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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Art in a Healing Environment

Dennis and Kathy Lee Owens purchased Frederick Hart sculptures for public exhibition to share
Dennis and Kathy Lee Owens purchased Frederick Hart sculptures for public exhibition to share "the passion and compassion that Frederick Hart expressed through his art."
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Frederick Hart Sculptures at Bristol Medical Center

By Angela Wampler | Writer & Jeffrey Stoner | Photographer | December 28, 2008

American sculptor Frederick Hart (1943?1999) is often compared to Rodin, Bernini and Michelangelo. He is perhaps best known for his "Three Soldiers" at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the monumental bas-relief "Creation" series for the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

The general public will have a rare opportunity to see sculptures by Frederick Hart when Bristol Regional Medical Center (BRMC) officially unveils its remodeled conference center in mid-January to celebrate the hospital's 15th anniversary in its current state-of-the-art facility.

This unprecedented showing of Frederick Hart's work will feature limited editions of the artist's cast marble and bronze sculptures.

Ex Nihilo (Out of Nothing) is the 21-by-15- foot bas-relief stone carving above the entrance of the west facade at the National Cathedral. The sculptor's friend, the author Tom Wolfe, described the frieze as "depicting mankind emerging from the swirling rush of chaos." Considered Hart's masterwork, it was completed in 1983.

A limited edition of a cast marble "working model" of Ex Nihilo is encased behind glass in the hospital's Conference Center.

The original Ex Nihilo features eight larger-thanlife- size figures emerging from "a primordial cloud" carved from Indiana limestone. In the hospital's Conference Center, these figures are represented by eight bronze Fragments and a Full Figure sculpture.

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"If art is to flourish in the twenty-first century, it must renew its moral authority by rededicating itself to life. It must be an enriching, enabling and vital partner in the public pursuit of civilization. It should be a majestic presence in everyday life just as it was in the past."
- Frederick Hart, sculptor of "The Creation" at the Washington National Cathedral
and "Three Soldiers" at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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The art exhibit is on loan from the private collection of Dennis and Kathy Lee Owens of Bristol, Tenn. Dennis is a principal in Hunt Assisted Living, LLC in Abingdon, Va. Kathy Lee recently retired from Sprint/Embarq after 35 years of service.

The Owens art collection boasts a complete matching set of Frederick Hart Fragments — fewer than 10 complete matching sets are owned worldwide, which makes the public exhibition all the more exciting Mr. and Mrs. Owens are in good company. Great Britain's Prince of Wales has two bronze sculptures by Frederick Hart — a bas-relief portrait of Lord Mountbatten and a grouping entitled "Daughters of Odessa." A cast acrylic of "Daughters of Odessa" is at The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. Some of Hart's "Millennium Cross" cast acrylics are in the collection of the Vatican in Rome, Italy.

Before Mrs. Owens fell in love with Frederick Hart sculptures, she began collecting oil paintings by Romantic Impressionists such as Royo from Spain, Pino from Italy, Andrew Atroshenko from Russia, and Michael and Inessa Garmash, also from Russia. The paintings grace the walls of the Owens residence in Bristol as well as their condo in Pensacola Beach, Fla.

But the Frederick Hart sculptures were never intended for their private collection. The pieces were shipped directly to Bristol Regional Medical Center, where they were uncrated and installed in December.

"We have plenty of walls to display paintings," Mrs. Owens says, "but when we bought the Frederick Hart sculptures, we knew there was no way to display them in either of our homes."

The only Hart sculpture that made it to the Owens home in Bristol was "Full Figure #3" which was briefly displayed in their great room before being installed at the hospital. "I hate to give up this piece from our home, but it completes the collection at the hospital," she explains.

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"Hart's work is about Transcendence and Renewal.... At certain moments in history, one encounters a work of art that possesses the aesthetic, contextual and moral strength to signal the start of a new era. "The Creation' is such work.... It has the tender power of a Michelangelo."
- James F. Cooper, Editor and Publisher, American Arts Quarterly.

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"Before investing in Frederick Hart sculptures and deciding how far we wanted to go with the collection, we needed to understand the significance of Hart's work," Mrs. Owens says.

Ryan Sheckels, Vice President of Sales for Cutter & Cutter Fine Art of St. Augustine, Fla., invited Mr. and Mrs. Owens to spend a weekend at the University of Louisville (KY) where a semester of classes in art, math, science and history focused on Frederick Hart and his sculptures. Mr. and Mrs. Owens and a handful of other art collectors met Lindy Hart, the sculptor's widow, and viewed an exhibit of the artist's work. They also visited the home of a member of the university's board of trustees who owned several of Hart's artworks.

In addition, the gallery arranged for Mr. and Mrs. Owens to see Frederick Hart's sculptures at the National Cathedral and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

"It was an awesome experience, one that makes you realize the passion and compassion Frederick Hart expressed through his art. Simply breathtaking!" Mrs. Owens recalls.

With this newfound inspiration came the idea of purchasing and publicly exhibiting Frederick Hart's sculptures, so that others could share the same feelings. "We talked about displaying our sculptures at the University of Louisville, at the University of Tennessee, and at a gallery in New York City, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to find some place locally. It will be so awesome to display the collection where people in our area can enjoy it," Mrs. Owens adds.


The plaques in the conference center state that the scupltures are "on loan to King College" which is loaning them to the hospital for exhibition.

When Mr. and Mrs. Owens began considering sharing their Frederick Hart collection with the general public, they discussed the possibilities with Greg Jordan, president of King College.

