In 2014, painter and mixed media artist Jane Zamost volunteered for a brand-new program at Capital Health Medical Center in Hopewell, the healing hands mobile art cart, which brought art to patients of all ages and illnesses.
“I really loved it and saw amazing results,” she says. “You’re going into a room and someone was sad or in pain or bored, and I saw how art very quickly just healed people in measurable ways.”
She recalls, for example, a little girl who was crying because she had a stomachache, and her parents didn’t know what to do. “In five minutes the child was laughing and drawing. I gave the mother a crossword puzzle, and the father was painting. In fifteen minutes, the whole room’s environment changed,” Zamost says. She also remembers a very fragile patient who she thought wouldn’t be able to hold a paintbrush. “He was sitting up in a few moments, painting. I was shocked.”
Zamost will be speaking at the ArtConnect Forum on Thursday, March 26, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., the first of two forums exploring the theme “The Power of Art to Heal,” at the Pennington School’s Wesley Forum in the Yen Humanities Building, 112 West Delaware Avenue. The other speaker is Diane Grillo, vice president, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton. The hospital’s integrative therapy nurse, Patricia McDougall, will also present. Two artists, Agata May’kowska and Paul Norris, will share stories of how art has helped heal and enrich their lives. Admission is $20 for nonmembers, free for Hopewell Valley Arts Council members.
“When you look at childhood, when we’re kids, you just dive in to crayons or finger paints. You have no intuition of failure; you do it for the fun of it.”
The forum, says executive director of the Hopewell Valley Arts Council Carol Lipson, was “created for people enthusiastic about art and artists.” Usually artists get together and talk about their inspirations, materials, and how they do what they do. In the upcoming forum, their fifth, Grillo will share specific results of the hospital’s research on the coupling of holistic, alternative medicine with traditional healing methods using drugs. May’kowska will talk about how art helped save her from an abusive relationship, and Norris will speak of how he found art while he was incarcerated.
As a child Zamost remembers drawing mushrooms and mountains and making a collage of a little town out of different fabrics and papers for her bedroom. She also wrote a novel about what she thought her life would be like.
Although Zamost has been able to maintain that spark of creativity throughout her life, many lose it. “Everyone’s got a creative sense that some people allow to materialize,” she says. “When you look at childhood, when we’re kids, you just dive in to crayons or finger paints. You have no intuition of failure; you do it for the fun of it.”
But then someone may say something that stops the child’s creative flow, like “you’re best at math,” “color inside the lines,” or “the ratio between the head and neck must be x.”
“You need to get those voices out of your head and let yourself be free. When you have freedom, you can get into your creative flow,” Zamost says.
Although she has always done crafts, she didn’t have time to return to serious painting until her youngest child was four or five. She was taking conventional portraiture classes at Artworks in Trenton, but got bumped out of the third class in the series. That’s when she found teacher and artist Kate Appel in Lambertville, who completely changed her artistic process. “She allowed me the freedom of going for expressive art,” Zamost says.
Appel would say to her, “I’m not going to tell you what I think of your paintings or what to do. If you get frustrated, I’ll help guide you.” The “lessons” in Appel’s kitchen started with meditation, which Appel taught her how to do. Zamost recalls. “I started with tempera paint on crummy paper, what they use in kindergarten. I was used to canvases and oils, and it was very freeing. I just loved it, being able to self express.”
“I would realize within two hours there that I would be telling stories on my paper, things I didn’t think about telling.” She might, for example, be painting the travails of dealing with a teenager or expressing how beautiful the day is or how difficult. “I realized that was the part of art I really loved—that ability to not have a judgment, not decide what my outcome was going to be in my artwork,” she says.
Zamost was born in 1958 and grew up in Highland Park, where her father, also a Highland Park native, owned a lumberyard with his two brothers; their father had founded it. Later he did sales in the lumber industry. Her mother was a homemaker. Her maternal grandmother, who was English, lived with them and, Zamost says, “We had four o’clock teatime everyday.” She recalls many familial gatherings at her home because her father’s entire family was in Highland Park and her mother’s not too far away.
