Healing Hands Help Craft Dawn Crothers' Birthstone Snail Exhibition

The Belfast artist channels ancient mysticism related to months of the year in her soothing new series of paintings and prints

Dawn Crothers is a firm believer in the restorative power of art. That isn't to say artworks worn by time which have then been restored to full visual strength. No, the Belfast painter is an advocate of the benefits art can bring to emotional and even physical well-being.

In 2015 she brought smiles to faces in the city's Children's Hospital by donating £10,000's worth of her signature snails, giving a bright burst of colour to the refurbished Cancer and Haematology ward. 'A massive benefit of surrounding yourself with art is the feel-good factor it promotes,' said husband Stephen Walley, with whom Dawn has been running a gallery and framing business for the past 10 years. ''Dawn and I both hope that this work touches the hearts of many that unfortunately have to go through the doors of the unit.'

The same vibrant mollusks form an integral part of Crothers' latest exhibition, Birthstone Snail, which combines the swirling shells she become known for painting – not least on social media, where she's almost as active as she is in her self-owned studio - with beautiful gemstones once believed to hold special healing powers and energies connected to the 12 zodiac signs.

Crothers has been intrigued by the eye-catching trinkets and and their cosmic lore from an early age. 'I took a trip once to the Ulster Museum where I was first introduced to gemstones,' she says. 'I remember the design of the old museum, where the stones were displayed in large glass cases in completely darkened rooms and highlighted by pinpointed spotlights. The colours and sparkle of the stones were amazing and I remember just wanting to take them all home.'

Shells have held a similar allure for the artist, stemming from when she was a young girl growing up in Belfast. 'I remember collecting lots of shells and keeping them in a shoebox in my room. York Park was built on reclaimed land and the shore line came up to where I lived many years ago. I always find it strange now that I have moulded my career in painting snails given I used to collect mollusks and sea shells when I was young.'

Indeed, snails have been at the forefront of Crothers' commercial output for some time, using the creature's physical complexion as a vortex for her abstract textures and bold brush strokes. 'I work on a lot of personalised commissions throughout the year where someone would request a certain colour or name the snail after a friend or family member,' she explains. 'One of my main commissions I would undertake is for newborn babies and from this I decided limited edition birthstones would be a great present given the babies' month of birth and birthstone colours.'

Dawn Crothers Dame Mary Peters

For Crothers, the two mediums sit naturally together and share a number of appealing traits. 'Since coming up with the idea of painting snails over 10 years ago the shells have always reminded me of gemstones. The variety of colour I use in each painting has really lended itself to the birthstone series and love the three dimensional element the paint has compared to the stones edges.

'I have also introduced some small diamond shards and gems to the pieces to give them a gem like quality and sparkle which is the first time I have ever introduced anything like this in my work.'

Her current show, which can be seen at Whalley Fine Art on Belfast's Belmont Road throughout June and July, will support young people in sport through the Dame Mary Peters Trust and was even opened by the 1972 Olympic gold medallist last week. It features 12 uniquely decorated snails 'painted on circular board and framed in in hand painted box frames', as well as a large scale painting which encompasses all 12 birthstones.

There is also a new range of canvas prints launched which Dawn says have been hand embellished to let art lovers 'get a step closer at a fraction of the cost' of the originals now available to buy online and from galleries around the UK and Ireland.

With two young sons, one only a year old, it's taken time for the series to come together. Crothers has had her family's full support however and the historic mansion grounds where their premises is based have played no small part either as a space to create and display work.

So why not enrich yourself with some spiritual mythology and experience the therapeutic effects of fine art – a body of work that's good for body and soul.