Margaret Proudfoot is Collection & Gallery Technician at Paintings in Hospitals and a practising artist. Here Margaret recounts her memories of discovering Paintings in Hospitals and how this led to almost twenty years of involvement with the charity…

It’s often personal experience that brings people into the not-for-profit sector and maybe particularly into the field of arts in health. In nearly twenty years of involvement with the charity Paintings in Hospitals, I have worked with many dedicated and motivated colleagues and volunteers who help keep this charity developing and delivering. Some first encountered artworks from the Paintings in Hospitals collection while accompanying relatives to hospital, some crossed over from NHS backgrounds, others spend time in medical environments managing their own conditions. All have shared an imaginative and thoughtful commitment to improving wellbeing and the experience of healthcare and its spaces.

My background includes a parent who was hospitalised for nearly a year following a childhood accident. (She has gone on to become a powerful advocate for creativity and the arts in life and education.) When asked what I would do after Art School, I’d often say "become an art therapist". Instead, by my mid-twenties and following a temporary post as a museum technician, I was floundering somewhat, trying to maintain a studio practice as a sculptor but lacking in direction. Amongst the diverse projects I undertook, a turning point came when I decided that some of my work should be made specifically for healthcare sites. As a nervous patient, I found actively choosing to be in these previously daunting environments for non-medical reasons proved very beneficial. This gentle desensitisation helped me to understand them better as busy workplaces.

Margaret Proudfoot, Avenue

Avenue at St George’s Hospital, London 1

I believe deeply in the value and benefit of working with one’s hands and their retained memory sense.2 This informed my approach when, in 2001, I applied for an Artbridge Residency3 co-ordinated by Paintings in Hospitals. My proposal stated ‘casting is a tactile and hands-on process and will be central to my approach…hands have become a recurrent image, points of contact whether with the grandmother isolated by both dementia and stroke or the friend whose Parkinson’s makes holding a spoon difficult.’ Once selected, I worked with several remarkable older women and their carers. In the day room of their residential home, we drew, painted, printed and cast our hands.

Helga and Margaret. Artbridge residency workshop.

Helga and Margaret. Artbridge residency workshop.

Talking all the while and making connections, amused by the materials and stages of casting. Lots of cooking analogies - as alginate thickens like porridge and plaster transforms from the consistency of double cream into warm cheese as it solidifies.

Art Bridge One, one of the resulting works (including both Margaret and Helga) that then joined the Paintings in Hospitals collection.

Art Bridge One, one of the resulting works (including both Margaret and Helga) that then joined the Paintings in Hospitals collection.

Following this introduction to Paintings in Hospitals, I began to help artists install their exhibitions at Sheridan Russell Gallery (the charity's then premises on Crawford Street, London) and started preparing artworks from the collection to go on loan to care sites all over the country.

My involvement developed in 2004 with the significant move into larger premises on Southwark Street, which included the Menier Gallery. (Taking on the challenge and opportunities of more space.) I was among the first people to see the empty first floor before it became our new office and even helped design our future workshop. All now shared with a larger team - and also supported by our volunteers – as Paintings in Hospitals eventually grew to fit the space.

The first exhibition in our new gallery marked the launch of the Alexandra Reinhardt Memorial Award with a retrospective of the late painter’s work. The Award facilitated a series of five residencies in five hospitals nationally managed by Paintings in Hospitals. It was a great honour, as a member of the selection panel, to meet many of the remarkable and motivated artists who applied. The direct engagement with (and stealth occupational therapy for) patients and sometimes staff and visitors participating in these art projects, together with the resulting works and exhibitions at Menier Gallery, were a real validation of what we are capable of achieving.

