For three-year-old Gracyn Cannon, the expansion of the family tree is far more than needed extra space and functional new classrooms. Now the place where Gracyn spends her day transports her to a place where imagination takes over.
“I feel like I can jump into fairytale land,” said Gracyn, the daughter of Jay and Chris Cannon, both Phoebe employees.
Indeed, the hallways meander from town to country to woodlands, every wall, door, nook and cranny covered in art that can take a child’s imagination to places unknown.
Meet the artist: Jenni Bode, who usually spends her days as one of phoebe’s graphic artists, designing everything from brochures and patient literature to signage and ad campaigns. When the Family Tree expansion was in its early planning stages, design teams wanted to add hallway murals to the facility. But the costs of commercial designs and output were prohibitive. Bode stepped up and volunteered to take on a challenge that not only salvaged the plan, but resulted in a unique and original “loose watercolor” artwork that is making the youngsters squeal with delight.
“This was a collaborative effort between marketing and construction department teams, as well as architects, to come up with a theme that would be educational and enjoyable and fun,” said Bode. She poured through stacks of children’s literature before settling on a style and theme that takes the children through a progressive journey, from pizza parlors and pet shops to dairy cows and alligators in the swamp.
The final product required more than brush strokes and paint. Bode constructed a miniature to- scale paper model of the entire building using architectural renderings and blueprints. The tiny one-inch high roofless model captures every window, door and turn, including placements for light switches and other elements that needed to be incorporated into the artwork. Bode had to make sure that windows and doors didn’t interrupt the flow of the art. “I had to keep in mind that the walls have recesses and how the art would look as it turned a corner or went over a door.”
She started with original watercolors on illustration boards, piecing together a story that starts at the farmyard with renderings of sheep, pigs, horses and ducks to name a few. “We put fluffy sheep on the walls near the infant nurseries because the fluffy soft sheep seemed to go with the sleeping babies,” said Bode. The illustrations were then scanned electronically with special layout computer software and then reproduced by Matrix in Lee County to wall-sized vinyl murals.
The art, while clearly eliciting lots of “oohs and ahs,” also has a teaching purpose.
“If you walk further down the farmyard path, youngsters will see chickens roosting in tiers in the hen house. We saw these kinds of scenes as an opportunity to use the artwork for educational purposes, where teachers can count with the children and teach concepts such as above and below, top and bottom,” said Bode.
Other areas enhance different concepts and skills. The bakery, for example, can teach concepts of small, medium and large. And some of the art teaches counting skills.
“As you look at this, much of it just lends itself to wherever the teachers find opportunity, from learning math to learning colors and the alphabet,” said Beverly Waddell, Family Tree director. “We wanted everything to be child friendly, uplifting, and fun. There are no people in the scenes because we wanted the children and the teachers to be the people as they used and lived with the art.”
Bode said she and construction planners wanted the central section to be town, and animals were placed in two categories – one set from the farm setting and then those found in the woodlands and countryside, but all of it with elements that are native to South Georgia.
“We used the layout of the rooms and the room functions to lead us to what to put on the walls,” said Bode. Bookshelves are outside the new parent/child library and the dairy murals lead to the new mother’s breastfeeding rooms.
“We worked closely with the artists and planners on this so that they could match the colors of the rooms and the finishes and fabrics we used,” said Roxie Paul, of the construction team.
The new Family Tree expansion allows an additional 103 children to enroll. With more than 3500 employees, the child development center is in high demand and is a key recruitment and retention tool for healthcare professionals. In fact, the turnover rate for employees with children in the Family Tree is less than half that of the overall employee population.
Waddell said the artwork is just one of the facility’s many features created by Phoebe personnel.
Phoebe’s grounds employees designed and installed all new landscaping around the facility.
“We also used a lot of local talent, including a local architect, construction company, vendors, contractors and sub-contractors, in an effort to keep those dollars in our community and provide additional jobs for the area,” said Waddell.
The center has maintained full operations during the construction project, with children moved into the new section while the older building was being refurbished. The new Family Tree is expected to open in its entirety this month.
Bode calls the project a classic labor of love, “pure fun” for an illustrator. “It was a challenge, and it was gratifying to work on this with the rest of the team,” said Bode. “But my favorite part has been seeing the children’s delight.”
Written by Amanda Chisholm.