A wall mosaic painted years ago by about 1,000 people has been packed for shipping to a new campus home at UTMB. The cargo is delicate and laden with memories.
“To me, it’s not unlike packing up the treasures of Egypt or Mesopotamia and having them trucked to the Louvre,” said Dr. Joan Richardson, professor and chair of pediatrics at UTMB, who herself painted three tiles.
Titled “The Beach,” the colorful mosaic contains 1,000 hand-painted ceramic tiles that make a mural 6 feet high and 32 feet long. The mural had been on display in Children’s Hospital since 2008. People often call it the “Pediatric Wall Project” because it started as an extra-curricular project for medical students.
Workers packed and removed the mural March 12 due to hospital remodeling. Its new home will be about a mile away in the pediatric clinic due to open by summer in UTMB’s Primary Care Pavilion, 400 Harborside Drive.
From 2005 to 2008, the mural took shape at dozens of tile-painting events at UTMB and elsewhere in Galveston. The goal was to make artwork to brighten the days of children in the hospital. Hundreds of pediatric patients, their parents, physicians, nurses, medical students, and other staff members painted 4- and 6-inch square tiles with the promise their handiwork someday would go on display.
In the end, the medical students who organized the project succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They had gathered 4,000 painted tiles for a mural designed to hold 1,000.
“The mosaic became much larger than the sum of its parts,” said Dr. Mark Holden, associate professor and adviser to the students in 2005. “It became a permanent memorial to the children, the students and everyone else who participated.”
The mural depicts the beach but some painters preferred to write their names or draw whimsical designs on their tiles. Others carry messages of friendship or hope: “CH+HH” or “I ♥ you – be ok – Chance.”
As for the unused tiles, work is under way to make three smaller murals. The new murals will go on display on the 10th floor pediatrics wing of John Sealy Hospital later this year, Dr. Richardson said.
Do the movers feel pressure because of their delicate cargo?
“No, we know exactly how to handle it because we were the ones who put it up,” said Tim Wilson, construction operation manager for UTMB’s Business Operations and Facilities Department. His crew hung the mural in 2008. “But we know how important the mural is. It has a lot of meaning to me and other people and especially to the children and their parents.”
The project originated with about a dozen first-year medical students who were forming the UTMB Osler Student Societies in 2005. Faculty members designated as Osler Scholars received support in teaching from the campus’ John P. McGovern Academy of Oslerian Medicine, but the fledgling student group had just started under the academy’s wing. William Osler, a 19th-century physician, helped found Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and establish the concept of medical residency training.
“We wanted to bring student volunteers to the bedside of our pediatric patients, just as Osler brought physicians in training to the bedside, to interact with patients in a humanistic way,” said Dr. Briana Sacco, a first-year medical student and project leader back in 2005. Now a triple board resident at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Dr. Sacco is training in pediatrics, general adult psychiatry, and child and adolescent psychiatry.
The group enlisted artist Julie Weldon from Houston to develop a mural theme. Weldon also designed boxed kits for the children. Each box contained tiles, brushes and paints she chose to be part of the mural’s sky, water or sand.
“This was a very gratifying experience for the originators of the project as well as the other students, faculty and children who had participated,” said Dr. Michael Malloy, pediatrics professor and assistant dean for the Osler Student Societies. “It was truly a labor of love.”
In the end about four years later, the students who originated the project had almost resigned themselves to disappointment: The mural wouldn’t be ready before they graduated.
Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston in September 2008. Although the mural survived, only a fraction of it had actually been assembled and mounted in Children’s Hospital. So work crews and mural volunteers redoubled their efforts to complete the job.
“The students had worked on the project for all of their four years in medical school and they really wanted to see it up before they graduated,” said Don Marshall, senior project manager with UTMB’s Business Operations and Facilities Department.
They were rewarded. The full mural was formally unveiled on May 29, 2009, one day before commencement.