When Zamost matriculated at Rutgers University, she wanted to be an art therapist. But because there was no art therapy major, she started taking courses in both art and psychology. By junior year, she was “involved in art in a big way,” doing a little commercial art on the side, and fulfilling requirements for an art major.
Junior year she studied second semester in London at the Sir John Cass School of Art and the London Polytechnic. “That was a very different way of learning,” she recalls. “We would have full day art programs, and if you didn’t feel like sculpture one day, they would say, ‘Go paint, go draw, do whatever you want.’ It was a very loose environment, with people of all different ages and cultures, and that really broadened my view of art.”
Along the way a professor noticed that Zamost was “a good talker” and suggested that she pursue communications as a minor, which she did.
Although she had planned to be a professional artist, she couldn’t really afford the costs of participating in art shows. Instead she got a job in a very small advertising agency in New Jersey, but quickly moved to Burson-Marsteller. She started in 1980 doing paste-up, but ended up as an account executive, responsible for McNeil Consumer Products (makers of Tylenol), Pitney Bowes, and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.
In 1983 she had been thinking seriously of going back into art and studying interior design, when she called a cousin in the medical education product business; she proposed that she would freelance for him to earn the money she needed for school. He responded that she should come work for him fulltime at his company, Projects in Knowledge, and go to school part time.
She accepted and started out as a project director in medical education, where she managed and supported projects like publications, meetings, and education from beginning to end. After training someone in sales, she decided she wanted to do sales herself. Her last position at Projects in Knowledge, where she worked for 12 years, was senior vice president.
While she was a single parent, Zamost met her husband, Gary Karlin, a urologist in Lawrenceville, who was widowed with two boys. She moved to Central Jersey and commuted for a while, but after she had another child, she says, “I decided it was time to take off and blend our families.”
She enjoyed being a full-time mom and school and community activist, but one day her husband gave her an amazing gift that brought her full circle back to painting. He told her he had something upstairs that he wanted to show her. To her surprise, “He had a whole studio set up for me in my attic, and he said, ‘You know, I think it’s time for you to get back into art.’”
In 2012 Zamost was a co-founder of LUX, a working studio and gallery at 13 Railroad Place in Hopewell. She created works and commissions in paint, mixed media, and jewelry for both residential and commercial clients, and she managed gallery operations, receptions, and publicity until mid-2014.
Zamost learned about the mobile art cart when she was a member of the arts and healing committee at Capital Health. In 2017, after three years of volunteering, she learned of an opening for a healing arts coordinator at the hospital that Lipson urged her to apply for. She got the job, a part-time position that involved managing the art cart program, grant-writing, broadening the permanent art collections in both the Hopewell location and the Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton, and managing the rotating art shows and receptions.
She loved the work, but last year decided she missed one-on-one involvement with patients and other people and decided to get back to doing art in her studio while running healing arts workshops.
During March, Social Norm at 52 Main Street in Flemington will be showcasing Zamost’s work. The opening is Friday, March 6, from 6 to 10 p.m.
In her workshops—which she has done for diverse places including Capital Health, Hope Loves Company, and as part of an emotional wellness program for students at the Peddie School—Zamost shares what she has learned through her own work and experiences about the creative process. “I go in and tell people I am going to start them fresh, take them back to kindergarten, and ask them to not judge and not have an idea of what their intended outcome is,” she says. Easily accessible to participants are paint, markers, colored pencils, and collage materials.
“I tell people to start with one thing: a color they love or hate or an emotion or a word, whether hope or frustration, belief or freedom, and I ask them to let their creative juices begin to flow.” She also plays music or drumming in half-hour stretches to awaken creative responses to sensory changes.
Zamost describes her own state of being while doing art. “When I get into my studio, I could have problems, but I go into my Zen-like moment, and I’m there. I’m not dealing with the difficulty of the day.” She adds that others may reach a similar place by observing art, listening to music, or watching theatre or a movie.
“You go into a zone,” she says. “To lead a healthy life, you need to have those moments of being away, being in a zone, so you can refresh yourself.”
“My belief is that art nourishes the soul.”