It started with Winnie-the-Pooh. Dante Petty was doing some routine maintenance work in the Gosling Ward, when he noticed the dull, faded but familiar characters.
Working for Omni Design for the summer, his father’s company had taken over the contract with the facilities department at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.
After giving the rooms a fresh coat of paint, he asked clinical manager Michelle Thomas if he could touch up the artwork in the children’s ward as well.
“They’ve been there for years,” Ms Thomas said.
“He started with our Winnie-the-Pooh room and it’s just so pretty now. It’s bright; it’s got new life.
“We’ve had him here for four weeks and I’ve had him going non-stop.”
The 24-year-old restored three rooms. He then brightened up the once-blank nurses’ station with a waterfall and rainforest.
“It’s been awesome. It started off as just a touch up and then it evolved,” Mr Petty said.
Still honouring the themes, he’s given each room his own touch. He added a tree to the longtail room and monkeys to the corridors.
“He did a bunch of bears that are holding each other up to reach an apple off a tree, which is really cute,” Ms Thomas said.
Mr Petty said he never had any formal art training, but started drawing in primary school.
“My uncle, Nick Minugh, is a graphic designer. He did a lot of designs for Coconut Rock, Daisy & Mac. He’s the reason why I started drawing,” Mr Petty said.
“When I was five or six, he used to show me little things. Aside from that, I just drew all the time.”
He said his uncle gave him opportunities that boosted his confidence and encouraged him to pursue the arts.
“When I was 12, I helped him do a sketch for a club in America. It was pretty simple, but I remember I found it very powerful to be able to help with that.
“My dad almost opened up a restaurant in Canada — it was going to have Bermuda cuisine and I drew the logo. Stuff like that kept me interested.”
He said the job at the hospital was his first real gig.
He dabbled in wall art when he drew a mural for the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in Canada in 2009.
The artist splits his time between there and Bermuda. He returned to Dartmouth this month to take a film-making course at Nova Scotia Community College, Waterfront Campus.
He has two short films under his belt.
“It’s kind of on the same realm,” Mr Petty said. “I just like creating things.
The aspiring film-maker has started two production companies — Sibling 5 Studio films, for his short films, and Parish 9 Design, which focuses on commercial work.
Ms Thomas said she wishes she’d known about him earlier.
“For years we had been looking and we weren’t getting anyone who wanted to put the time into it,” she said. “They’d come and look at the space and then I wouldn’t hear back. That would be it. We decided to paint the walls plain and put decals up.”
She said the decals were easy, simple to change and to keep the characters current, but they fade and peel.
“I’m excited. These last longer. The paintings, too, had faded over time and got nicks and bumps as we moved things around. He fixed it up and gave new characters to it.
“And then sealed it so that when nurses move furniture we don’t beat it up anymore,” she laughed.
Five rooms remain. Mr Petty will tackle the playroom when he returns for the Christmas break.
“I want the playroom to be bright and colourful, but it also has to suit multiple ages, so that will be a project for him,” Ms Thomas said. The paediatric nurse moved from Canada 13 years ago.
Children from three days to 21 years frequent the children’s ward.
With “asthma season” on the horizon — the condition is heightened during school terms — Ms Collins is keen to see how her “frequent flyers” will react to the murals.
She said parents will often play games with their children, having them hunt the ward for certain characters and animal.
“The toddlers love looking at the animals on the wall. It gets them moving around looking at the pictures and it’s hard being stuck in your room, staring at a blank wall. They make up stories to go with them.”
Michelle said the distractions work well during procedures.
“It helps take their mind off whatever they might be thinking at that time for sure too,” Mr Petty added. “Especially the little ones walking by with their parents. They try to get them to point at the animals. It’s very engaging.”
He said the best thing about working in the Gosling Ward has been hanging out with the nurses.
“I just like being up here in this environment. This is a job where you see the cycle,” he said.
“There are babies being born; I’ve worked at the hospice. There have been some days where it’s mixed emotions all day, no matter what I’m doing.
“My full respect goes to everyone up here. The long shifts, how well they take care of everyone. I’ve gotten really close to everyone up here. I can be myself.”
• Follow Dante Petty on Instagram: @dante_maximus