"We looked around the college and felt like the library might be a possibility, but only the students would be able to see it. When we told Greg we'd love for the general public to enjoy it, he suggested the Bristol hospital," Mrs. Owens says.

As a member of BRMC's strategic planning committee, Jordan knew that the facility was scheduled for remodeling, and put Mr. and Mrs. Owens in touch with hospital administration. And the partnership was forged. Discussions and the acquisitions took place over a period of about 18 months.

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"I really think that art should be directly involved with the things that are of vital human concern and vital human interest, but should do so in a way that is moving and beautiful, and can serve as an icon for coming generations."
- Frederick Hart

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The hospital has upgraded its conference center to improve the overall aesthetics and to give it a museum- or gallery-like ambience.

According to BRMC President Bart Hove, the sculpture exhibition is part of the hospital's uplifting, soothing atmosphere, an important component of healing. "Enjoying a piece of art can take people's minds off the catastrophic event that may have brought them to the hospital," he says. "But it's more than just a distraction. It can provide an appreciation for the arts in general."

As for the hospital's conference center where the sculptures are on display, Hove says the sculptures "elevate the class of the public area, which sees a lot of outside traffic. It's a great opportunity to share the art."

According to Nick Adams, marketing director for BRMC, the conference center annually plays host to several thousand people, "primarily clinical folks throughout the region who come here for educational seminars. We also have non-clinical community events that bring in people."

Lindi Scharfstein, senior interior designer for the Wellmont Health System, says, "We were already planning to renovate the conference center, but once we realized the significance of Hart's sculptures, we stepped [the remodeling] up a notch. Our conference center was very nice before, but it never would have held the "weight' of these sculptures, which are truly beautiful." The hospital moved framed artworks out of the conference center hallway into various classrooms.

Scharfstein decided to become an interior designer for the healthcare industry after accompanying her grandmother to Vanderbilt University for cancer treatments. Scharfstein recalls the radiation and chemotherapy treatment areas being "depressing and dreary" in gray and white tones. Though just a teenager, Scharfstein determined, "If I could do anything in life, I wanted to make places like that better for people." Today she feels she is "making a difference, making it better for patients."

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"Ex Nihilo (Out of Nothing) stands as an eloquent metaphor for humankind always "becoming' — ever in a state of rebirth and reaffirmation of all the possibilities in being human, of the process of evolving into one's own future."
- Frederick Hart

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Bristol Regional Medical Center's annual Healing Arts Festival was a winner in the 2005 Planetree Spirit of Caring Awards. Winners of the award are considered national models of best practices of patient-centered care.

"The Healing Arts Festival is an opportunity to focus on the benefits of the arts in the healthcare setting. The arts can be healing in so many ways to our patients, their families, our staff and the community. The festival also supports our Planetree philosophy of providing holistic, patient-focused care," says Sloan Maes, Director of BRMC's Oncology Services and coordinator of the Festival.

Events feature performances by pianists, choirs, soloists, dance teams and storytellers. Along with an art gallery, activities may include massage therapy and pet therapy. All events are free and open to the public. The two-week event is traditionally presented in the spring, but will probably be held in this fall.

Year-round, at monthly leadership meetings for hospital employees, Maes starts the program with a "healing arts moment" ranging from an inspirational YouTube video to staff members sharing their talents singing or playing an instrument. If you would like to participate in the Healing Arts Festival, call 423-844-2376.

Born in Atlanta, Frederick Hart cherished Southern traditions long after his youthful years in South Carolina. In 1987 he built a country home in the Piedmont region of northern Virginia. The estate epitomizes Hart's deeply held beliefs about values, beauty, truth and tradition. It was the site for many gatherings of artists, poets, writers and musicians who shared Hart's vision and sought to exchange ideas.

Hart was raised in post-World War II and was accepted to the University of South Carolina in the ninth grade because of his exceptional test scores. He served as an apprentice stone carver, working on gargoyles, at the National Cathedral.

In 1971, an international competition was launched to find a sculptor to create works for the cathedral's main entrance. At age 31, Hart, a complete unknown, won the commission that novelist Tom Wolfe felt "would turn out to be the most monumental commission for religious sculpture in the United States in the 20th century."

An article in the New York Times magazine (2000) quoted Hart as saying, "The Cathedral became a magical place for me, a place outside of this century. The wonderful Italian stone carvers who worked there were the last of a generation, a link back to the major American architectural works of the early 1900's, to buildings like the Supreme Court, The Federal Triangle, and Grand Central Station, as well as to the great American sculptors Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French."

Hart went on to create some of America's most magnificent sculptures. His work also found an audience well beyond D.C. In addition to working in stone, bronze and marble, Hart pioneered the use of clear acrylic resin for cast figurative sculpture, a technique he called "sculpting with light." This innovation made Hart an important contemporary artist.

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The Wellmont Health System is part of The Planetree Alliance. The Planetree model of healthcare focuses on healing and nurturing body, mind and spirit. Wellmont supports the arts by sponsoring the Symphony of the Mountains and A! Magazine for the Arts, published by Arts Alliance Mountain Empire. Wellmont recently had its name attached to the Regional Performing Arts Center at Northeast State Community College.

"Wellmont has a long history of incorporating the healing arts into everything from a Healing Arts Festival to alternative medicine therapies to art exhibitions, music and storytelling."

- Bart Hove, President, Bristol Regional Medical Center


to view samples of Frederick Hart's work.
Highlands Community Services in Bristol, Va. using The Arts to enhance well-being.

— Visit photographer Jeffrey Stoner's website.

Frederick Hart is perhaps best known for his "Three Soldiers" at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Contributed photo)