Charlie Johnston has a way of capturing the pulse of a community. But his work tends to last much longer than others, as the artist, who just returned home to Winnipeg, Man., last week after spending a month in the Botwood area, completed his second mural in the Exploits Valley community in as many years, thanks to the Botwood Mural Arts Society.
The first piece he completed was the “Twilight of Air Mail” in 2011.
The most recent, unveiled this month, is the 15x60 foot “Botwood Cottage Hospital” mural on the Foodland building.
“The society provided me with their research material and some of the amazing tales of Dr. (Hugh) Twomey and his importance in the region as a doctor and physician working at the cottage hospital,” Johnston told The Advertiser.
According to the Town of Botwood website, the Botwood Hospital was built by the military in 1942 and operated by the Canadian Army.
It was sold (for $1) to the Newfoundland Government in 1946. In June of that year, it was taken over by the Department of Public Health and Welfare and opened as a collage hospital in August.
Twomey began his practice there in 1949.
By 1965, a new outpatient clinic of the hospital opened. As well, a new lounge replaced the old waiting room. Also housed there were a medical records room, three examination rooms, one minor operation room and a physiotherapy unit.
The outpatient department saw roughly 20,000 patients each year.
There were also more than 1,800 admissions, 600 recorded deliveries and 750 surgical procedures each year.
Twomey retired in 1984 to enter politics full time. After a lengthy battle with illness, he died in his home in Botwood in 1989 at the age of 68 — less than two months after his dream, the Dr. Hugh Twomey Health Care Centre, came to life.
After 43 years of service, Botwood Cottage Hospital closed its doors in 1989.
Telling the story of the hospital through art took a month to complete, the artist said, and he had no problem at all staying there for that long.
“Botwood is fabulous,” Johnston said. “The people are great. It’s a beautiful town, great stories, salt of the earth people.”
Johnston said murals are all about telling stories and creating a dialogue between the artist and the community, and between people.
“There’s something unique about every piece, which is part of what I love about doing it,” he said.
“There’s always something to learn, always a challenge to be faced and something new to be discovered.”
His theme for this mural is pulse of the community. It’s all about care, and people, he said.
“It’s really about how a place like the cottage hospital drives a community, but more so the people who make that place a reality,” he said.
“In my mural, Dr. Twomey, who is a renowned figure in the area, and it seems like he pretty much brought half of Botwood into the world, amongst many other things, sort of almost like a legendary type figure, is listening to the pulse of the community. The people are the pulse of the community and the hospital itself is also a pulse of the community.”
Nobody does anything alone, he continued, which is the story behind the remainder of the mural.
The nursing faculty are part of the team, so they are pictured providing the care, and the person they are providing care for is a soldier, which was his way of tying the military history of the cottage hospital into the story.
Johnston said he enjoyed every minute of the month-long project, calling it a “fantastic experience with great people,” and wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
“There’s always a place in my heart for Botwood,” he said.
“It’s becoming a little bit of a home away from home. Everybody is so great. The people are so well meaning.”