The Paintings in Hospitals team at work at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham

Margaret and the Paintings in Hospitals team at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham

Over the years I have worked nationally with a succession of Paintings in Hospitals staff and invaluable volunteers at all our Showcase hospitals. Helping to install new art displays, and refreshing existing ones, always provides a great opportunity to interact with our audiences whether patient, staff, visitor or contractor. Positive feedback from an appreciative public is very rewarding and I’ve even learned to endure the inevitable, and hugely amusing, ‘that’s not straight’. Seeing artworks used as an interlude, as a navigation tool in a complicated building, as a measure of walking capacity or breathlessness, as an escape, as signs of care. "That’s my favourite" – "I’ll know where to look if it goes missing" is a common exchange.

Border (detail) and Beyond III (detail) by Margaret Proudfoot

Beyond III (detail) and Border (detail)

As a sculptor and printmaker, my studio practice sometimes involves dissection with occasional suturing thrown in. While at Paintings in Hospitals my main role is currently remedial, more nurse than surgeon, and my patients are the artworks in the collection - or more frequently their frames. I use the occasional splint or bandage, make the beds more secure and even clean the windows, keeping as much of the collection as possible in lending condition. The artworks have a challenging existence with much travel and climates designed for patient, rather than artwork, comfort. This work ranges from replacing tape on the back of a frame (unless there’s a good seal, dust and even insects can get inside) to reattaching loose artworks. Opening a frame can reveal all sorts of interesting challenges and the inside of the glazing can benefit from cleaning as much as the outside. Glueing the unstable corners of a frame extends its life and protects the work inside – tucking the artworks in a bit more tightly.

Over – An Accommodation (detail) by Margaret Proudfoot

Over – An Accommodation (detail)

As Paintings in Hospitals passes its sixtieth anniversary and looks forward, we continue to engage with the evolving health and wellbeing sector and to develop new partnerships. Our motivated, committed and creative staff and volunteers – as makers, patients or relatives – all have experience of how the stress of clinical environments can be ameliorated by the distraction, contemplation and nourishment of original artwork.


  1. Avenue was made for Rose & Blue, an exhibition of new three-dimensional work by women artists for St George’s Hospital, London. We were “invited to respond to ‘pink and blue’ as the conventional colours used to differentiate and identify the gender of babies. Using a wide range of materials and processes the artists explored...identity and domesticity with humour and imagination”. The exhibition was curated by the artist Francoise Dupre in collaboration with Dr Yves Ville, then Director of the Fetal Medicine Unit at St George’s. Both director and curator ‘believe exhibiting…work which celebrates women’s creativity and strength is appropriate to a unit where patients are often anxious about their pregnancy’. St George’s has since become famous from Channel 4’s ‘24 Hours in A&E’ and their arts programme is managed by former Paintings in Hospitals colleague Helena Copsey.
  2. Professor Roger Kneebone in the short film The Craft of Surgery and some of his Countercurrent podcasts, Professor Richard Sennett in The Craftsman, Juhani Pallasmaa in The Thinking Hand all speak powerfully to this human need and the proverbial 10,000 hours.
  3. The Artbridge artist in residence projects were funded by The Bridge House Estates Trust Fund and placed 18 artists over two years into London care homes to work alongside residents, generating new work for those homes and the Paintings in Hospitals collection.

  • Margaret's work features in the Space, Place and Home exhibition currently open at the Menier Gallery, London.

Find out more about Paintings in Hospitals art for health and social care spaces…

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Margaret Proudfoot is Collection & Gallery Technician at Paintings in Hospitals and a practising artist. At Paintings in Hospitals, Margaret helps to monitor and maintain artworks in the Paintings in Hospitals collection, preparing them for display. She supports the charity's teams around the UK, sharing her extensive knowledge and also works with exhibitors in the Menier Gallery, overseeing the demanding technical aspects of the exhibition programme. In her own artistic practice, Margaret uses diverse materials, processes and maps to address ideas about location, history and conflict. Having studied at Camberwell School of Art, she has work in public and private collections and continues to exhibit widely – including Jerwood Drawing Prize, Metropolis at The Royal British Society of Sculptors, Lines of Desire at Oriel Davis Gallery and recently the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Find out more about Margaret and her practice via her studio website.

  • Margaret's work features in the Space, Place and Home exhibition currently open at the Menier Gallery, London.