Toomalatai’s art work displayed at Weiser Memorial


Weiser Memorial Hospital recently purchased original prints by local artist Gwen Toomalatai, which are now on diplay within the hospital’s new medical wing. From left, Gwen Toomalatai, WMH Foundation Executive Director Kimberly Burgess, and WMH CEO Steven Hale. Photo by Philip A. Janquart
By: 
Philip A. Janquart
As a place of healing, it only made sense that Weiser Memorial Hospital would become home to art that depicts the contrast between light and dark.
 The hospital recently finished installing 21 prints purchased from local artist Gwen Toomalatai. They now adorn various locations throughout the new medical wing, which was completed last summer.
 The Missouri native’s art is based, in large part, on the gamut of emotion people experience through the healing process.
 “Light is the main thing that I paint; the contrast between light and dark,” Gwen said last week. “A lot of that comes from my beliefs and some of the hard things that have happened in my life, but also the good things.”
 It has been many years now since Gwen lost her husband in a car accident, leaving her with a 17-month-old son and another son on the way.
 “It was the hardest time in my life,” she said, clearly still emotional over the tragedy. “Then my parents got sick and my art just kind of fell off the radar.”
 Gwen was raised on a farm in Missouri and never envisioned art as a career, but now has a website displaying pieces representing natural scenes of plentiful foliage, the movement of water, rich light, colors, and warmth.
 She graduated from Brigham Young University with her bachelor’s in 1991. Art galleries began picking up her pieces soon after.
 “I started selling and was doing really well and then I went back and got my master’s,” Gwen said.
 It was about that time that the accident occurred, followed by her parents getting sick, which involved relocating from her home in Utah to Weiser where she could help care for them.
 “My art just kind of fell apart during that time,” she said. “So, the last five years, I’ve just been trying to get it back to where it was.”
 Gwen ultimately completed her master’s, in 2000.
 She opened a studio on Main Street in Weiser, but has since closed it because she wasn’t utilizing the space. She now works from home and is beginning to once again see the fruits of her hard work.
 “One of the things we were really drawn to when we talked to Gwen was that you can see restoration in her pieces,” said WMH Foundation Executive Director Kimberly Burgess. “A hospital is a place of recovery and so having pieces of art in our facility that brings people to a place of healing is a blessing to us and our community.”
 Hospital CEO Steve Hale discovered Gwen at an event in Boise.
 “I had seen her work, but I could never find her,” he said. “Then I saw her in Boise and we started talking. We needed some art for the new wing, and we like to highlight local artists, so we threw out an inquiry to see what we could do and it just kind of grew from there.”
 Gwen continues to paint and is moving forward in life. Much of her work reflects her experience growing up on a dairy farm, which, of course, revolved around cows. 
 Her work is on public display, so to speak, in the form of a 2011 mural depicting farm boys she painted on a building located on the east side of State Street, between Main and Idaho streets.
 The public can commission her to paint just about anything, including family, friends, a special place, favorite animals, etc.
 “Painting itself is healing to me,” she said. “It helps me overcome things because it’s a healing mechanism, like any art form, so through tragedy, there is hope; there is light and that is what I hope to convey. I believe in Jesus Christ and it’s through that light that I do believe there is healing.”
 To see Gwen’s collection of healing art work or to contact her, visit www.toomalatai.com. 

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18 E. Idaho St.
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