Esteemed plastic surgeon Linton Whitaker, M.D., and renowned artist Nelson Shanks share more than just a friendship and a passion for art and medicine. They also share a belief in the power of those disciplines to heal the body and nourish the soul.
It is their vision — along with collaboration from Scott P. Bartlett, chief, Division of Plastic Surgery, and director, Craniofacial Program at CHOP; Canice E. Crerand, Ph.D., psychologist in CHOP's Division of Plastic Surgery; and David B. Sarwer, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychology in the departments of Surgery and Psychiatry at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine — that gave rise to Face to Face: The Craniofacial Program Portrait Project. The program documents the experiences of children and adolescents with craniofacial conditions using a novel intervention — sitting for a portrait.
Between 2008 and 2010, four artists from Studio Incamminati, Shanks' realist art school in Philadelphia, painted portraits of eight children who have undergone facial reconstructive surgery at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, in an effort to help these children — who often experience poor self-esteem, social stigma and rejection — see themselves in a different light.
"The idea is for patients to see themselves the way an artist sees them — as somebody of interest and value — and to bring out qualities that aren't necessarily obvious at first glance," says Whitaker, founder of CHOP's Craniofacial Program.
The first project of its kind in the United States, Face to Face grew out of the Craniofacial Program's concerns for the psychosocial needs of its patients. Generous support from Craig Aronchick, M.D., a Philadelphia physician, inventor and philanthropist whose own life was affected by facial scars from a childhood car accident, provided initial funding to hire Crerand, a psychologist specializing in facial differences. Crerand coordinated the two-year project, which was made possible by a grant from the Edwin and Fannie Gray Hall Center for Human Appearance at the University of Pennsylvania.
Each portrait was painted over multiple sittings and took roughly six months to complete. They were unveiled publicly at an event in October in the Ruth and Tristram Colket, Jr. Translational Research Building and will be permanently displayed at CHOP.
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