For three days, local artists Karlee Mariel and Raj Chaudhuri spent time photographing the frontline health-care workers at Denver’s St. Joseph Hospital.
They sought to capture the diversity of the staff, and all the different roles at the hospital — from nurses, doctors and therapists to cafeteria workers, janitors and security staff.
The people in these photographs would come to serve as the inspiration for a mural of gratitude located in an employee-only stairwell inside the hospital, which is located at 1375 E. 19th Ave. in Denver’s City Park West neighborhood.
“We’re caregivers by training. (But) the people who work in a hospital are humans first,” said Dr. Christy Chaudhuri, a hospitalist physcian at St. Joseph Hospital. “It’s really important to say thank you to all the people who make the hospital function so that we can continue to care for so many people.”
To help represent the human element behind the battle with COVID-19, another important aspect of the mural is the inspirational messages — for which the hospital workers themselves were invited to write.
“It’s meaningful to be able to read something written by your colleague,” said Katie Yahya, a physical therapist at St. Joseph Hospital, “because we’re sharing similar experiences.”
Yahya was especially happy to see that the hospital’s volunteers were represented in the mural. The volunteers are extremely dedicated, she said, and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were coming in nearly every day. During the spring shutdown, when they could not come to the hospital in person, they spent their time at home sewing masks and coming up with other ways to make the hospital staff feel appreciated, Yahya added.
“It brings me so much joy seeing the volunteers represented,” Yahya said. “It’s important to remember that we’re all appreciated.”
Something that the mural does not include are masks. This was a conscious decision because the mural — a permanent fixture — is meant to inspire and show gratitude to the health-care workers for their everyday work, well after the pandemic is over, the artists Mariel and Raj Chaudhuri said.
“During the pandemic, we’ve done it to say thank you,” said Raj Chaudhuri. “But it’s not just to say thank you in the short term. This (the mural) is something that will outlive the pandemic.”
The mural was completed about mid-January, but the idea for it came about in the fall when COVID-19 cases began to rise for the second time. Christy Chaudhuri noticed that although her colleagues were feeling fatigued, they kept going — and continue to do so — with courage and relentless commitment, she said.
She thought about how supportive the greater community has been — such as local restaurants catering meals and community members sending thank-you notes, for example — throughout the pandemic, and how meaningful each of these tokens of gratitude have been.
“These gestures mean everything to us,” Christy Chaudhuri said.
This led her to start discussing the idea to create a gratitude/inspirational mural with her husband, Raj Chaudhuri, who is a fine arts artist. He then networked with Mariel, a Denver-based muralist, to get involved with the project.
Raj Chaudhuri and Mariel knew they could use their talents to create something truly meaningful, and contribute to making the lives of the health-care workers better and brighter, they said.
Mariel added that she is humbled to be able to serve the health-care workers and honor them for their resiliency.
While working on the piece, one of the nurses expressed to Mariel what a gift the mural is, she said.
The nurse started to tear up, Mariel said, “and that made me start to tear up.”
“Artwork can serve to uplift and inspire,” Mariel said. But this mural, in particular, she added, “is so special because of the individuals it represents.”