When the head of the Foundation of The Christ Hospital of Cincinnati asked me to design a Donor Wall with history elements, as well as some individual Donor Tribute Plaques, I knew exactly where to start. Not with today's Donors, but in the past.
In this case, 125 years in the past. Often, exploring the deepest roots of an institution shows me a way to trace the path of generosity from the people who founded it, through those who kept it going and growing, and eventually winding up with the people who are making it expand, thrive and win awards today.
In the late 1880's, Cincinnati was the biggest and brightest city in the state of Ohio. But not all of its citizens were thriving. Poverty and illness lived side by side with unprecedented prosperity. Local doctors, a local businessman, and an American missionary who had practiced for years in India decided to change that.
Moved by the suffering they saw, local leader James N. Gamble (son of the Procter & Gamble co-founder) and an energetic Methodist deaconess named Isabella Thoburn joined forces to found a tiny, ten-bed hospital in 1889 for those in need.
Their efforts flowed from the twin springs of compassion and philanthropy. Soon that tiny hospital grew, and grew, and grew.
By 1915, that ten-bed hospital, originally located in what had been a private home, had been moved into new quarters, enlarged seven times, and had grown to an unprecedented 200 beds.
Over the many decades of the 20th Century, its glowing white cupola became iconic. Because the hospital sits atop Mt. Auburn and overlooks downtown, the Christ Hospital's tower is visible from all over the city. Thus the distinctive white tower came to symbolize a beacon of hope and healing,
Today, Christ Hospital has 600 beds, a new Joint & Spine Center (with another 600 beds), has achieved numerous awards and medical "firsts," and for 15 consecutive years has been named to U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Hospitals. Working with architects SOM, they also completely redesigned the hospital's facade and added a huge and airy lobby, all to better serve patients.
What I gleaned from this long story, as an artist and designer, was that the founders were the beginning of a long unbroken strand -- not unlike the river that flows past the city -- of resources, generosity and compassion. And that the tower symbolized all of these attributes. It would need an important role in the design of our Donor Wall.
Here is the printout of the design we proposed to The Christ Hospital Foundation and Rick Kammerer. (You will need to click on the image to enlarge it.)
At the left on the wall are the Donor Names, under the words "A Lifetime of Leadership" intermingled with inspirational quotes. Moving to the right, you see a protruding double-layer crystal panel feature that has the iconic tower and the expanded building’s glowing new 21st century “square beacon” framing it. (This will be more visible in the photos that follow)
At the far right is the history panel showing Mr. Gamble and Deaconess Thoburn, with the story of how they came together to modestly start what became a great and compassionate enterprise.
(The blue background above indicated the color that the wall behind the carved crystal would be painted. As you will see below, the color ends up looking much subtler in real life.)
Once our design was approved by all, we got to work fabricating the carved and etched glass. I thought you'd enjoy seeing some photos from the work that went on in our Studio. Above, a production specialist is removing tiny pieces of the stencil that would block certain areas of the glass while it is sandblasted.
Here is a close-up of the carved columns at the base of the bell tower.
Partially carved parts of the bell tower, its louvers, and cross.
A longer view of the work in progress, looking up from the round window at its base.
Here I am working with one of our talented Amri Studio artisanal team members in our new Portland, OR, studio.
At last, the wall is up! Standing proudly before it are Donors Kathy and Dr. Don Raithel, whose names are carved into the wall behind them and lit with LEDs, which make the text pop!
Here is another group of satisfied and well-thanked Donors enjoying their first visit to the Donor and History Wall that commemorates their membership in an unbroken stream of souls whose compassion and generosity has made the hospital the wonderful place of healing it is today.
Naming Donor Joyce Howe, an accomplished painter, points out the Donor plaque we created to honor the leadership gift from her and her husband, Roger.
Roger and Joyce Howe next to their likenesses carved into glass. Our staff writer also created the Tribute on the plaque:
"Their Leadership gift sustains our commitment to provide each patient and family with exceptional care. The Howes have listened to, guided, and supported this hospital for many years, starting in 1974.... Longtime philanthropists of this city, Joyce and Roger have given generously over the years to support healthcare, education and the arts."
Lastly, two men who certainly should be smiling on this opening day: From left, Mike Keating, President and CEO of The Christ Hospital, and George Vincent, Chairman of the Hospital Board. Not pictured, unfortunately, is Debbie Hayes, Vice President and Chief of Operations for the hospital. She, too, was a key collaborator in this project.
I want to close with just one of the emails we got from the team at the hospital after all the work was done. This came from Rick Kammerer, head of the Foundation, with whom we worked closely.
Thank you so very much for the transformational works of art that now grace the public lobbies of our institution for many years to come. We are the honored recipients of your craftsmanship and artistry...and your love of your work. Please extend my thanks to your entire team.
With gracious thanks,
My letter to Rick et al nearly crossed in the "mail"!
Dear Rick, Debbie, and Mike,
Your hospital lobby and additions are beautiful and will add so much airy, usable, contemporary and healing space to your hospital. It's been an honor to work with you all to develop these important visual statements — now designed, fabricated and up on your lobby walls!
We loved this opportunity to help tell your story and values, and to express your highly caring and professional standards along with your warm culture of honoring.
I really appreciate how everyone joined forces to make a complex, sensitive and time-consuming project come to life! We are all inspired by your generous, caring Donor and support community and their powerful “acts of Light.” I look forward to our continued work in the future!