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Public Art Project Opens Door To Hope For Cancer Patients

Artist Maureen Day poses with her contribution to "42 Doors Of Hope," situated immediately in front of Busch Stadium.
Jeremy D. Goodwin
St. Louis Public Radio
Artist Maureen Day poses with her contribution to "42 Doors of Hope," situated immediately in front of Busch Stadium.

Some folks making their way around the St. Louis region since last month have seen some unusual sights on sidewalks and in storefronts: standalone doors with paintings on each side of them.

There are 42 of these doors, placed in public spots around the region, including Union Station in St. Louis, the Alton riverfront and Fritz’s Frozen Yogurt in O’Fallon, Missouri.

They will remain in place through Oct. 31. The American Cancer Society organized this sprawling public art installation, “42 Doors of Hope.” It aims to raise awareness — and donations — for its Hope Lodge in St. Louis, where cancer patients from out of town can find free lodging and a supportive community. American Cancer Society plans a renovation of the facility’s 42 guest suites.

Many of the participating artists sought to communicate an explicitly uplifting message with the doors they painted.

“I would like people to walk away with hope,” said artist Maureen Day, whose piece is mounted directly in front of Busch Stadium.

Her parents, stepdaughter and a friend of 35 years all have had bouts with cancer. Last year, Day had a Basal cell carcinoma removed from her face. “I know it sounds cliche,” she said, “but honestly I think that is the hardest part with any trauma or difficult journey — to maintain hope.”

Diana Zeng has taken inspiration from her husband's experiences with cancer.
Diana Zeng
Diana Zeng has taken inspiration from her husband's experiences with cancer.

‘A thread away’

Diana Zeng was a junior at Washington University a few years ago when she learned that her boyfriend, Sam Coster, who had recently graduated, was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma.

“I was walking outside of the quad and I just started directly walking back to my dorm room in tears,” she said, “and running into so many of my friends. It was a shock to them as well to have another college student say, ‘My partner has cancer.’”

Coster’s diagnosis began a long journey that included his multiple rounds of treatment and the couple’s engagement and marriage. They live together in St. Louis.

Glendon McFarlane's painting is titled "Community Of Compassion."
American Cancer Society
Glendon McFarlane's painting is titled "Community of Compassion."

Zeng only began painting in earnest after she graduated from college and turned to her experiences with her husband for inspiration. She painted her piece for the “42 Doors of Hope” project, “The Other Side Of Here,” in part as a celebration of the fifth anniversary of his remission.

It shows she and her husband in silhouette, on opposite sides of the door. Her shadow searches for his.

“He says he was a thread away from dying, and I always felt the urge of pulling him back,” she said.

A community effort

Glendon McFarlane said he was thinking about his late mother a lot while creating his piece, “Community of Compassion.” She died of cancer in 2012.

His painting depicts a female cancer patient lying in bed, as several onlookers smile at her. He said the new piece in line with his approach with artwork, trying to tell a story with an image.

“That scene is telling a true story, in a semi-realist form. The story is of compassionate people,” McFarlane said. “It takes the involvement of all in the community to reach out to victims of this disease — to contribute not only by monetary means but also by their presence, their kindness and their thoughts.”

Near the bottom of the image is a cluster of St. Louis iconography: the Gateway Arch, the Old Courthouse, the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.

McFarlane is a native of Jamaica who moved to St. Louis, his wife’s hometown, 12 years ago. He included the visual references to St. Louis as a tribute to the community spirit here that he’s been impressed by.

“It is really telling about the people of St. Louis,” he said, “who are very compassionate and will give to causes like the treatment of cancer.”

Finding an anchor

Brandon Warren of Farmington has gotten to know many cancer patients through his work as a CT technician. The disease also has touched several of his friends and loved ones, including his wife, Melanie, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer nearly five years ago. She had surgery and is doing well now.

In his piece, Brandon Warren used some imagery favored by a friend who died from cancer.
Melanie Warren
In his piece, Brandon Warren used imagery favored by a friend who died of cancer.

“You can walk into a crowded room, and everybody in that room knows somebody personally that’s been affected by cancer,” Warren said.

His contribution to “42 Doors of Hope” is called “Hope Anchors the Soul.” It depicts someone stricken with cancer who stands in front of the St. Louis skyline, having a moment of prayer or reflection. On the reverse side of the door are the words “Hope is an anchor for the soul,” paraphrased from a Bible verse.

The anchor imagery and quote is in part a tribute to a family friend who died from thyroid cancer and often invoked an anchor as a symbol of her faith.

The effect is to communicate an easily understandable message to viewers with help from details of great personal significance.

“You literally leave a piece of yourself in the art. So you're going to be forever entwined with every piece of art that you leave out there,” Warren said, “especially something like this.”

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.