Pediatric Cancer Unit Happily Goes to the Dogs Thanks to Famed Photographer William Wegman

William Wegman, famed photographer known for photos featuring whimsical Weimaraners, brought a smile to many young patients as part of an event sponsored by the Georgetown Lombardi Arts and Humanities program, Tracy's Kids and the Hope for Henry Reads program in the pediatric hematology-oncology clinic at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

February 6, 2015

Lights, camera, Weimaraners!

"Weimaraners love to be on stage," said William Wegman, famed photographer and artist. "My dogs love the attention."

Wegman is known for his artwork of "ludicrously-styled" Weimaraner dogs. His work has been featured in children's books, calendars, art galleries and on "Sesame Street" for the past 40 years.

Georgetown Lombardi Arts and Humanities program, Tracy's Kids and the Hope for Henry Reads programWegman's whimsical Weimaraners brought a smile to many young patients as part of an event sponsored by the Georgetown Lombardi Arts and Humanities program, Tracy's Kids and the Hope for Henry Reads program in the pediatric hematology-oncology clinic at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

For many young patients Wegman's Weimaraners have proven to be the perfect distraction during their care.

"His work is so beautiful and meaningful. It's great that Wegman is able to weave in family with fun in this book," said Aziza Shad, MD, chief, Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at MedStar Georgetown. “We might focus on the dog and what it is wearing, but we must not forget that it is also about family, which relates to our focus on family-centered care here."

Families gathered around Wegman, as he read his new book "Flo & Wendell Explore," a story about a brother and sister adventure. As Wegman turned a page, patients did the same, thanks to Hope for Henry Read's generous donation of "Flo & Wendell Explore" books, reading lights and tote bags for the young patient attendees.

"We created the Hope for Henry Reads program to give kids the opportunity to meet authors and to escape into the wonder and thrill of great books," said Laurie Strongin, who founded Hope for Henry at Georgetown after her son Henry died 12 years ago. "As the kids followed Flo and Wendell on their adventure they had the chance to leave the hospital for a time and just enjoy being a kid. That's why we created Hope for Henry – to provide magical moments like this for kids going through treatment here at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital."

William WegmanDuring the reading, the artist dressed in jeans, sneakers and a sweat shirt, provided additional commentary about the construction of his work, which intrigued the adults as the young visitors patiently waited for the next page and the next captivating dog picture.

"My dogs don't get treats when they work because it causes them to drool," said Wegman.

Wegman loves capturing the dogs in art. Although the canines have never had formal obedience training, he begins working with them as puppies so they are comfortable with a camera and the art process as they grow older.

"Weimaraners are also known as good working dogs," he explained, which helps Wegman position the dogs to stand on random surfaces and endure wearing dresses, hats, hair or sailing in a boat.

Wegman's dogs were not present for the event, but their photographed faces were available for a puppy-puppet art project following the book reading. Tracy's Kids donated craft supplies and led the activity for the families.

"We loved having William Wegman as a guest in our art therapy space," said Tracy Councill, MA, ATR-BC. "He generously provided photos of Flo and Wendell and helped the kids make them into puppets. There was an astronaut, a ballerina, batman, a 'preppie' puppet--and he seemed to really enjoy being with some of his youngest fans!"

Ayana-Ruslan-and-mom"I remember Wegman's work on 'Sesame Street' from when I was a little girl," said Marcela Nadar, mother to a young patient with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. "In our house, we've always read his stories, and my kids have always enjoyed it."

"In all my years at Sesame Street, I never met Big Bird or Elmo," lamented Wegman during the reading.

While the centerpiece of his artwork, Wegman's Weimaraners are a part of his everyday life as well. He goes bike riding with his three dogs Candy, Topper and Flo and he walks them several times a day. And yes, his dogs ARE allowed on the furniture.

His interest in dogs, art and children made the event a success, according to Julia Langley director of the Georgetown Lombardi Arts and Humanities Program. "It's very important to show that great art belongs in a place of great need," said Langley. "It gives us a moment to reflect and realize that even though this is sometimes a difficult place, bringing in an artist like William Wegman can change the tone and promote healing."

"When Georgetown Lombardi approached us, he jumped at this opportunity mostly for the kids," said Emily Helck, Wegman's former assistant and a young breast cancer survivor. "Art and dogs are so good for your health, and it's great that Bill's artistic thinking is always on. It never stops! The dogs are everywhere."

Wegman's team donated five of 27 dog portraits hanging in the Lombardi atrium in honor of Helck and her journey through breast cancer. The other 22 portraits are for sale with a portion of the proceeds going to Georgetown Lombardi.

Lombari LobbyLater in the day Georgetown Lombardi hosted a reception with Wegman for the opening of his solo exhibition "William Wegman: Out of the Box."

MedStar Georgetown visitors are encouraged to view Wegman's Weimaraner works and young oncology patients can look forward to reading some of the books Wegman donated to the clinic.

"It's been so nice to have many good distractions here," said another mother to an oncology patient. "Sometimes the siblings get jealous of all the cool things she gets to do, but we're really so appreciative of all that is offered here."

The Wegman works will be on display in the Lombardi atrium at MedStar Georgetown through March 15, 2015.

About MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is a not-for-profit, acute-care teaching and research hospital with 609 beds located in Northwest Washington, D.C. Founded in the Jesuit principle of cura personalis—caring for the whole person—MedStar Georgetown is committed to offering a variety of innovative diagnostic and treatment options within a trusting and compassionate environment.

MedStar Georgetown’s centers of excellence include neurosciences, transplant, cancer and gastroenterology. Along with Magnet® nurses, internationally recognized physicians, advanced research and cutting-edge technologies, MedStar Georgetown’s healthcare professionals have a reputation for medical excellence and leadership. MedStar Georgetown University Hospital—Knowledge and Compassion Focused on You.

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