Project PVD Love

Frog & Toad, the gift shop stuffed with perfect little somethings, has become a beacon of hope during the pandemic — a place always willing to collaborate, fundraise and bring smiles to the homebound with their madcap personal deliveries. So it made sense when a Providence-based parent/teacher organization president called them to discuss a mask donation project.

Providence Public School children often can’t afford to purchase masks, and some weren’t given the one mask each child was promised by the state. “This was a real need that I was shocked to find in the schools,” said Asher Schofield, co-owner of Frog & Toad.

Schofield was immediately on board with the project and asked employee Michael Ezzell to come up with the signature Project PVD Love mask design. The plan was to donate one mask to PVD schools for every mask purchased. “We are super grateful that our base responded,” Schofield said. “We can make a product, but if no one sees value in it, we can’t execute that giving component.”

Frog & Toad customers saw plenty of value in the masks and the project behind them — three different Providence public schools have already received 100 masks each.

Recognizing that the pandemic has stopped entertainment groups from visiting schools, Frog & Toad teamed up with Big Nazo Labs to deliver the masks. “They provide a scientist and robot to inspect the masks for the children and make sure they’re up to all health and safety standards,” says Schofield. “It gets the kids outside and laughing, and they’re delighted by these crazy creatures.”

Schofield appreciates the relationships he’s formed as a result of the project. “It’s been really great to have this connection with these amazing teachers, administrators and support staff and to show them some level of support for what they’re doing. A lot hinges on the health and wellness of our schools, and the fact that they’ve been able to deliver a safe and healthy area for kids to be is amazing.”

To purchase a Project PVD Love mask, go to frogandtoadstore.com




In the Flow: A visit to Wandering Goose Acupuncture

A handful of acupuncture needles rattled in Marco Leclerc’s palm, sending my anxiety skyrocketing. I practiced some deep breathing and tried to focus on his calming voice.

Leclerc is the proprietor of Wandering Goose Acupuncture in Pawtucket. He practices a fusion of classical and traditional Chinese medicine, which can include acupuncture, bodywork and herbal medicine, and I had no idea which treatments to expect when I walked into his clinic. I was hoping to be given a handful of herbs and be sent on my way, because my needlephobic heart was racing from the moment I pulled into his parking lot.

I had scheduled my appointment with Leclerc weeks before, and confessed to having no medical complaints, worried that he wouldn’t accept me as a patient. But he explained his treatments are best used as preventatives. “Acupuncture and herbs are great for increasing sensory awareness, cognitive abilities and overcoming creative blocks,” he explained. “However, it is powerful enough to treat serious illnesses and provide relief to those who want to avoid lots of pharmaceuticals or prevent unneeded surgeries.”    

His space is soothing: ambient music, low lighting, unobtrusive incense, and floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall shelves filled with jars of herbs. He checked both wrists for my six pulses (taut) and examined my tongue (puffy) before declaring me damp and imbalanced with depleted Qi, or life force. It isn’t as bad as it sounds, though. We’re all a little damp in the winter and mothers often have a depleted life force. He assured me that acupuncture would help restore balance.

Qi flows through the body in a conceptual path called the meridian system, which contains more than 400 acupuncture points. Based on the practitioner’s diagnosis, acupuncture needles are placed in some of these points to help Qi flow more freely and improve health. The first of 12 needles went into my third eye point, located between and slightly above my eyebrows. “This is the calming point, so I always needle it first,” Leclerc explained. “It’s often used in veterinary acupuncture. “

Well, if it works in dogs…

Leclerc uses a tube system to place needles. He presses a small plastic tube over the acupuncture point, then taps the needle into the skin through the tube. “The tube method improves accuracy,” he explained. Its second function is to fool the nerves into registering the pressure of the tube rather than the prick of the needle. My nerves were easily duped — I didn’t feel a thing. The tube method reduces his speed, however. “If I’m treating multiple patients at once, I prefer to freehand it,” Leclerc said.

Needles placed, Leclerc left the room and I sank into the sensations. I felt a buzzy energy, and was aware of only a couple of needles. The one near my left wrist was sometimes pinchy. The one in my right ankle seemed to be vibrating. When Leclerc returned about 15 minutes later, he explained the needles that gave me sensation corresponded to the parts of my body that needed to be brought into balance. He removed the needles, took my pulses again and declared them closer to normal.

When I got home, I was shocked by how good I felt — euphoric and with more energy than I’ve had in months. Whether my lifted spirit was due to an adjusted energy flow or a much needed break from months of monotony is difficult to tell, but my needle phobia is no match for this high, and I’ve already scheduled a second appointment.

