Art provides distraction, peace at East Tennessee Children's Hospital

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Even with a stamp collection that spans at least 3,000, it's Carl Gombert's mind where he does the most collecting.

"I call myself a mental hoarder. I tell my students often that art making is really just becoming a coffee maker. You fill your head with beans, grind them as much as you can and see what drips out later," he said.

The Maryville College art professor's mind is dripping with lines, shapes and colors. He works from the middle and expands as far as his canvas will allow.

But for all of the detail, he's got a pretty simple definition of art.

"Drawing is really just a matter of making marks on surfaces," said Gombert.

His stamps are making marks on paper, but his art is making a mark on people.

In a waiting room at East Tennessee Children's Hospital, one of Gombert's pieces hangs on the wall. It doubles as a scavenger hunt where Kim Alexander's son is passing time while waiting for his brother's appointment.

"Some families are there just once and some are there repeatedly and for very long periods and that's something that's always motivated me. I like making pieces that are big enough and complicated enough that you can't see it all in one visit so that if people are coming back they can see something different or find something new about it," said Gombert.

"It was nice to be welcomed by the nice, vibrant colors. It caught their attention and allowed them to be at ease," said Alexander.

It's a theme you'll find all over the hospital. Each piece is carefully selected or created with the patients and their parents in mind.

"When they get off the elevator and they see something colorful that might distract them from something they are getting ready to do with their child, a test a surgery, a procedure. Or maybe they've just gotten some bad news and they need something to lift their spirit," said Carlton Long, the Vice President for Institutional Development at the hospital.

In each blank space, Long sees an opportunity.

Breonna Inman and her cousin, Cora, have been ot the hospital several times in the past few weeks. Waiting ot hear her diagnosis has been tough.

"I thought it was really scary because I thought something may have been wrong and maybe they wouldn't find out what was wrong with me," she said.

Strangely enough, it has been the waiting room that's provided some comfort.

"I think that if the staff thought to put up art for the little kids then maybe they're a little more caring and care about their patients and don't just care about finding out what's wrong with you and sending you on your way. They want to help," said Inman.

Each stamp Gombert makes on his canvas is permanent. But the mark it's making on these children, fleeting as it may be, is a distraction that's well worth the work.

"The fact that someone recognized that things changed even for that brief moment and even for a slight degree that's really amazing," he said.

The hospital predominately chooses art made from artists in Tennessee. They still have blank spaces they are looking to fill in the new building and hope to eventually do the same in the old building.