The International Ovarian Cancer Connection


Sandy’s Dream Wall                           Written by Robin Cohen and Ann Northrup

The ovarian cancer mural was created to raise public awareness and hope.  It is the brainchild of the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation’s founders -- Robin Cohen and Adriana D’Alessandro, who saw an opportunity through it, to save lives. Time and awareness are crucial factors in diagnosing this disease, and they hope that this will get people talking, inspire research, and encourage women to become more proactive about their health. The mural has been a labor of love by many people and several organizations. After 3 years of searching and toiling through red tape, the wall was found. The Propper Brothers Furniture store has donated the south wall of their historic building in beautiful Manayunk, known for its river, bridges and lively Main Street. The Manayunk Development Corporation and the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program have contributed funding and support, and nearby businesses have been very supportive.

The artist, Ann Northrup, from the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, is a perfect match because her heart is as great as her talent. The first step in her design process was a meeting with the ovarian cancer survivors in the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation. The mural would be designed as a response to them. The survivors spoke eloquently about dealing with the diagnosis and the stages they went through, from panic to shock to taking action. They expressed “feeling alone in a crowed room” , but said that a weight was lifted from their hearts when they were with people who “wore the same red badge of courage.” The survivors described a sense of “climbing a ladder into the unknown”. Every aspect of their lives had changed profoundly in a way that would not change back.   They spoke of doctors who could give very few answers, even in terms of survival statistics. They all expressed a desire to tell their stories, in the hopes that through increased knowledge and research, no other woman would ever have to go through what they had suffered.

The artist was excited about working with us, because of the opportunity to tell an important, emotional story, a story that might have the power to change peoples’ lives for the better.   The design began as a small, semi-abstract landscape. It was a color study, with a swirl of radiant light in the center, and  rich, somber color, punctuated with flashes of brilliance, around the edges.  Last summer, while painting in California, Ann discovered the perfect landscape to embody her idea, in the Headlands of the Golden Gate. It is very beautiful, but very bleak, with steeply rolling hills, covered by sparse and dry vegetation. Cliffs plummet down to the San Francisco Bay, and frequent heavy fogs roll over the hills to enshroud the cliffs for many days, then blowing away inexplicably in the wind. During the time she was in California, Ann’s mother-in-law passed away. The harshness and unpredictability of the landscape seemed to her a visual metaphor about the impermanence of life on earth, with the stark beauty of nature in harsh contrast to our human needs and feelings. Nature is radiantly beautiful, but it just doesn’t care about us. It doesn’t take sides.

Once the design process was a little further along, we gave feedback to Ann that she had been too successful at creating a dark and somber emotional space, and that she needed to have more positive notes of hope. So she lightened and softened the sky, and invited the group of survivors from the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation to meet her near the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a photo session. She planned to get them dancing and see if she could get some lively shots. Ann had brought the wrong batteries for her CD player and was forced to sing the dance tunes herself!  From these photos came the “three graces” in the lowest center part of the mural. After the dancing, Ann decided on a field trip to the waterworks mansion, to get some cliff-shots. Three of the women climbed the cliff, and then had to help each other get down. This image, which perfectly represents the way the survivors support each other, is on the far left side of the painting. The title of the mural “Sandy’s Dream” actually came from this outing. Sandy’s dream was that no woman would have to battle ovarian cancer alone. She knew that the best therapy would be the knowledge that we are not alone in this fight.  These women are now known as our “band of survivors”, and in the mural’s upper left corner, we can see a portrait of Sandy Rollman herself, carrying a candle to light the way.

Another resonant image, in the upper central part of the mural, came from a wonderful young man who is the Director of Operations at the Mural Arts Program. His mother had been recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and he took a picture of her with her grand-daughter, planting a flowering Impatience. Ann felt that planting Impatience, a water-loving plant, in this dry and inhospitable landscape is a strong statement about the optimism and persistence that helps people everywhere continue in times of struggle. Hope is very important, but she was clear that this should not be like a greeting card, in which everything negative is invisible. It is about hope in the face of struggle.

Our scaffolding went up July 18th. It took 2 weeks to prep the wall and grid it. In the beginning several people commented astutely that it was like a giant paint-by-number set, with each square numbered and lettered. This system helps to transfer the composition accurately. The mural is painted in a very classical way. The drawing was done on a terra-cotta toned ground, and was developed through glazing and underpainting, focusing on the form and composition before the detail. Ann has been assisted in the painting by  four very fine artists: Gabe Tiberino, Petre Oravetz, Susan Simmons, and Kitty Hankins. 

On September 10, 2005, members of the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation and their families volunteered their time and assisted our wonderful artist . It was a magical day for all.  The mural was dedicated on Thursday, September 22, 2005.


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