For the past 20 years, Lee Ann Dodson has believed art has the power to heal.

A pioneer in UF’s Arts in Medicine program, the Gainesville artist often spend her days sitting with patients at UF Health Shands Hospital and helping them cope with their ailments through drawings and paintings.

“Sometimes, it just turned out I sat and drew the patient,” Dodson said. “They liked that — they were often so sick that they didn’t want to do anything.”

Today, after a 10-year hiatus, Dodson will host her last Gainesville art exhibit before moving to Arkansas to be closer to family. The free event will be at 6 p.m. at Thornebrook Gallery, located at 2441 NW 43rd St., Suite 6D.

For Dodson, it’s her last chance to show off her work.

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In the lobby of Shands’ north complex stands a testament to Dodson’s legacy.

The “Healing Wall,” constructed in 1996, features thousands of colorful tiles, each painted by patients, family members, staff members and friends.

The two large 9-foot panels are meant to give patients a sense of comfort. The wall was inspired by the death of a 15-year-old cancer patient named Michelle Channing.

When Channing left the hospital, she sent Dodson a painting of flowers that sparked an idea.

“I saw attending physicians come in with med students and they talked about patients — not with their names — but as a diagnosis,” Dodson said. “I had this idea that they saw patients in one color, like a mono-color.”

Dodson created a piece for UF entitled, “Michelle’s Flowers,” in which she painted Channing in four different ways using only mono colors.

Channing passed away months after she saw the painting.

Dodson was emotionally worn out after Michelle’s death but wanted to do more. That was when Dodson and her friend and colleague, UF nursing professor Mary Rockwood Lane, began creating the wall.

“She came to the program at a time when the program needed pioneers,” said Christina Mullen, the director of the Shands Arts in Medicine program. “She was one of those pioneers.”

After putting her paintbrush down to focus on her son, she recently began drawing again, she said, and as her life has gotten more complicated, so has her art.

Her move back to her hometown in Arkansas inspired the show being held today. It will feature 50 of Dodson’s pieces.

“The arts are integral to the human experience, and I do believe that it’s intrinsic to the making of any kind or any type of art that it has a healing effect,” she said.

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