A Portrait Of Healing

hartman hospital painting
On the fourth floor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, they're doing cutting-edge research on bladder cancer, the mechanics of cancer stem-cell replication, and the healing power of portraits.

That's right, portraits.

The work is being done by Scottish-born artist Mark Gilbert. A few years ago Gilbert did a whole series of portraits on some hospital patients in London.

And it was during these sittings that Mark says he first noticed the medicinal effect of having one's portrait done, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports for Assignment America.

"Some people enjoyed taking part," said Glenna Oltman, a patient. "Other people got a very tangible, therapeutic cathartic benefit."

That's definitely been the case with Oltman, who has now sat for Mark a half-dozen times. She is recovering from jawbone cancer.

"You get so down and so depressed that this really brought me out of it. It's made me feel like a whole person again," she said.

Eventually, Gilbert will draw and paint about 15 different patients. Also, for a separate study, he's giving art lessons to medical students - to see if drawing can improve their observation skills.

"The actual act of drawing is an incredible way of absorbing information and you don't have to be a good drawer to do it," Gilbert said.

The hospital (which is paying for it all), won't know the results of either study for several months, but so far the feedback has been glowing - especially from one little girl.

"He's drawing me!" said 5-year-old Daisy Friedman.

She's a transplant patient. Doctors had to remove her liver - but left in her ability to ham it up for the camera.

"Oh, she's gotten such a kick out of it," her mother told Hartman. "I mean she puts on her tutu, which she does only for special occasions."

By their very nature, hospitals will always be grey and lonely places where people dream of tomorrows. But thanks to this most unusual research project, today isn't so bad either.

The Omaha portraits will eventually go on display, but not until December. However, you can see more of Gilbert's artwork at his Web site.
  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.