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Couple Sees Beauty in Cancer Painting

Art piece by Lynn Han

The Goldsmith family, by any measure, has been far too affected by cancer.

Gretchen Goldsmith’s mother died of lung cancer. Her brother died of the same disease. Her husband, Jason, lost his mother to ovarian cancer. His father has prostate cancer. They have lost friends and college professors to the disease. And now Jason has a cancer scare too.

So why would Gretchen and Jason Goldsmith be so drawn to a piece of student artwork that depicts cancer cells? Why would they be so captivated that they would spend $300 on the picture after attending the student art show at Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County? Why would they want to hang the art in their home?

“It is almost as if the cancer portrayed is dancing with delight; sinister when one thinks about its potential to wickedly destroy cells, lives and the like,” Gretchen Goldsmith wrote in an email.

“To me, it’s just really beautiful,” Jason Goldsmith said. “It’s biology. It’s beautiful.”

Gretchen is an art teacher at Damascus High School. Jason is a biologist for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Gretchen and Jason have made a habit of attending the student art shows at Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County. Gretchen has had students display work in the competition.

This year’s annual juried exhibition of mixed media artwork showcased more than 80 works from the 250 entries, including photographs. While Gretchen and Jason were milling about the most recent exhibit, “Conundrum,” Jason was struck by a piece of artwork by a senior at Albert Einstein High School.

Lynn Han with her artwork The work, titled “Cancer: The Beautiful Assassin,” is a colorful, vibrant piece by Lynn Han, an AP Art student at Albert Einstein. Jason was so fascinated by the piece that during the months the exhibit was up, he walked to Johns Hopkins on many of his lunch breaks to take another look.

Gretchen decided to buy the work for her husband as a gift, marking the first time a piece displayed in the JHU student art show was sold. Gretchen contacted Lynn’s teachers and purchased the painting for $300. She received the painting in April, when the art show closed.

“I was like, oh my gosh!” Lynn said. “I was excited. I was nervous. She sent a heartfelt message about how cancer affected her life. It was touching. It made me happy someone would find some sort of comfort in my piece. I hoped it would draw attention, but I never expected anyone to buy it, especially someone who has been around cancer all her life.”

In her piece, Lynn used bright colors to portray breast, testicular, lung and colon cancer. She used images of cancer she found on the Internet as inspiration.

“I figured one of the biggest conundrums is disease,” Lynn said. “It’s hard to cure disease. I was really fascinated by the cancer cells and how bright they are. I wanted to use bright colors to show how something so deadly could be so beautiful at the same time.”

Her AP art teacher, Sarah Harnish, was impressed by the piece as well, calling it Lynn’s “breakthrough piece.” Harnish particulary was impressed by Lynn’s use of color; Lynn usually paints in black and white.

Gretchen and Jason haven’t decided where in their home they will hang Lynn’s art, but they know it will hold a special place in their hearts. Jason, the biologist, said he understands on a molecular level how beautiful cancer is. Gretchen, the art teacher, sees the beauty as well.

““A work of art is composition and what you do with it,” Gretchen said. “She had to decide how it would sit on that canvas, how vibrant and dark it would be.  It’s so abstract, but it’s the subject matter that really sells the beauty of that painting -- and her composition.”

As for Lynn, she has been a budding artist her whole life, she said. Her father and her uncle attended art school in Vietnam. She grew up watching them paint and hoping she could do the same.

But for her, art is a hobby, something she does to relax. She plans to attend the University of Maryland and study communications.

The $300 will go toward her college savings. 

CATEGORY: The Arts, K-12 Outreach