The Art of Healing
Mother-daughter artist duo from the Trinity community leaves a creative mark on a new hospital in San Antonio

Space shapes experience. Our physical surroundings affect the way we feel, the way we interact with one another, and the way we understand our lives. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in hospitals. Whether receiving care, visiting a loved one, or simply going to work, the design and aesthetic characteristics of medical facilities can play a huge role in improving people’s experience. Since 2010, a University Health program called SaludArte: Art of Healing has been integrating artwork into the health system’s facilities across San Antonio. At the new University Health Women’s & Children’s Hospital, which opened in December 2023, two members of the Trinity University community have left their artistic mark on the building, positively impacting the experience of all those who will spend time there.

Trish Simonite, a retired Trinity faculty member, and her daughter Francesca Simonite, a graduate of the Class of 2011 and Master of Arts in Teaching in 2012, were commissioned in June 2021 to create works of art for permanent installation on four floors of the hospital. Responding to the theme “In Bloom,” Trish and Francesca each focused on two floors, designing large-scale pieces with floral, botanical, and nature-inspired elements.

"My work is primarily about nature and the landscape,” says Trish, who moved to the Lone Star State in 1968 from the U.K. and was introduced to photography through a community class at the University of Texas at Austin. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in photography from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Trish was working as an adjunct professor at the Alamo Colleges when a friend, photographer and Trinity alumnus Ansen Seale ’83, encouraged her to apply for a part-time position teaching at Trinity. From there, she landed one of the University’s first Lennox Visiting Artist positions, followed by a tenure-track position. Ultimately, she spent nearly 20 years on the faculty of the Department of Art and Art History before retiring in 2018.

For the SaludArte project, Trish turned to her vast archive of work, selecting photographs of native plants, palm leaves, birds, and flowers, many from her own garden. (“My English roots came back to me,” she says of her flower garden. “I have really enjoyed trying to make things grow here in San Antonio.”) Using digital tools, she combined the photos, sometimes digitally “painting” parts of her canvas.

“Since my very first photography class, I’ve had a sort of experimental approach to making images, and I’ve tried to keep trying new things as much as I can,” Trish says. “This commission from the hospital has allowed me to create work on a much larger scale than I could otherwise, so it has really pushed me in that way.”

“Level 3, Quick Registration Room, Poppy and Daisy Collage with Blue Corn Background” by Trish Simonite (on right) at University Health Women's & Children's Hospital

Francesca took a related but distinct approach to the project, reflecting her interest, as she puts it, in the “materiality of photographs.” For her pieces, she took existing photos from her own archive of work, cut them up, collaged them together, and rephotographed them, sometimes alongside real flowers. Then, she digitally manipulated the images to achieve a final, harmonious composition. “I’ve always appreciated the mystery of rephotographing and manipulating old work, blurring the lines of what’s real and what’s not,” says Francesca.

This commission—Francesca’s first large-scale installation—represents the culmination of a lifetime of learning about art and photography, both from her family and in educational settings. “My mum did a series of work when I was little where she would tear up wet darkroom prints, then hand color and rephotograph them,” she recalls. “I think much of my work has been subconsciously influenced by that.”

“Level 5 Corridor” by Francesca Simonite, located at University Health Women's & Children's Hospital in San Antonio

Francesca went on to study photography as a studio art major at Trinity, where her mother instructed her in an official capacity, as her professor. “I stayed out of her way on campus,” says Trish, adding with a laugh that she had two additional classroom rules for Francesca as a student: “She could not roll her eyes at me, and she could not call me ‘mum.’” After graduating, Francesca completed Trinity’s Master of Arts in Teaching program and later earned her Master of Fine Arts in photography from Brooklyn College in New York. Today, she lives in Milwaukee, where she is a high school art teacher and an adjunct instructor at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

Although Trish and Francesca created separate pieces for the Women’s & Children’s Hospital, they regularly consulted and collaborated, bouncing ideas off each other via FaceTime. Both had completed smaller works for University Health before, and the executive curator of the SaludArte program, Allison Hays Lane, encouraged them to apply for this project. The Simonites were actually one of two mother-daughter teams commissioned, Hays Lane notes—a fact that she calls “super special,” given that this facility provides care specifically to mothers and children.

A robust body of research has found that elements like sunlight, art, and access to nature can all have positive effects on patients’ health outcomes. A 2018 study, supported in part by the National Endowment of the Arts, found that art in hospitals “offset the medical aspects of the room, ‘transported’ patients from their suffering, humanized the healthcare environment, and gave people a degree of control.”

“Hospitals are stress centers,” explains Hays Lane. “We use art to calm, welcome, and not retraumatize.” In her time with SaludArte, she’s seen the ways that art can improve the hospital experience, ranging from the practical to the profound. Colorful and distinctive walls, for example, can serve as way- finding tools, helping patients and visitors to orient themselves within the often labyrinthine hospital buildings and parking garages. Art in patient rooms or near the bedside can provide a positive distraction and a place to focus attention in times of physical discomfort. And there is even research showing that the presence of art can accelerate healing, which is good for both the patient and staff morale and allows the hospital to help more people by freeing up much-needed beds. Overall, art promotes “a feeling of stability in an anxiety-provoking setting,” Hays Lane says.

(left to right) Allison Hays Lane, Francesca Simonite, and Trish Simonite at University Health Women's & Children's Hospital

Making artwork for hospitals requires a high degree of consideration when it comes to colors, content, and cultural associations. Following the tenets of “trauma-informed care”—that is, practices that promote a culture of safety, empowerment, and healing—Hays Lane explains that SaludArte is very careful about the images and themes included in the work it selects. “Nothing is ever political, religious, or offensive,” she says. “We lean toward nature, abstraction, and pattern.” For artists, these constraints can actually spark creativity and provoke new ideas.

Pulling from her past experience and conversations with doctors, nurses, and mental health professionals, Trish explains that artists creating work for medical facilities typically avoid reds and pinks, which could evoke thoughts of blood or medication, as well as images of anything sharp, spiny, or dangerous-looking, like cacti or bees. Artists must also consider cultural associations. Owls, for instance, which may seem innocuous enough to some viewers, can symbolize darkness and death in Mexican and American-Indian cultures. “We had to think deeply about all these things when creating the work,” says Francesca.

The largest of the Simonites’ corridor-spanning pieces stretched more than 7 feet tall and 45 feet long, according to Broaddus & Associates project manager Mauricio Mar. Trish and Francesca worked closely with architects from the Houston-based firm Formation to ensure that their art accommodated medical equipment on the walls and structural elements of the building, which was designed by Marmon Mok Architecture and ZGF Architects. Ultimately, the Simonites’ art was printed on enormous swaths of a hard, acrylic-vinyl material that can withstand the advanced cleaning and sanitation procedures required in a hospital setting. “It was a huge project,” says Trish, “the biggest I’ve ever done. Seeing them installed on the walls, at their final scale, was fantastic.”

The Simonites’ work for the Women’s & Children’s Hospital contributes to the “playful, sensory, and welcoming” environment that University Health and the SaludArte program strive to cultivate, says Hays Lane. And on a personal level, the collaboration brought the mother-daughter artist duo even closer. “My mom and I have always gotten along,” Francesca says. “It was so special to be able to do this with her.” For the artists, and for future generations of mothers and children, their work will help to ensure that healing, love, and compassion are always “In Bloom.”

Video by Caleb Aguiar '25. Photos by Ryan Sedillo.

Miriam Sitz Grebey '10 writes about architecture, urbanism, sustainability, and more. She majored in Spanish and environmental studies at Trinity, then earned her master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter at @MiriamSitz.

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