Wandering Goose Acupuncture, 211 Columbus Ave #119, Pawtucket; wanderinggooseaccupuncture.com




23rd Annual Funda Fest

Funda is a Zulu word that means “to learn.” And every January, the Rhode Island Black Storytellers bring a whole lot of learning and fun to their community through Funda Fest. This year, the festival has gone virtual, but the entertainment is as real as ever.

Black storytellers from Rhode Island and across the globe will gather online to share traditions and values through story and song. With events like a virtual pot luck, youth storytelling and storytelling for grown folk, event goers will learn you’re never too old for a good tale.

For more information and for tickets, go to fundafest23.com




Getaway Car: Alex Potter captures ER nurses in their quiet moments

Photojournalist Alex Potter

Alex Potter almost dropped out of nursing school. “It was Iraq and Afghanistan prime time,” she said about her time in school. “I was following these photographers who were in those areas, and I thought their work was amazing. I loved travel and learning new languages, and really wanted to do that.” 

But in 2011, she completed nursing school despite her reservations, and began looking for a nursing position in intensive care, which proved to be elusive. So she flew to Jordan. “There was no planning involved whatsoever,” she said. She wasn’t entirely untethered in Jordan, however. She studied there in college and still had connections that she rekindled when she arrived. And then she started taking photographs. 

“Photojournalism is like any other arts career,” she explained. “You have to put your own money into creating projects to sell.” So she supported herself for several years by cycling between pursuing photojournalism projects in the Middle East, and when she ran out of money, taking travel nurse contracts to build both her bank account and her experience. “A lot of photojournalists have a side hustle, often in copy editing or photo editing. For the first few years at least, I viewed nursing as my side hustle.” 

Eventually, that side hustle brought her to Rhode Island Hospital’s ER just as COVID was picking up steam, and that’s where her two passions collided. “I didn’t have the time or energy to take on a photo assignment, but wanted to give people a sense of the exhaustion nurses were feeling,” she said. So she took a series of photographs of her colleagues as they left their 12-hour shift and entered the sanctuary of their car. “I always loved driving home,” she said. “When you get home, you’re nervous that you could contaminate your partner or family, but in the car you can relax for a little while.” 

As a healthcare worker who empathizes with and shares her colleagues’ emotions, Potter’s photo series presented a unique opportunity for her to support other nurses. “I hope that having my colleagues slow down and be photographed helped them look at things in a different way or give themselves permission to take a breath, be alone, and feel that it’s okay to have that space for themselves.”

To see more of Alex Potter’s work, follow her @alexkpotter.




Mural Mural on the Wall

A new mural appeared this fall at 319 Broadway in PVD, on the building that houses the 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers Union. The artist behind the mural is Joyce Kutty, an artist at Smokestack Studios in Fall River, with assistance from Wes Sanders, and it’s the first mural she’s done at this scale.

Kutty connected with the union through her friend Matt DaSilva, who started an initiative called Nov10 that links artists who want to create with healthcare workers who want a piece of original art. “He asked me if I wanted to create something for the union to boost morale,” said Kutty, who enthusiastically embraced the opportunity.

District 1199 represents many types of work within healthcare — elder care, nursing care, child care, building maintenance and food services — and Kutty worked with a representative of the union to plan the narrative and message of the mural. According to Kutty, the piece “shows all union work and strings together past, present and future perspectives in healthcare.”

Kutty said that the creative process not only taught her a lot about unions and their role, but restored her faith in community and humanity. “I didn’t expect [the project] to engage the community so much. The location is very public and people walking have been really supportive. It’s the most communication and connection I’ve had probably ever, nevermind in the midst of a pandemic.”

What are Kutty’s hopes for the mural’s legacy? “If people didn’t know before the pandemic that there are disparities and unfair treatment of healthcare workers, especially of people of color, now they know. There’s no looking away now, and I hope this mural is a constant and bold reminder that these people who are working every day are so important and our heroes.” 




On the Cover: Jon-Michael Baribault

This issue’s cover artist, Jon-Michael Baribault, is trained as an architectural engineer. “It’s given me a way to think about my process from a technical aspect,” he says. “My education was learning how to plan and execute complicated tasks, and that’s really helped my art process. I approach a design or new piece in a way that helps me to nail down the process and [determine] what I have to do to achieve what I’m thinking.”

And often, he’s thinking in a pop art style. “I like that style because it’s not too high brow. It takes the serious tone of art down a notch and helps make my artwork more fun.”

As he illustrated this month’s cover, Baribault considered how healthcare and the art world intersect. “They need each other in some ways,” he says, “and I was trying to portray the relationship between the two. The heart is symbolic instead of anatomical because healthcare providers not only take care of physical health, but also mental and emotional well-being. And that’s what the art community can provide, too.”

