Hospital arts coordinator collects, paints robots


Elaine Reed’s house is something like a museum. Paintings cover the walls, and sculptures are scattered about.

The subject of each piece of art is robots.

Reed, the arts programming coordinator with Michigan Medicine’s Gifts of Art Program, has a collection of more than 250 robot figurines. Reed has accumulated her collection over the past 40 years, her fascination with robots starting at an early age.

“As a young kid, I was just absolutely amazed by robots,” Reed said. “I would watch ‘Lost in Space’ and (see the robot on the show) and think, ‘This is so cool, I’ve got to have one.’”

A photo of Elaine Reed standing in front of a display case of her artwork.
Elaine Reed, the arts programming coordinator with Michigan Medicine’s Gifts of Art Program, stands in front of some of her artwork on display at the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)

Her collection includes colorful toys and figurines that range in height from a few inches to several feet. Among the general robot figures are notable robot characters from television shows including Rosey from “The Jetsons” and the B-9 robot from “Lost in Space.”

Although her collecting has slowed over the years, Reed said she still adds an occasional robot to her collection.

“I get them everywhere. Everything from toy stores to collectors to friends buying them for Christmas,” she said.

Growing up, Reed developed a love for drawing and painting. As her interest in robots grew, she realized she could combine the two hobbies. She started sketching and painting robots and added her detailed paintings to her growing robot collection.

Reed’s vibrant paintings fill her home office, and she has painted robot murals in the bedrooms of friends’ children. When asked why she has continued to focus her artwork on robots, Reed said the answer is simple: She simply finds robots fun and fascinating.

“I just enjoy it. It makes me happy and brings me back to childhood,” she said.

A photo showing examples of Elaine Reed's artwork.
The robots in Elaine Reed’s collection range from a few inches to several feet tall. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)

After years of painting, Reed decided to explore other mediums of art and find different ways to showcase robots.

“I started building on my love for drawing robots and understanding sculptures,” she said.

Now with dozens of robot sculptures in her home, Reed continues to find joy in discovering different ways to sculpt and craft.

Among her expanding collection is a robot clock constructed of piano keys. After finding an old piano on the side of the road, Reed said, she knew she could transform it into something fun and imaginative.

One of her sculptures — a life-sized aluminum robot — is on display at the Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair store in downtown Ann Arbor. The store partners with 826 Michigan, a nonprofit organization that helps young students in southeast Michigan further their creative-writing skills.

Through this program, Reed has been able to share her passion for robots with children who then write about robots in an imaginative story. For instance, she sometimes tells the students to draw and create a robot with superpowers, then write a story with the robot as a super hero.

Reed has integrated her passion for robots into her work with the Gifts of Art Program, where she has served as the program coordinator for more than 15 years.

NOMINATE a spotlight
  • The weekly Spotlight features faculty and staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, email the Record staff at [email protected].

While most hospital arts programs tend to cater to children, Reed said, the Gifts of Art Program provides adult patients with opportunities to find creative outlets to express themselves.

“There are tons of things for children to do, and understandably so, in the hospital. But when you’re 18, it’s like, ‘You’re an adult, suck it up,’ and that’s not fair,” Reed said. 

The program gives people in the hospital the opportunity to explore creative arts. The patients are given kits with supplies for different artistic avenues, like watercolor painting, drawing and creating beaded bracelets.

Drawing upon her love for robots, Reed introduced “Bot Buddies” to the program. Through “Bot Buddies,” patients can learn to draw robots on the back of dominos. Reed said she hopes the people creating art in the program can use the experience as an outlet and temporary reprieve from their medical struggles.

Thanks to a new Gifts of Art program, “The Tiny Gallery,” Reed’s robots are  now on display in the hospital. For years, Reed said, she would walk through the hallway from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital on the way to her office in UH South and see an empty display case. She decided to coordinate with others in the Gifts of Art Program, and they turned the display case into an exhibit space to feature artwork.

The exhibits rotate throughout the year, and the current exhibit includes some of Reed’s robots. The artwork and collection will remain on display through the end of September.


Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.