The art gallery - at Norwich hospital

Mary HamiltonWith Norwich in the running to become the UK's first City of Culture in 2013, MARY HAMILTON explores some of the hidden culture that has helped make our fine city favourite to win the bid.Mary Hamilton

With Norwich in the running to become the UK's first City of Culture in 2013, MARY HAMILTON explores some of the hidden culture that has helped make our fine city favourite to win the bid.

When contemplating the best place to go to experience art and culture in Norwich, not many people would single out the county's largest hospital.

But behind the doors - and in the grounds - of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital lies a trail of public art that should make the city proud.

The collection includes hundreds of heritage pieces, medical exhibits, modern artworks, sculpture and murals along with a constantly changing exhibition in glass cases along the main street of the hospital.

And every piece of the incredible collection is donated or funded by the generosity of organisations and individuals outside the NHS.

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Arts project coordinator Emma Jarvis said: 'We are just starting to see studies come through showing that beautiful surroundings and art can help people to recover and have a better time in hospital.

'It has benefits for staff too: when doctors are indoors all day they are focussing on the same things, at the same distances. The d�cor is important to help them feel stimulated and liven up the environment.

'We're thrilled that the importance of culture is being recognised with the UK City of Culture competition, and that Norwich is being celebrated in this way.

'The hospital is part of the city's artistic community in all sorts of ways - we work to involve local artists and we hold exhibitions outside the hospital buildings too, for instance the Shelter exhibition which took place in shop windows in the city centre.'

The hospital arts project would be impossible without close partnerships between the NHS, building managers Serco and private finance partners Octagon, whose close working relationship with the arts project is unique nationwide.

Serco building supervisor Robbie Williams said: 'The projects we do really brighten up areas in the hospital.

'The Jenny Lind ward for instance wasn't a nice place to come into before the refurbishment - it was drab and dark and just not very appealing.

'I do think if there are bright colours and art on the wall it can help you recover quicker.

'What we do here feeds into the City of Culture bid. Without our help as building managers none of the projects would be possible.'

For more information about the hospital arts project visit

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is home to several collections of heritage material, from surgical and medical instruments to portraits and artefacts.

Most of the collections are not on display as work must be done to ensure the artefacts are documented in line with museum standards and kept in a suitable space, but the aim is to eventually show them as an educational resource in the medical school and online.

They include:

Portraits - mostly of former surgeons and other significant figures, many from the late 19th century. The collection includes plaster busts and a cast of the skull of Sir Thomas Browne.

Surgical implements - these mostly date from the first half of the 20th century, although some are from earlier.

Urinary bladder and gall stones - every stone removed at the hospital during the 19th century has been kept and documented, forming the largest collection of its kind in the country.

Anaesthetic face masks and drop bottles along with larger pieces of apparatus, including two machines made specifically for the hospital in the 1930s that are probably unique.

The Pathology collection is a new find, unearthed during demolition work at the old hospital. The packaging has not yet been unwrapped so it is not yet known what the collection consists of.

Miscellaneous artefacts relating to medicine, ophthalmics, pharmaceutics and occupational therapy as well as general life and history within the hospital.

The Jenny Lind Unit - the hospital's children's ward - was redecorated in 2009 with a bright, colourful theme of the Norfolk Broads.

Norfolk artists were commissioned to design sea creatures for the walls, ceilings and windows in the submarine-themed waiting area.

Seabirds, aeroplanes and clouds float on the ceilings of the examination areas, and there are murals of children and adults playing together at the seaside.

The aim is to create a positive, cheerful environment with plenty to look and enjoy for the sick children and their worried parents who are the unit's regular inhabitants.

The Wheel of Life stained glass window was designed by Stanley Kennedy North and donated to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital by the Colman family in 1938.

It was one of three windows designed to be educational as well as decorative, and to serve as a memorial to Geoffrey Colman.

Appropriately for its original home in the maternity wing, the window shows motifs relating to birth and creation, including the central image of Jesus as a child and the signs of the zodiac around the edges.

The background for the centrepiece is a section from The Marl Pit by John Sell Cotman, one of the founders of the Norwich School, showing freshly quarried clay as an analogy for new birth.

The Ivy Child rose garden was designed to become a quiet space for patients, visitors and staff to sit and be transported away from the bustling hospital grounds.

Surrounded almost entirely by yew and box hedges, the space is based on Victorian formal gardens, with ordered planting, benches and sculpture.

The garden is planted with heavily scented rose bushes which add a sensory experience in summer and help to enhance the experience of being somewhere peaceful and natural.

One of East Anglia's largest public sculptures hangs in the east atrium of the hospital, bringing a touch of the countryside into the hospital building.

Leaves by Sokari Douglas Camp is composed of five 15m branches hanging from columns with steel and glass leaves creating a forest-life effect.

The huge tree provides a leafy canopy for the large open space, and is aimed at bringing a touch of the beautiful landscape of Norfolk fields that surrounds the building into what could otherwise be a stark, industrial space.

Mr Camp said: 'The first time I visited, the atrium was stark and like a glasshouse with rays of the sun moving to different positions throughout the day.

'The atrium faced beautiful green fields at the entrance and I felt it would be wonderful to bring the landscape inside the building."

'I hope my sculpture creates reflections as the sun moves through the atrium.

'When people spend time in the hospital I hope they are able to dream about life and its beauty, just by looking at this interpretation of nature which is a powerful element in our lives.'

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital's main street runs east to west along the building on three floors, and is traversed by hundreds of people every day, from clinicians and cleaners to patients and visitors.

Glass cabinets at regular intervals hold the hospital's ongoing exhibition artworks, which can be more daring and experimental than the public static pieces.

No piece appears more than once in the exhibition, and the corridors are changed roughly every two months to ensure a constantly new and surprising scene for staff.

The hospital is full of art around odd corners, from small line drawings by local practitioners to huge canvases by internationally renowned artists.

One striking piece is an original Rolf Harris artwork, donated in 1984 by the Australian artist and musician, showing a motley collection of animals and individuals in his inimitable style.

After a long period in storage, the large canvas has been restored to its original glory and hangs on Level 2 of the main hospital street.

Cringleford Ward is a 20-room private ward within the hospital, where a full refurbishment was recently completed.

The corridors and rooms have been painted in sunny and sandy colours, and the floors are decorated with art deco style patterns.

Ceramic tiles at regular intervals on the walls show prints of Alphonse Mucha's work from the early 20th century, including decorative panels and posters.

Murals of fruit trees and birds were printed onto wipe-clean plastic fabric sheets and fixed to the walls, lending a natural, outdoors feel to the corridors in the ward.