In 2022, I was honored to receive a commission to create the entryway sculpture for the soon to be open Essentia Vision Northland Hospital in Duluth. The sculpture opportunity for the being-built hospital was open to regional sculptors. My conceptual design was one of three chosen for further review. After an online video presentation to the selection committee, I received the wonderful news that my concept for “Healing Waters of Gitchi Gamig” had been selected.
I became interested in this project for two reasons: Historically, over a decade ago, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources commissioned me for a group of “Flowing Waters” awards sculptures. This work later led to a Water Trilogy Series which is ongoing and very exciting for me to develop further. The Water Trilogy included: Flowing, Healing and Living Waters. I’m dedicating this sculpture to the “Healing Waters” component of that body of work.
More recently, and the second significant reason for my involvement, is that in February 2021 prior to this sculpture competition, I walked the Skywalk that overlooked the eventual sculpture site for a series of successful breast cancer chemotherapy treatments. The gift of an Oncology Navigator Nurse helped me travel this uncharted medical journey.
Every staff member, nurse, and doctor along the path was kind, supportive and gave me hope.
Their positive energy was part of my healing and successful outcome. This artistic and personal healing journey is dedicated to them for their kind patience, stewardship, teamwork, and sacrifices.
As a visual artist, walking along the skywalk, I studied my new surroundings. I was fascinated by ongoing construction, building design and proximity to Lake Superior. As I walked the corridors with others in need of treatment, the healing journey provided inspiration for the noble Vision Northland entrance sculpture project. Just as I placed my trust in my many health care providers, as a sculptor I knew I had to gain the artistic trust of those commissioning this significant sculpture.
I believe there are three essential elements to the creation of public sculptures: Understanding of community including the history of its first people, which in this region is the Anishinaabe or Ojibwe, listening to the patron’s vision and upholding my artistic integrity. When combined, these three elements provide balance and beauty leading to positive outcomes.
My Essentia Vision Northland sculpture concept includes the design elements of wave imagery, landscaping with rock cairns and accent lighting.
The wave imagery began with the understanding that the architecture of the Vision Northland building resembles a freighter on the great lakes. According to Dr. Robert Erickson, Physician Lead for Vision Northland, “This design maintains Duluthians’ views.”
My study of the building design, in concert with the shimmering waves of Lake Superior inspired the creation of the curved wave imagery in the Healing Waters of Gitchi Gamig conceptual drawing.
A one inch to one foot scale model was built that would translate into a finished piece measuring approximately ten feet tall by twelve feet wide by five feet deep.
I chose to build this signature piece with stainless steel, which is both practical, beautiful and interactive with the sculpture setting environment. First, when professionally finished it is virtually maintenance free. Second, a stainless sculpture is a living, interactive piece forever changing with the daily and seasonal variation in light. Thirdly, the material reflects the colors in the environment emanating from the sky, landscape, and structure.
The wave forms are textured providing a surface mimicking the beauty, grace and powerful dynamics of Lake Superior while symbolizing healing. The waves, outreaching from the sculpture welcome all who pass by providing comfort, peace, and hope.
The multi-tiered sculptural waves are grounded on a stylistic heart shaped base symbolizing the hospital’s healing mission. This design element will be visible and much appreciated overhead from the skywalk as well as from the ground level as visitors approach the hospital entrance.
The second design factor is landscaping with rock cairns. Cairns, also known as rock piles and stone mounds, are an ancient global structure typically portrayed as three or more rocks piled on top of each other. Historically, cairns have been employed to provide direction, to mark boundaries and to remember events occurring at a particular location.
In this sculpture, cairns are central to the overall design and viewer impact. They represent a way finding guide for patients on their path to health and well-being giving hope of a successful outcome. The three, site specific appropriately scaled cairns, are built around the sculpture with locally sourced Minnesota’s green stone and wave washed colorful Lake Superior boulders.
The third design feature is accent lighting. The sculpture is highlighted with programmable accent lighting that will follow the rhythm of the day and change of seasons. Like a lighthouse beacon, the illuminated sculpture will symbolize navigation through personal health journeys. “We are all vulnerable. In your darkest moments we look to the light.” The external lighting will especially be appreciated during the long, dark, cold, winter months.
Artistic balance, purpose, beauty and integrity is woven into the design of this sculpture. While embracing the Essentia Health values and mission, Healing Waters of Gitchi Gamig celebrates Duluthians and the surrounding communities with respect for the past, focus on the present, and hope for the future.
A final note but most certainly an important one, I want to extend a special thanks to my talented, tireless and most accommodating team members who helped make this sculpture a reality: Architect Ryan Mears, structural engineer Jim Berry, Mike Hinrichs of Laser Design, fabricator, transportation and installation team, Mitch Schauer and his Portable Welding and Repair crew Todd, Carl and Josh, landscaper Mike Saline and his crew from Saline Landscaping, Great Lakes Stone, Del Jerome Excavating, Charlie Bell of Northland Constructors, Laura Pfenninger and many others from Essentia Health, Margaret LeMay, Derek Hibbs and Jason Levy of Integrated Arts, Jeff Dzurik, Rick Steinberger, Jeremy Goble and his proficient foundation crew from McGough Engineering, Ross Fredenberg of Pulse Products, lighting consultant Dee Ginther, Rick Hart and his crew from Duluth Electric, Ian Adams from Gopher Stage Lighting, Tarah Pratt from Landmark, Jesse Symynkywicz from Damon Farber, Mike Haag of Haag Built LLC for his consultation and rock work, our legal counsel Linda Coleman of Spears, Carlson & Coleman S.C., Don & Robin Baugham for their Lake Superior treasures, Ernie St. Germaine for his cultural connection, Suzanne Rooney for her always welcome suggestions and encouragement, my children Melissa and Eric who provided moral support and encouragement throughout and of course my husband Gary Crandall, who was instrumental in tying all the parts, pieces and loose ends together from start to finish.
It is my desire that Healing Waters of Gitchi Gamig will provide comfort, hope and inspiration to all who pass by along the path of their healing journey.