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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

For Hundreds Of Pieces Of Healthcare Art, A Missouri Connection

Henry Domke
Photo Provided
This photograph by Henry Domke of a waterlily has sold more than 150 times to clinics and hospitals nation-wide.

It was humid spring morning in the woods of central Missouri and Henry Domke was lining up a shot. His target? The vibrant petals of a red buckeye bloom.

"I want to level it. Make sure it’s really sharp," Domke said as he adjusted his tripod and focused in before snapping the photo. 

Domke — a retired family doctor — has been photographing the wildlife in his back yard for years. When he was a doctor, he decorated his practice with his photographs, and after he retired he started exhibiting his work.


Credit Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA
Domke takes a photo at the Prairie Garden Trust, the 540 acre nature preserve he finances through his art.

"There was one exhibit in particular, in Fulton... Some people from Blessing Hospital in Quincy, Illinois saw the work and bought 40 large prints, boom, like that," Domke recalled. 

From that point on, Domke developed his art into a business. He’s since sold prints for more than 340 installations in hospitals and clinics from Connecticut to California, in part because of his subject-matter. Domke’s art tends to depict flowers, plants and other recognizable images of nature. It helps that Domke’s back yard is a 540 acre nature preserve that he finances through his business. He's run the Prairie Garden Trust, which is open to the public, for more than 30 years, and it provide a lot of his source material.  

"More than once people would say to me, 'how did you find my grandfather’s farm? You took this picture where I played as a kid.' Well that’s not what it was but it triggered a memory," Domke said. 

And that’s what healthcare designers and architects look for. In fact, within the relatively niche world of healthcare design, Domke is a big name.

Rosalyn Cama is one fan of Domke's work, and said, "His work is international, it’s all over — I always use a Domke." Cama is a healthcare designer and president of a design studio in New Haven, Connecticut that specializes in evidence-based design. That’s a movement in the design world that looks to use findings from research to improve patient health.

She said in the case of art, "we want to create positive distractions in environments." Cama said research points to images of nature as the most effective in distracting and relaxing patients. She said that’s why Domke’s work is so popular and she picked out a cancer ward she designed as an example.

Credit Courtesy of Henry Domke
Domke's art typically depicts wildflowers, trees and landscapes native to the region.

The treatment area was in a basement, with little natural light, so Cama took photographs Domke made of local flowers and seashells and stretched them out on canvas to decorate the ward. "We felt that the immediate connection to nature would sort of calm that nervous response of going in for treatment," Cama said. "Sort of creating that exhale that one needs."

Blessing Hospital in Quincy, Illinois has incorporated Domke’s work in a couple different ways. Large prints of his photographs hang in hallways and examination rooms throughout the hospital. The hospital serves a rural area, so finding relatable art was crucial, according to administrative director of facilities Jayne Fry.

"So you do see in our artwork things that are representative of our region, that which is familiar and represents our community and those we serve," Fry said.

When it comes to Domke’s art, that means photographing flowers, trees and landscapes native to the area. Blessing’s use of Domke’s work goes beyond hanging prints on walls. In new patient rooms, Domke’s photographs cover walls from floor to ceiling, and miniature copies are printed next to the room number on the outside to help patients find their way.

A large print of Domke's work hangs in a hallway at Blessing Hospital in Quincy, Illinois.

For Domke, the effectiveness of his art is evident in the feedback he's gotten from patients. He recalls a note about one patient who was in treatment for cancer at Blessing, and would come in early to sit in front of one of his works.

"It was a print of an oak tree with light coming through from behind kind of glowing," Domke recalled, "and you could see the rays of light." Domke said, "she said she would go into prayer there before her therapy-chemotherapy. She felt the presence of God. So if my work can help people to experience that then that’s lucky."

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia was a health reporter at KBIA and is documentary filmmaker who focuses on access to care in rural and immigrant communities. A native Spanish speaker and lifelong Missouri resident, Sebastián is interested in the often overlooked and under-covered world of immigrant life in the rural midwest. He has a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri and a master's degree in documentary journalism at the same institution. Aside from public health, his other interests include conservation, climate change and ecology.