Huntsman Cancer Institute showcases new cancer wing

May 8, 2023, 6:41 PM | Updated: 7:13 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The Huntsman Cancer Institute dedicated a new cancer care wing on Monday, featuring eight stories about comprehensive cancer care and women’s cancers.

Patricia Cabrera has recently undergone treatment for breast cancer and is very happy about the expansion.

“They are having more opportunities for more patients to come. It feels safe,” Cabrera said.

The hospital addition houses a collection of American Indian art donated by Karen Huntsman. Every patient and every visitor who enters the new Kathryn F. Kirk Center will see this multi-story display of modern and contemporary American Indian art.

The art is part of the Jon and Karen Huntsman family collection, and for Karen, the collection is deeply personal.

“I thought of my husband, I thought of the Tanner family that came up from Gallup, New Mexico, and for over two years, we gathered these pieces, different groups of Indians, their love, their spirit, their God, it just made us better people,” Karen said.

She knows that all patients who come to the Huntsman Cancer Institute enter with worry and fear.

“When you are first diagnosed with cancer, you think,” ‘Oh, my gosh, how long am I going to live? How am I going to be treated? What will my family think?'” and they can maybe lose themselves,” Karen said.

The architects of this new wing designed the space around the art – the display cases house stunning pieces. One of them includes Mrs. Huntsman’s favorite painting of a Navajo grandmother.

“All the influence that she has had on her tribe. Wouldn’t you love to sit down and pick her brain? The people she has influenced and talked about, oh, I think she’s wonderful!” Karen said.

Striking blankets, pottery, and baskets will greet everyone when the elevator doors open on one of the eight floors. A Navajo chief’s blanket from the 1870s, after what’s known as The Long Walk, was a difficult and devastating time for the tribe.

Emerald Tanner, now the owner of Tanner Indian Arts in Gallup, New Mexico, was a child when her parents helped Mrs. Huntsman collect the art, and directly she has placed each piece in the new wing.

“This is a patient floor. They are going through some of the hardest times in their life. The Navajo weavers wove these third-phase chief’s blankets to celebrate freedom and return home… it’s visually stunning but also so much more meaning behind it,” Tanner said.

And telling the stories behind the art will be part of each display. Along the hallways of the patients’ rooms, more art is placed into specially designed cabinets on the walls. Some are on display on the floor where women’s cancers are treated.

In particular, two dresses, a traditional Navajo wedding dress with a turquoise belt and a Crow dress adorned with elk’s teeth. It tells the story of that tribe’s hunting skills.

For Tanner, creating these displays is coming full circle.

“It’s just been an incredible honor to be able to handle them again and to ask them where they would like to be presented… to share these pieces with the patients and the staff, it’s just, it’s beautiful, it’s a love story,” she said.

Another highlight is this tapestry by Master Navajo weaver Barbara Teller Ornelas.

“My grandmothers, they worked very, very hard,” Ornelas said.

She is a 5th-generation Navajo weaver, taught by her grandmothers, where she still lives in New Mexico.

Ornelas said her family lived in poverty, and now the art they taught her is world-famous. She is pleased that cancer patients will see her work.

“We believe that our pieces have a living spirit in them. And that that living spirit will take care of you,” she expressed.

Both of her grandmothers died of cancer, hoping only to finish their weaving before they left the earth.

“What I want for the women who are dealing with cancer is to look at our pieces and know that the pieces are there to support them and to give them a little bit of joy and to know that the people who made these pieces did it with a good heart… to continue receiving treatment and hope that Creator will bless them with longer life,” Ornelas said.

Karen knows that battling cancer is hard. She has done it and wants to remind everyone to have yearly screenings. She hopes that this art will bring calm to the process of their treatments.

“I hope they can find peace in their journey, however long it is, that they know that they’re loved, that they’re valued, that the research and everything that’s going on in this building is, for them,” Karen expressed.

With its unique art, each artist believes the new wing will give everyone involved, patients, families, doctors, nurses, and staff, help with the healing. The new center opens at the end of June.

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Huntsman Cancer Institute showcases new cancer wing