We had a wonderful and touching opportunity earlier this year to create a Welcome Wall, Donor Tribute, History Wall, and Prayer Niche for the newly expanded Joe Arrington Cancer Center in Lubbock, Texas.
A great deal of caring and effort went into this community’s desire to be able to support their cancer patients as neighbors in their own comforting neighborhood, close to home yet with state of the art treatment options. As part of Covenant Health Systems, this Cancer Center is a ministry of Christian healing with a deep belief in God. We wanted our installation to sincerely and palpably express God’s love to all who entered. The extraordinary devotion and care of staff also needed to be expressed and a feeling of sacred purpose shared.
Our overall goal was to welcome and reassure cancer patients, their friends and families with inspiring messages of faith, loving neighbors and community, and heartening stories of the Center’s values and care. We wanted to thank Donors, honor staff, and give succor. During the design phase, we conducted careful in-person interviews with leadership, clinicians, lead Donors, the Foundation staff and patients in order to understand on an emotional, heart, and spiritual level the core of what makes this Cancer Center and its community unique.
We also needed find a way to tell the institution’s 200-year history succinctly and meaningfully, and provide compelling personal tributes to its Lead Donor and founding namesake, Christine DeVitt, and her Foundation. Without Ms. DeVitt’s extraordinary grit -- and the role she played as a Texas pioneer and later philanthropist -- much of what is now thriving in Lubbock would not have had the support to grow.
Ms. DeVitt hated her photo to be taken, so she is wonderfully represented by the typically Texan tall windmill, standing vigil over all her lands, and in this case, flourishing acres of golden wheat. Nourishment and communing with Christ is subtly expressed. In addition, we needed to honor all the community members for their generosity and caring, and make the list of thousands of Annual Donors who continue to give easily updatable.
The theme of LIGHT permeates this Cancer Center and our art-messaging installation, in meaning and in structure. God brings light and illumination to all His Children. His Mercy is expressed in His Covenant, so we carefully designed this introductory panel as if it were truly an Illuminated manuscript, using antique hand-lettered font style and art (a lacy “rose window”-like interpretation of a blooming stem of Queen Anne’s lace).
We also engineered edge-mounted LEDs to beam light through the carved crystal and letterforms and create a glowing presence. It also symbolizes the philanthropic “Acts of Light” offered by this compassionate community. In addition, we trained warm, long-life MR-16 spotlights -- evocative of candlelight in churches -- on the crystal panels in the hospital's hallway, which had its own candle-like lighting and soft, protective curves.
The three “entry experience” installations we created capture the essence of Covenant Health’s healing ministry in a poetic, exquisite and jewel-like series of waystations. Design elements “speak” to one another with imagery, design vocabulary, color, and luminosity through the three areas and across the hallway from their respective niches. Hundreds of names of significant Donors are permanently honored in crystal next to a custom-programmed and sensitively hardwood-framed, integrated LCD screen that gently scrolls a skyscape from right to left to display an easily updatable list of up to 5,000) Annual Donors
The beautifully interwoven and radiating threads immediately express the story of the many different beliefs, people, and institutions who came together in UNITY to create this cancer center.
The niches end in a touching Prayer Wall offering an opportunity to lovingly offer and read scriptural reassurances and handwritten prayers (on a carved crystal plaque and small parchment-like paper scrolls) and to meditate on their meaning. Patients and families may take a slip of parchment-like paper and write a hope, blessing, or prayer to wedge into an adjacent sculptural metal prayer tree.
At heart, good design is potent and heartfelt. These extraordinary permanent-monument murals afford a rare opportunity to reflect and meditate on life, gratitude, one’s own feelings and needs, and faith. The once-empty niches along the progressive circulation path in this medical facility have now become small “pilgrimage stations.”
“Pilgrimage is something built into the human condition," says George Weigel, a distinguished theologian. "There seems to be something hardwired into us, spiritually, that the idea of a journey from A to B becomes part of the [comfort and] rhythm of the spiritual life. There's purpose built into life, and the religious habit of pilgrimage is the embodiment of that in … daily life."
We also portrayed the deep themes of interdependence, interconnectivity, and community. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., taught us, “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” We live to serve life and nourish spirit.
I want to thank the Covenant community for the invitation and opportunity to get deeply involved in their healing work as an artist and a contributor to the heartfelt honoring the Donors that support Covenant’s compassionate work.
Photos by John Sutton