GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD)-8-year-old Emily Morton of Wright Township was six weeks old when she contracted the HSV-1 virus, causing encephalitis. It’s a condition that has left her with lifelong medical battles, said her mother, Jennifer. Her big sister Katie, 10, has dysautonomia — a disorder of the autonomic nervous system — and long COVID.

Through the Make-A-Wish® Foundation, Emily was introduced to local artist and Care on Canvas founder Cynthia Hagedorn. With Hagedorn, she was able to enjoy a much-needed break from focusing on her chronic pain through a side-by-side painting session, with big-sister Katie coming along to share in the experience.

Jennifer said Katie was deeply affected by the experience, as well. “When Katie did her first painting with Cynthia, she actually left in tears, because she was so happy. Cynthia had given her a wonderful compliment because she had picked up a great technique with oil pastels. For Katie, at 10, having this amazing compliment from an artist just really meant something to her. It really opened something up in Katie that she didn’t know she had. So, now we have chalk pastels all over the place,” she said.

“I created scribble art and a tree,” Emily said. “It’s like a sunset with a rainbow. I made it in different colors. I drew the sun going down by the lake. I drew me and Miss Cynthia together holding hands under the rainbow. It made me feel good.”

On Sunday, June 12, the Morton girls — along with Emily’s twin brother Gavin, along with other artists who have created work under Hagedorn’s guidance, will have a chance to display and sell their art. The art show and marketplace will take place at the Forest Hills Fine Arts Center, 600 Forest Hill Ave. SE. The show is slated for 4 to 6 p.m., and is open to the public.

Care on Canvas is a program that partners with community groups supporting both children and adults in diverse circumstances — including Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital and Make-A-Wish® Michigan’s Grand Rapids Office, among others — to provide opportunities for people facing various challenges. These hurdles often are centered around health issues but also including bereavement, convalescence and other transitions, to express their unique, individual journeys through painting. The paintings are then on display in public exhibitions.


Sunday, June 12th


Forest Hills Fine Arts Center

600 Forest Hill Ave SE

Hagedorn said the upcoming Art Show and Marketplace represents a fruition several years in the making. She had been working as an artist-in-residence with various community organizations, in part through the ongoing sister program of Leadership on Canvas launched initially for ArtPrize in 2014. That became an annual event, leading eventually to the launch of Care on Canvas, mounting an inaugural art show in 2017.

“It went over really well, with a lot of grassroots community support,” Hagedorn said. “After that show, I was told by one of the child-life specialists at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital that he thought it was really cool to see these kids out of the hospital and out in the community with their families doing something fun, something different. That first year was magical, so I thought, ‘I have to do this again.’”

The 2022 Art Show and Marketplace will feature 30 participants — 19 children and 11 adults — including CareArtists being sponsored and/or supported by Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and Make-A-Wish® Foundation. Sponsorships cost $300 per participant and cover all the art supplies in addition to one-on-one in-studio sessions with Hagedorn.

Kent Riddle, CEO of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, has several connections to Care on Canvas, in addition to Mary Free Bed’s continuing collaboration with the program. He first met Hagedorn when he became a Leader Artist in the Leadership on Canvas program. Later, following a heart attack, he became a Care on Canvas CareArtist himself, and last year he sponsored 10 participants for Care on Canvas.

“I was raised in a home that embraced the arts,” Riddle said. “We thought it was important to surround our kids with the arts. My daughter, Kelly, is an artist and certified art therapist. I’m an engineer, but I find being creative and surrounding oneself in visual arts keeps us healthy individually and as a community. We can see things from a different perspective when we’re looking at art. We appreciate different things and different viewpoints.”

Riddle said that, once he learned about Care on Canvas, he knew he wanted it to happen at Mary Free Bed. “I love what Cynthia is doing. I enjoyed the experience or creating something. I’m not an artist. I’m creative, but I don’t have the technical skills to paint. Cynthia showed me that you don’t need a lot of technical skill to create, process and enjoy actually making art. I wanted that for our patients,” he said.

Maggie Lancaster, CEO of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, a major sponsor of the Art Show and Marketplace, said that Care on Canvas fills a need within the West Michigan community, especially with regard to the younger participants.

“There just aren’t enough opportunities for all of our kids to participate in art or to create art, especially with schools cutting arts, music and physical education programs,” Lancaster said. “You especially don’t get a lot of those opportunities when you’re hospitalized with serious illness or enduring other adversity. Care on Canvas is just a beautiful opportunity to provide these kids and their families with a reprieve. But this is a program that only happens when it’s funded. This should be an everyday experience for every single child at every children’s hospital. It shouldn’t be looked at as just a nice program, but as an intertwined element of care for these kids.”

Lancaster said she hopes community members with avail themselves of this chance to support the CareArtists and their work. “By coming out, you’re supporting people who deserve that opportunity to showcase their amazing work. If you could take 30 minutes and see what this program brings to our community and to our families, it will change you. When you’re going through the adversity that some of these folks are going through, the least we can do is just show up for them.” she said.

For her own part, 8-year-old Emily Morton said she hopes many people will come to see what she and other CareArtists have created, but that in any case, the experience has been therapeutic. “When I do my painting, I feel good,” she said. “I don’t feel like people who hurt. I don’t feel like my arms are hurting and my legs are hurting. I just feel happy.”

For more information on the Care on Canvas Art Show and Marketplace, visit the event page at Care on Canvas Art Show and Marketplace.