Former Edsel Ford student looks to make a difference

Photo by Daniel Heraty

Artwork on display
Former Edsel Ford High School student Matthew Lambert (second from left), Wayne State University Art Professor Joe Zajac (left) and Lambert’s mother Laurie (right) look at a 132-tile mural, titled The Communal Experience Project. Unveiled Jan. 18 at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, the mural painted by hospital patients and glazed by Lambert, who worked on the project for a class at Wayne State called Art in Community: A Social Process.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – Wayne State University senior Matthew Lambert never thought he would work with children.

“I was really uncomfortable working with kids, I’m not a kid person,” Lambert, who is pursuing a degree in Fine Arts and Psychology, said.

That changed after he enrolled in a winter 2010 class at WSU, Art in Community: Art As a Social Process.

As a class requirement, Lambert had to create a project, which became a year-long activity working with the patients, who painted tiles while Lambert glazed them. The children did not see the overall image, but were assigned only a color palette.

The result was a 132-tile mural, depicting a person rising from a body of water reaching out for a dove flying overhead, displayed at Children’s Hospital of Michigan’s fifth floor, where surgical patients and those with chronic diseases are cared for.

Appreciative phone calls from patients and hospital staff have already flooded in to Children’s Hospital of Michigan Art Advisor Grace Serra’s office. She said the mural represents a concept of hope and transformation for patients to overcome.

Lambert, who also created a mural on the back wall of Starbucks Coffee, 12921 Michigan Ave., said his aim was to create a sense of healing as an alternative to traditional medicine.

“Physical medicine is great,” Lambert said, “But there’s also another 50 percent component of your emotional and psychological needs.”

Home-schooled through the sixth grade, Lambert said so much time was spent on the project, he felt like he lived in the hospital and the on-campus studio, in the basement of Wayne State’s Finance Department Building. Sometimes Lambert worked until 3 a.m. with his mother, who helped him transport and lay out tiles.

Wayne State Art Professor Marion Jackson said Lambert came up with the idea of the mural, using patients, his parents, and hospital volunteers as collaborators. She said the class involves student activities around the city, including the Heidelberg Project, an urban art display made up of everyday, discarded objects.

It is unusual, she said, to have a piece by her students be displayed in a public institution. She said the mural, which she called a “significant work of art,” is a permanent remembrance of the project. She said the project improves patients’ self esteem because of the work they put into it.

“A lot of the patients have had a hand — literally a hand — in that mural,” she said. “So they can take pride when they see it here.”

Children’s Hospital President Dr. Herman Gray thanked Lambert for his work and said art in all its forms, including performing and visual art, play an important role in the children’s recovery, serving as a distraction to the fact they are in the hospital.

When he saw the mural in December, about a month before the dedication, Lambert said it had a big impact on him. He said the real credit for the mural belongs to the children.

“It’s the kids’ handprints on the tiles,” he said. “I was a vehicle.”

(Daniel Heraty can be reached at