horrible pandemic,” Wildman adds.
Donel calls the painting "Our Story" because it visually describes the tale of how the team responded to a pandemic.
“Instead of turning from the crisis, we faced it head on,” Donel says. “It just kind of gave me chills to watch how everybody just (said) 'OK, alright. That's what's happening. OK, we can do this.”
To Wildman, their story told through paint produces the power of a changed perspective.
“Had it not been for something positive, a lot of us are going to look back and be like, 'That was the worst time of our entire life,' but her portraying it that way kind a made it seem like you know what, we got through it, we did what we had to do.”