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Healing the heart with creativity

Color, texture, words, and shapes all intertwine in the book-art of Martha Hall. Constructed of handmade paper, some of her books of poetry unfold in accordion flaps or large, flat planes, and some in conventional leaves. Each is a personal creation.

In a talk at DHMC as a part of the "In Poetry and Prose" series, Hall recently discussed how the art of making books has helped her to heal. A graduate of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, a weaver, and a businesswoman, Hall was diagnosed with breast cancer while she was a student at Tuck. She received treatment at DHMC in 1993 and began making her books a few years later. Since then, she has had shows all over New England and some of her books are now in the permanent collections of museums.

One set of 12 books rests inside a black box—a Pandora's box, she calls it—representing all of the things that were released when she was diagnosed with cancer: the chemotherapy, the illness, the information, the feelings that changed her life. "Part of healing is coming to know where you are," said Hall, adding that she experiences a process of "self-discovery" in creating each book. One thing her books have taught her is that "I'm not angry because I have breast cancer . . . I'm sad that so many women do."

Some of Hall's books have been means for having a "new kind of conversation." One, called "Test Day," deals with the process of having a mammogram, and Hall believes that sharing it with her doctors has improved their communication with each other. Her books are deeply personal reflections of her own experience, but she hopes that because of this, paradoxically, they have a universal message. "I think it heals the heart," she says of creative expression.


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