OHSU Medical Interpreter Shares His Artistic Talents by Displaying Work

11/20/00    Portland, Ore.

Paintings on Loan From a Local Multicultural Gallery Help Artists and Patients Alike.

Sitting in a doctor's office can be monotonous. First you sit in the front waiting room. Then, once your name is called, you move into an examination room. Once there you probably still have to wait. Magazines only offer so much appeal. The empty walls in the Oregon Health Sciences University Plastic Surgery Center don't help; enter Anthony Reeves, R.N., nurse manager.

"I first approached OHSU Community Relations about obtaining some artwork on loan, but nothing was available," said Reeves. While working in the Recovery Room for three years, Reeves had come to know Jose Rodriguez, a medical interpreter at OHSU. "I knew he was an artist as well as an interpreter," said Reeves. Reeves also knew that Rodriguez had paintings in a local gallery. After a meeting with Tony Pfannenstiel, owner of the New World Immigrant Art Gallery, 3525 S.E. Milwaukie Ave., the gallery agreed to loan paintings by Rodriguez and other artists to the Plastic Surgery Center.

All artists featured on the walls of the Plastic Surgery Center have come from different parts of the world, having left their native lands under stressful situations. Julian Hunter left Iran in 1979. During the hostage crisis, Hunter had to change his name from Mohammed Azirez to avoid verbal and physical harassment. Nane Tamanian came from Armenia with her husband, three children and one suitcase. Although all the artists reside in Portland, each style has been influenced by the homeland they had to leave behind. "Each of us lets our heritage seep through our art," said Rodriguez. "It gazes out through our use of color, our motifs and our techniques."

In the mid-70s when Rodriguez and his family came to Miami from Cuba, there were no interpreters to assist them. Although he was just 9 years old, Rodriguez was given the responsibility of translating for his family. As a young man he went to New York to study architecture and fine arts. Finding a job in fine arts can be difficult enough; during a recession it's even more so. And although he happily returned to the duty he had as a child, his passion for art would never be just a hobby. "Sometimes," said Rodriguez about his passion for art, "the canvas keeps me awake at night. Other times its part of my daytime world." Rodriguez's artistic talents have found a place in his work as a medical interpreter too. At times, a patient has difficulties telling medical staff (even with a translator) just where the pain is. A sketch can help pinpoint the location. His work can also be seen on the Doernbecher Children's Hospital pediatric radiology Web site. The illustrations help to identify what the normal size of certain organs and bones should be in pediatric patients.

To help others in need, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the gallery's artwork goes into a painter's fund. This is used to buy canvases, frames and other art supplies for struggling immigrant artists. Periodically, different paintings from the gallery will rotate into the OHSU collection, but the Plastic Surgery Clinic looks forward to a long friendship. "Everyone, including patients, is really happy with the paintings," said Reeves. "It's nice to look at genuine art as opposed to lithographs purchased at a department store."