Pagnani is an art therapist at Kindred Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. She received her undergraduate degree in fine arts from the University of the Philippines and her master’s degree in in art therapy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Art therapy was never in her mind. It wasn’t until her friend, who was an occupational therapist, suggested and motivated her to pursue the field before she truly began her journey as an art therapist.
She has devoted herself to helping patients with mental illness. She uses art media, images, creative art process, and patient responses to the created products, taking into account the individual’s development, abilities, personality, interests, concerns, and conflicts.
As someone who loves to teach and is a self- described portraitist and muralist, she has found a profession that mixes her passions into one that leaves a positive impact on others. By using her knowledge of human development and psychological theories, she assists her patients in dealing with emotional conflicts, encouraging self-awareness, advancing social skills, reducing anxiety, and promoting self-esteem.
In addition, Pagnani facilitates art therapy groups and assists individuals on the basics of art therapy. “I work in acute inpatient behavioral health,” she tells me. “I am the activities director and art therapist. I am flexible in providing different activities.” She cites activities that range from recreational and musical to exercise and leisure activities. “We provide relaxation,” Pagnani elaborates, “as well as different treatments tailored to the patients’ needs.”
The opportunities for Pagnani’s patients to succeed are myriad. “I provide and run art and pottery groups, as well as beadwork, jewelry and exploratory projects in mosaic and papier mache,” she says. “Kindred Hospital has a program I have encouraged patients to get involved in; art and poetry competitions.” These competitions are open to Kindred Hospital and nursing-home patients.
In her years as an art therapist, Pagnani has had plenty of her own work to speak of. She considers her murals, such as Four Seasons, which is at Kindred Hospital, as her own therapy. “When I do paint. it's like a therapy for myself. I feel at peace.” Her passion for her work shines through her paintings. The treatment her patients receive is evident in the calming, peaceful nature of her own work.
It is no surprise that among her hobbies are painting and listening to music, which are soothing and allow her to decompress and stay focused. “Art therapy is very fulfilling,” she observes, “but one should have time to relax and find a creative outlet away from it.”
Pagnani’s talent in the arts is evident in the beautiful artworks under her belt. When asked what her profession would be had she not become an art therapist, she replied in a heartbeat: “A full-time visual artist, like Jose Joya, Amorsolo, Juan Luna!” This should not come as a surprise after one looks at her wonderful work. The influence of her three favorite visual artists can be gleaned from her artworks, which can stand on their own for their beauty and elegance.
Pagnani also credits her parents, Potenciano and Geronima (nee Tomelden) Pecson, a judge and the first female senator of the Philippines, respectively, as influencers in her career. “They taught me to be helpful to others and have a strong work ethic,” she remembers. She spoke of a happy childhood fostered by a strong family bond. Among her favorite memories are their family gatherings in Libsong, Lingayen, Pangasinan, “attending fiestas, going to the beach, catching fish, shrimp, bangus.” Such wholesome childhood memories have fostered kindness, which she brings into her own profession.
A talented, kindhearted woman, Corazon Pecson Pagnani has touched many lives as an art therapist. She has been able to mix her talents and passions into a profession that has allowed her to help her patients express themselves creatively. She has kept a positive outlook on life and a humorous attitude. “No heartaches. except I’m a starving art therapist and visual artist!” she quips.
The author wishes to thank Yvonne Liu Wolf, his high-school teacher in Chinese, for inspiring him to be a writer, and Vilma Castro for her assistance in the interview.
Christian Gabriel Pareja writes from Glenview, Illinois, where he was the Youth of the Year in 2017. A Butler University student, he is proud of his Philippine heritage and enjoys community work.