For more of Jon-Michael Baribault’s art, go to art-jmb.com or follow him @jmbaribault




Intergenerational Creativity

Gyotaku

Aisha Jandosova hopes for years full of life rather than a life full of years, but recognizes that a lot of elderly people don’t get that experience. “When you become a certain age, you’re out of sight out of mind. Especially when you move to assisted living. Suddenly, you’re on the margins of society,” she said.

To help people add life to their years, Jandosova and Jeff Warren began holding weekly intergenerational art making workshops at Tockwotton on the Waterfront, an assisted living facility in East Providence.

“One thing we noticed straight away,” said Jandosova, “was that when you live in a long-term care facility, you receive a daily schedule from 8am to 9pm. And just seeing that really made a big impression because it’s not how most of us life our lives. Instead, your schedule is written for you. Most activities are, many times, repetitive. And when we started these workshops, we wanted to be an antidote to that.”  

Drawing using touch

Pre-pandemic, residents, artists, grandchildren and friends would gather around tables in Tockwotton’s cafe for the workshops. “There’s an intangible feeling of getting people into a space,” said Warren. “We put on music. We have a portable record player and give it a loungey vibe. We make a space.”

Recognizing the different abilities of Tockwotton residents, Jandosova and Warren choose projects that are more about the process than the end result. “We use all the senses,” said Warren. “Touch, smell, feel. Maybe a different temperature. Those are all part of the process.”

In one workshop, makers were given a flower and invited to draw it blindfolded, using only their sense of touch to recreate the object. Another day, Jandosova and Warren hauled in a cooler of fish and led a gyotaku workshop, a traditional Japanese method of printing making.

Over the last year, Jandosova and Warren have run virtual workshops through Federal Hill House, a community support facility in Providence, but they’re eager to work with people in person again. “The pandemic really showed us the value of sharing space with each other, being next to each other to make things and build memories,” said Jandosova.

Follow Aisha Jandosova at towardsanidealplace.com; For information on their programs, go to tockwotton.org or federalhillhouse.org




Enough Talk: Art therapy provides an alternate means of self expression

Athena Kobin is a licensed mental health counselor and art therapist who uses art in her practice to help older teens and adults express themselves in a different way than what they may be accustomed to. Kobin and I had a recent discussion about what art therapy is, who benefits from it, and how to use art as a coping skill.

Emily Olson (Motif): What is art therapy?

Athena Kobin: People in art therapy use the creative process in some capacity — through clay, paint, drawing, pen and paper, collage, found objects — and use the resulting artwork to explore feelings and reconcile conflicts. It can manage behaviors, help people cope with anxiety or reconcile conflicts.

EO: How do you use art therapy in your practice?

AK: With teens, I use it as a way to teach coping skills and explore the mind/body connection. For example, I might ask them to draw where in their body they feel something. Or portray to me through art what’s happening in their mind. Sometimes, they can’t describe an emotion verbally, but they can draw it, and a drawn feeling is often safer to explore because it’s separating these floating, negative thoughts from their mind.

With adults, I explore archetypes as a form of self awareness and self expression. I might ask them to create their own perception of how archetypes appear within them.

Clients of all ages can benefit from process painting, which is creating art based on the emotions you’re feeling in the moment. A person might work on the same painting week to week, taking pictures as they go, and creating a diary of their emotions.

EO: What is the therapist’s role in this process?

AK: I’m trained to notice themes and patterns, so I see things that come up. But art therapists aren’t interpreters. It’s more about guiding the client to reflect on their own work.

EO: Do clients ever have to break through internal boundaries to benefit from art therapy?

AK: It does take a while for people to make art without putting their own judgement on it. People try to make something pretty or representative instead of expressive, and it takes a lot of time and patience for individuals to let go of the art. In art therapy, it’s the process that really matters, but that’s not how we’re taught to do things so it’s hard for people to be authentically okay with it.

EO: Who benefits from art therapy?

AK: Art therapy improves interpersonal skills, provides alternate coping skills, increases self esteem and cognitive ability. I’ve seen so many different people who can really benefit from art therapy. People with learning disabilities, people dealing with pressure or stress, people having trouble in school, people with anxiety, depression, PTSD, brain injuries, cancer — the list goes on and on.

Art therapy is something interesting to try for someone who is resistant to other forms of treatment or who are in therapy and feel like they’re not getting enough — talk therapy doesn’t work, I need more, I need to express myself in a different way. It really works for anyone who is open to self expression.

EO: Does art therapy need to be guided?

AK: Art therapy is a guided practice with a trained therapist, but art as therapy works. You can make mandalas, a worry creature — there are plenty of directives on the internet for people who want to try using art in this way.

