The hospital artist

Photo credit: Jesse S. Jones, UF Health Communications

When you walk through UF Health Shands Psychiatric Hospital, it doesn’t take long to notice numerous hand-painted murals adorning the walls of the facilities.

The story behind these murals began 14 years ago, when Jerald Davis joined UF Health as a mental health technician, providing care for pediatric patients at UF Health Shands Psychiatric Hospital. It didn’t take him long to leave his mark.

A self-taught artist, Davis quickly realized that agitated young patients could often be soothed by participating in an art project. Sometimes he would grab a sheet of paper and create something; other times he would paint ceiling tiles with patients, which are scattered throughout the hospital’s pediatric unit.

“Jerald would often sit with the children and teens, fascinating them with his talents and teaching them to express themselves through art,” said Lucy Marrero, Ph.D., a UF Health Shands Psychiatry Hospital psychologist. “I am amazed at his artistic talents as well as the generous manner in which he has used them at UF Health.”

Davis’ supervisors were impressed by his actions and talent. When they asked him if he would be interested in painting a mural to put some color on the walls, he was surprised. He’d never created art at that scale, so he saw it as a challenge. His confidence came from the children in his unit’s reaction to his art over the years.

“The kids’ behaviors and attitudes change for the better when they’re painting and being more creative. Art takes their minds off of the negative vibes and creates a positive attitude,” Davis said. “I make their stay a little more comfortable.”

Once they saw his work, staff at the Rehab Hospital approached him about creating murals in their facility. To date, he has painted seven murals in the hospitals, along with various other works.

“Jerald’s work promotes healing and serves as a reminder for what waits at the end of recovery,” said Gussie Boatwright, UF Health Shands manager of security operations. “His dedication makes him an outstanding contributor to the patient experience.”

While he’s painting, people often stop to watch him work in amazement. When Davis passes by his art, he feels rewarded that others appreciate his work.

“I don’t tell a lot of people about my art, so when I’m asked about one of my paintings, it’s a good feeling,” Davis said. “They know me as Jerald, not as an artist. This brings it out.”

Four years ago, Davis accepted a position as a security officer on the UF Health Shands Security team, but he still works at the specialty hospitals. If he ever senses a tense situation in the pediatric unit, he’ll offer to draw something for the patients, such as graffiti of their names. More often than not, this defuses the situation.

When his colleagues walk past Davis with visitors, they introduce him as “our artist.” He’s proud of the work he’s put in for the hospitals, both artistically and professionally.

Davis said, “Someone can be in a bad mood and walk past a nice piece of art and their whole mood changes. Knowing how art can heal, seeing people enjoy my work makes me feel good — real good.”

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