Hill artist/mental health worker: 'Kindness has value'

by Len Lear
Posted 4/23/21

Henry Crane, 24, of Chestnut Hill, is a very talented self-taught artist who has just published a book of his surrealistic illustrations, “Late in the Years,” almost three years in the making.

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Hill artist/mental health worker: 'Kindness has value'

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Henry Crane, 24, of Chestnut Hill, is a very talented self-taught artist who has just published a book of his surrealistic illustrations, “Late in the Years,” almost three years in the making (produced by a printer in Exton), but his years of working as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and mental health aide in a nearby psychiatric facility were even more harrowing then his illustrations.

Henry worked with famed muralist Meg Seligman to build and design a giant church installation when Pope Francis visited Philadelphia in September, 2015. After one year with Seligman, Henry became a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA). “They had great teachers there,” said Henry, “and I did enjoy the classes, but I just felt then that I wanted to get out into the world, challenge myself and see what I was made of.”

Henry then went to EMT school for eight months, which he admits is about as far away from art school as one can get. While in EMT School, he also worked with a concrete flooring company for one year and was always drawing in his spare time. After earning his EMT certificate, he worked for two years with ambulance emergencies.

“It was very stressful work,” said Henry. “It was depressing at times but equally motivational when you see people get better because of what you did. You meet so many people in terrible circumstances. Some people were constantly in need of medical attention, in the ambulance many times.”

In 2019 Henry stopped working with the ambulance team and got a job as a mental health technician at Horsham Clinic, a psychiatric hospital in Ambler. “I was very involved with patients, helping them to socialize,” Henry said. “We would do activities like occupational therapy, but some patients are so paranoid that they are angry at you all the time. I did not take it personally. I knew it was not my fault that they were so upset.

“Some would have big breakdowns. I felt really bad for them because their whole life is like that. You have to take the brunt of their anger to let them move forward. It's really hard to get them to trust you. One thing I found really interesting is that just being kind and showing an interest in them can actually make their lives better. A part of me really loved the job.

“I learned to tolerate how angry some patients were. There was one man who insulted everyone, used every curseword you can think of. He was always so nasty. One day I just sat with him to watch a movie on TV. I got him talking, and we actually had a great conversation. He knew I was willing to listen to him. I told him I believed in his potential. He knew I had respect for him, so I could actually get him to calm down.

“Some patients are just hostile and angry, but they might have been bullied or sexually abused. They were just stuck in a really bad situation. We even had patients who were professional people, like professors or lawyers who got messed up and wound up almost homeless. Mental disease is such a difficult thing, but the Horsham Clinic really does a wonderful job under very difficult circumstances.”

Crane currently works for a bookstore while also taking classes at Delaware County Community College to get an associate's degree in psychology. He is about halfway there.

Regarding his recently published book, which looks like a Marvel Comics superhero book of illustrations of castles, forest scenes with Gothic figures, gargoyles, nightmare sequences, etc., Henry remembers “the exact day when I got the idea for the book. I was walking in Wissahickon Park, and certain images just came out of the woods and into my mind.”

Henry, who attended AIM Academy in Manayunk and Radnor High School, undoubtedly has artistic skill in his genes. His father, Tom, is a professional photographer of architecture and landscapes, and his mother, Bibby, is a professional artist and co-owner of the Line Gallery + Studio in Chestnut Hill. “When I was a kid, I would go on photo shoots with my dad,” Henry said, “and I really enjoyed it.”

Henry aspires to produce a book of his portraits of faces from a Missing Persons website, and he hopes to release numerous songs he has written on a music streaming website or YouTube.

For more information, visit henrycraneartwork.weebly.com. Len Lear can be contacted at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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