Can nature make you happier? Make you feel less stressed? Heal you? That’s the idea behind the nature photography by Todd Winslow Pierce at Vail Health.
“Research studies have shown that incorporating art, specifically nature scenes, in health care settings can have a positive impact on patients’ restoration,” said Amy Keller, vice president of the Vail Health Foundation. “At Vail Health, our Art Council collaborates with local photographers to showcase nature photos from our area in public spaces throughout our facilities.”
Pierce grew up in the valley and knows the landscape and wildlife patterns well enough to get the perfect shot to showcase it in an almost larger-than-life setting at Vail Health. The timing to be involved in this project worked out for Pierce as well as he had just finished reading up on the topic of nature’s restorative benefits.
“I had just read the book called “The Nature Fix,” by Florence Williams, that examines the benefits of nature on health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally,” Pierce said. “I already believed in the healing powers of the natural world from my own experience growing up here in the mountains, but the scientific and medical references throughout the book were really inspiring and sparked the idea about collaborating with Vail Health.”
In 2019, Vail Health started looking for permanent exhibit artwork for the new east wing, so it worked with Pierce to place a number of images in public areas as well as hospital and imaging rooms. During that time, Pierce was also developing a concept called Eagle Valley Wild, which is a nonprofit enterprise that provides professional photographic services to conservation organizations and initiatives in Eagle County. The project educates and inspires locals and visitors with compelling content to increase awareness, appreciation and protection of Eagle County’s land, water and wildlife.
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“Although I couldn’t bring actual forests, waterfalls and wildlife into the hospital, I thought I could offer compelling imagery of all that in ways that could resonate with patients, staff and visitors,” Pierce said.
“We currently have 12 images on display at three different locations within Vail Health Hospital and the Shaw Cancer Center building,” Keller said. “These images will be periodically rotated to maintain visual variety in these spaces. The exhibit has received great interest from patients and staff, with many expressing their appreciation for the photography.”
Alongside the photos are extended captions that go into more detail about each photograph, whether it’s an elk herd in the Brush Creek Valley, the bighorn sheep in East Vail, or a black bear bathing in a small watering hole in Cordillera.
“The photo of the black bear in the water is a staff favorite,” Keller said.
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There are also scenery shots that are very soothing, such as the pond lilies in the Homestake Valley, the fall colors along the Eagle River, or the change of seasons in November on Homestake Creek after a storm has passed through. The large photographs make it almost seem like you are right there in nature.
Along with informative and inspirational exhibits, Pierce is continuing to develop relaxing video segments and creative outings for staff and patients as well.
“My goal with sponsors is to design true win-win relationships that of course help fund the project, but also provide unique benefits and opportunities for them that ultimately promote the importance of our land, water and wildlife in a way that’s informative, inspirational and honest, not preachy or depressing, but rather reveal and educate in a balanced way that evokes reflection, appreciation, affection and a subsequent desire for protection,” Pierce said.
Pierce said the positive feedback so far has been really encouraging and certainly helps drive him through a lot of the difficult and tedious work that’s involved.
“I really enjoy catching someone pausing to look carefully at the images, and I really enjoy it when they actually take a moment to read the extended captions,” Pierce said.