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JoCo woman was born at hospital that became Menorah. Now her art graces its hallways

Rita Blitt discusses her art with Menorah Medical Center CEO Charles Laird.
Rita Blitt discusses her art with Menorah Medical Center CEO Charles Laird.

Abstract drawings now lining the walls of two busy corridors at Menorah Medical Center draw plenty of attention, with their bold strokes and soaring design.

But few who admire the art know they were created and donated by one of the hospital’s former patients.

The artist was a patient nearly 87 years ago when she was born to Herman and Dorothy Copaken on Sept. 7, 1931.

At that time, the hospital was Jewish Memorial Hospital, east of the Country Club Plaza, and Rita Blitt was the first baby born there.

The hospital later became Menorah, now located in Overland Park, and the baby grew up to become a notable artist. Blitt now lives in Leawood.

In July, Blitt attended an event honoring her artwork at Menorah and expressed appreciation to those gathered for their part in her art.

“For artwork to be finished, it has to be viewed,” Blitt said. “Thank you for helping me finish my artwork.”

Of the 30 pieces Blitt donated, many were painted with a brush in each hand. Sweeping across the paper are big, bold brush strokes soaring up, down, across and around the paper. Many are pure black strokes. Others have color Blitt added after she painted what she calls the black “gestural strokes.”

Much of her work displayed at Menorah was done during the 1990s, a productive period she describes as one “full of bold experimentation: I let my hands dance on paper.”

Using both hands at the same time to paint and draw simply made sense to her: A conductor uses both hands to lead a band; a dancer, two feet.

Viewing the drawings in July were some 120 members and guests of Leawood Chamber of Commerce.

“I love abstract art,” said Kevin Jeffries, president of the Leawood Chamber of Commerce. “I look at her work and wonder what she was thinking when she made that stroke.”

Like Jeffries, patients and staff pause in the hallways and ponder what they see in the paintings.

Because the artwork is abstract, the interpretation is in the mind of the viewer. Where one person might see a bird, another sees a pear.

The paintings help patients take their minds off the reason they came to the hospital, said Charles Laird, chief executive officer.

“Hospitals can be scary and the art gallery leads to more conversations about things other than medical issues.”

Blitt wants those who view her work not only to see what she has expressed on paper but also to feel the emotion that guided her hands.

“Joy,” Blitt said, is what she wants patients to experience. “I want my work to make patients feel good.”

Blitt is also a sculptor and her work appears in public places throughout the Kansas City area and worldwide.

Her sculpture, “Lunarblitt XVI,’‘ which was installed in the center court of Oak Park Mall in 1975, remained there for many years. Better known as the “Yellow Ball” sculpture, the 6-foot-tall stainless steel and aluminum sculpture with the bright yellow ball is now in Topeka.

In November of 2017, the Rita Blitt Gallery and Sculpture Garden opened at the Mulvane Art Museum on the campus of Washburn University in Topeka.

Blitt donated some 2,000 pieces of art: sculptures, painting and drawings. They are her “Legacy Collection,” she said.

Because so much of Blitt’s work is musically connected, the gallery is located next to the concert hall. Visitors can enter the gallery from the hall’s lobby.

On display now is a series of abstract paintings on paper inspired by the music of Bach.

By listening to the music of the composer and looking at Blitt’s art, “you begin to see movement, rhythm,” said Connie Gibbons, director of the museum. “It gives me a different kind of appreciation to experience her work through music.”

Other composers represented in her collection include Beethoven, Stravinsky and Mendelssohn.

Gibbons describes the paintings as Blitt’s reaction to hearing and feeling the music. The paintings are as varied as the music.

“Her artwork is spontaneous,” Gibbons said. “It is about movement, responding to whatever is moving through her.”

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