The best way to find an art therapist is through a quick internet search. Although there is an Art Therapy Association website, their resources aren’t comprehensive. Kobin cautions potential clients to seek a therapist who is a registered art therapist (ATR), a board certified art therapist (ATRBC) or licensed creative arts therapist (LCAT). Athena Kobin can be found at Lighthouse Counseling Associates (lighthousecounselingri.com).




Power Up with Plants

Sandra Musial, MD, is passionate about food, its impact on health and sharing that knowledge with others. So she, along with two other doctors who share her passion, started a group called Plant Docs. In pre-pandemic days, the Plant Docs ran five-week workshops in the basement of vegan food hall Plant City that taught people how to embrace a whole food, plant-based diet. “Pairing medical intervention with a restaurant is a cool concept,” said Musial. “It’s about health, but it’s also about enjoying food.” I recently spoke with Dr. Musial about the health-transforming power of plants.

Emily Olson (Motif): When it comes to their diet, what do Americans get wrong?

Sandra Musial: The traditional western American fare is leading to crazy levels of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cancer. All of these are diseases of the western world. Countries that are still eating from the land have lower rates of all of these diseases. Instead of eating whole foods — fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes — people are eating highly processed foods with lots of added sugars, oils and refined flours. I work at a pediatric obesity clinic and there are kids who in an entire day will never eat a fruit or vegetable.

EO: School-provided lunches must drive you mad.

SM: I think if we improved school lunches, it would have a mass effect on the whole US population. And children would bring that education home. A few years ago, WIC [the nutritional program for women, infants and children] improved the quality of their food package by limiting juice and decreasing refined flours and flour products. The national rates of obesity in that 3- to 5-year-old range went down, and they think it’s attributed to this mass improvement in the federal WIC package.  

EO: What impact can a whole food diet have on health?

SM: You can reverse many of the diseases of the western world. Obesity, Type II Diabetes can be reversed, you can open some of the plaque in the coronary arteries. Studies have shown that end-stage cardiac patients, when put on a strict healthy diet, can add years to their life.

EO: Then why do we turn to medicine to correct these problems?

SM:  I don’t know that people are being told it’s an option. But if every doc said, “You can go on this pill that you can take for the rest of your life and have surgery and die early, or you can have a lifestyle change,” people still might not want to make changes.

EO: Is it an economic issue?

SM: There is some truth to that. Broccoli is more expensive than soda, but on the same budget, if you buy dried beans and that’s your protein, that’s the most economic and nutritious protein there is. It’s more complicated than that, of course. People who live in the inner city don’t always have access to fresh whole foods. And it’s a multigenerational thing. If that [style of eating] is all you’ve ever known, it’s hard to get away from it.

EO: So what’s the answer?

SM: I think we have to have a multi-pronged approach to education, and I think it has to start with one-on-one at the doctor’s office. Medical schools have to do a better job teaching future doctors about nutrition. And there needs to be more community and government involvement to reverse what has happened [in food policy] over the last 30 years.

EO: Tell me about the Plant Docs classes.

SM: We limited each class to 20 people who want to learn the importance of eating plant based. Each participant would meet one-on-one with a doctor at the beginning and the end of the series, and we’d send them to a lab for blood work during the first and last weeks. Participants come from all walks of life. We’ve had vegetarians who want to give up dairy and want more ideas for vegan cooking, and we’ve had people who are scared after a heart attack. If there were enough people, I’d love to do a series with special interest groups.

EO: Any final thoughts?

SM: [Holistic health practitioner] Ann Wigmore said, “Food can be the most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” I love that. Our cells become what we feed them. If you feed them whole foods, they become healthy, boost your immunity and fight disease. Or you can slowly kill yourself. You really are what you eat.

The Plant Docs will resume classes when it is safe to do so. Email sandy@plantdocspvd.com to get on a mailing list. For more information, go to fb.com/plantdocspvd or plantdocspvd.com. Scholarships for classes are available.




On the Cover: Laura Homsey

Artist and illustrator Laura Homsey caught our eye when we saw her rendering of Dune Brothers Seafood in paper. The Brooklyn resident told us, “I took a vacation to Providence two years ago and had such a good time at the restaurant that I created an art piece.” We meandered from our interview to praise Dune Brothers’ chowder before she proved herself a true out-of-towner by exclaiming, “I loved those fried balls of dough that go with it!”

We talked about what she loves most about collage and working with paper. “I like being able to build,” she said. “I struggle with working in 2D, so having a shape in front of me that I can put together was easier for my brain.”

The detail in her work is particularly striking, and she said she owes that aspect of her work to a boy with autism she supported for a couple of years. “He taught me to look for the tiny details in everything,” she said. “He didn’t speak, but would point out the tiniest details in our world, and I create pieces with him in mind.”

To see more of Homsey’s work, follow her on Instagram @petitpaperstories or visit her website at petitpaperstories.com