Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Spirit of Medicine

Twice in a rather short period of time we've gotten questions about the large sculpture that graces the lobby of the OHSU Main Library, so we'll highlight that artwork today--and start building excitement for the Main Library's twentieth birthday next fall (wow! twenty years of the not-yet-paperless future in retrospective! Be there or be square. Aloha.)

The piece called "Medicine Man" is the work of Lakeview artist Billy Gerber. It was presented to OHSU President Peter O. Kohler, MD, and School of Medicine Senior Associate Dean Julian S. "Dutch" Reinschmidt in 1993 when the two physicians were named "Rural Health Educators of the Year" by the Oregon Rural Health Conference. Reinschmidt, who died in 1998, was truly the godfather of continuing medical education in Oregon and dedicated much of his career to improving health care services in rural areas. Upon Reinschmidt's death, former School of Medicine Dean John A. Benson, MD, said: "His impact upon the school and health care in general are far more profound than most people recognize. He had pioneering ideas about rural health and continuing education long before most of us."

Gerber was a natural choice to depict the spirit of healing. The sculptor offers a prayer to each new piece he sets out to create, noting that he tries "to concentrate on expressing beauty, serenity, and freedom." Although he often works in wood, Gerber has never destroyed a living tree, preferring to use dead snags that he has collected. "Medicine Man" is carved in juniper, a high desert tree characteristic of central and eastern Oregon. According to Gerber, the sculpture "represents an individual who is in tune with the spiritual and physical world, and who has devoted his life to helping others.... He is speaking with the great spirit, asking for guidance so that he can in return guide his people into a better way of life."

OHSU's "Medicine Man" has something of a younger cousin: In 1995, Bob Bomengen, MD, commissioned Gerber to create a sculpture called "Spirit of Healing" to be donated to Oklahoma City, OK. Bomengen, longtime Lakeview doctor and Family Physician of the Year in 1993, was one of the first responders after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, and presented the sculpture to express his deep sympathy with the victims of that tragedy.

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