Artist in Residence Angus Macpherson. Artist in Residence Angus Macpherson.

Angus Is in the House

Artist Transports Tiny Patients from Cancer Woes

Angus Macpherson’s mission is to break up a gray day of steel and vinyl, needles and IVs, chemicals and medicines. He uses colors, textures and shapes to distract little cancer patients at UNM Children’s Hospital. He knows it’s more than amusing – it’s healing.

A rare pediatric oncology resident artist, Macpherson understands the value of art in medicine at a physiological level – lowered heart rates, increased oxygenation, reduced anxieties, decreased pain, and improved trust and communication, among others. But for him, it’s all about creating that special moment of focus, joy and distraction that transports afflicted children from the weight of their day.

“There’s an artist in everyone,” Macpherson says. “I’ve made hundreds of little friends here, and we’ve created some wonderful projects. I really like the continual art – like drawing a comic book that never ends, or building a pirate ship that over months or years kids can add their touches to.”

Supported by the Children’s Cancer Fund of New Mexico, Macpherson is a master of engagement. He subtly draws kids in chemotherapy into projects – like making masks or holiday ornaments – rather than forcing them to contribute or interact. It’s a delicate dance. “This can be challenging competing with television and video games,” he admits. “Sometimes it takes a while, but they almost always come around.”

Maya, a bright two-year-old patient from Santa Fe, was diagnosed six months ago with pre-b acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She took to Macpherson instantly. “We met Angus months ago during one of Maya’s first chemo treatments,” says Maya’s mom, Lauren Huston. “We always look forward to seeing him. He is definitely a very calming and distracting force for Maya, but also for us.”

“We know that when we come visit UNM Hospital, Angus will be there to engage with and make us all create and smile,” adds Maya’s dad, Rob Salviotti. “Maya has very good and very bad days at the hospital, and when she’s struggling, Angus is especially helpful. It’s magical.”

Macpherson shrugs off the praise. “What I do helps me in a lot of ways – I learn about art with these kids,” he says. “I see the pistons firing behind their eyes. They become really interested and amused in what they can do. It expands the artists’ palette, for them and myself.”

Macpherson, an Albuquerque native, recognizes that spark from his own childhood. “I wanted to be an artist as early as I can remember,” he says. After earning his business degree at UNM, Macpherson spent some time as a graphic designer in advertising, but has been a full-time artist for the past 30 or so years, focused on acrylic landscapes.

“I’ve always had a lot of different ideas about art,” Macpherson muses. “The idea that I can create an environment with a child in pain that provides an utter and complete distraction during long infusion treatments makes it more valuable than anything I could ever sell at a gallery.”

Categories: Features, Patient Care, UNM Hospitals, UNM Health System

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