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The gift of time: retirement allows Dal doc to pursue her passions

Posted by Kenneth Conrad on August 31, 2018 in News
Dr. Gerri Frager near her home in Spry Bay, Nova Scotia
Dr. Gerri Frager near her home in Spry Bay, Nova Scotia

A former nurse, professor of pediatrics with Dalhousie Medical School and Director of the Pediatric Palliative Care Service at the IWK, Dr. Gerri Frager has pursued one of her artistic passions on a full-time basis since her retirement in 2014.

“In 2008, I took a pottery workshop at a local cooperative, and it was hook, line and sinker. I got totally engaged in it,” says Dr. Frager. “When I retired, the huge gift of time allowed me to do more and more of it.”

“Pottery is very therapeutic,” she says. “You’re quite focused when working on a piece, and I love being able to make something functional to use in your house or give to friends.”

A Montreal native who now lives in Spry Bay, along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, Dr. Frager has a home studio and her own business, Natural Whorlds Pottery. She teaches three-hour hand-building workshops, and says that even in her small community there’s no lack of interest in the craft.

“I’m proud to have three generations of people attend workshops: children, parents and grand-parents,” she says. “It’s fantastic to see that it’s so enjoyed by everyone at the same time.”

Though Dr. Frager has a pottery wheel in her studio, she prefers to teach the hand-building method.

“It’s more user-friendly, and people can go home with a piece they’ve made. Using a wheel is a more complicated process and requires people to come back for many sessions before a piece is complete.”

"Caffeinate your Cortex" wheel-thrown porcelain mug with decals of functional MRI brain scan and neuron images applied

Though she didn’t discover her love of pottery until closer to her retirement, Dr. Frager says she’s always had an artistic side, writing poetry and dabbling in photography and watercolouring.

Dr. Frager served as Director of Dalhousie Medical School’s Humanities – HEALS program from 2009 to 2014, and received the Gold-Headed Cane Award in 2009, which is given to a faculty member in recognition of “their remarkable combination of scholarly achievements, humanism, professional skills and service, as well as their excellence as role models for others in the medical humanities.”

Dr. Frager feels strongly about the benefits of the arts in health care and education.

“Learning about something through the lens of art makes you process it very differently,” she says. “Studies show that if you’re emotionally connected to something you’re learning about, you’ll retain it longer.”

Combining her passions

Dr. Frager’s first book, Signs of Life: Images Formed from Words and Clay, was published this April by Pottersfield Press. The book combines poems and images of her creations, and its subject matter is largely inspired by nature, her life as a medical professional and her personal experiences. The title isn’t just a reference to her career, but to her own history.

“I’d had a collection of poems over a good chunk of my life, and some of them seemed to be in sync with pieces of my pottery,” she says. Other pieces were created specifically to complement previously-written poems.

“I looked in bookstores and online and couldn’t find anything else like it out there. Sketches and poems, photographs and poems, but nothing like this.”

Proceeds from retail sales of Signs of Life support two charitable organizations; Potters for Peace, which ensures safe drinking water in developing countries, and the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia’s Refugee Emergency Fund. Copies are also available from the Humanities - HEALS office as a fundraiser for the program.

Dr. Frager found that writing poetry, going for walks and connecting with the natural world helped her deal with stress during her career as a pediatric palliative care physician.

“I tend to write when I’m outside,” she says. “When I’m going for a walk, I usually have paper and a pen in my pocket  - in case inspiration hits.”

“I’ve found that the resiliency of children and families facing critical illnesses is truly remarkable,” she says. “Being able to make an impact in a positive way, providing pain relief or symptom management, was gratifying but you also bear witness to great sadness.”

She explains that writing poetry was a way for her to “deal with and process” what she experienced as a doctor in difficult times.

Hand-built coloured porcelain (stain wedged into clay) plate

What's on the menu

While still in the midst of promoting Signs of Life – she is scheduled to perform a reading at Word on the Street Halifax in September – Dr. Frager already has her next project in mind.

A book combining recipes, photos of pots used for cooking and related stories is in the works, but “nothing is firm at this point.”

Cooking is another hobby that she’s discovered in retirement, as her days of being a 24-7 on-call physician didn’t often allow her to prepare elaborate meals. “Time was a luxury back then,” she says.

That’s no longer the case, as retirement has only fueled her ability to pursue her passions.

Hand-built white stoneware vase and nuthatches

All images contributed by Dr. Gerri Frager