Sam Fox School students create artworks for Grace Hill health center

Over the past year, six faculty and students from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts have planned, created and installed a series of large-scale artworks for the Grace Hill Water Tower Health Center, 4308 North Grand Ave.

The center, one of five Grace Hill clinics in the St. Louis area, provides low-income and uninsured residents with professional primary and preventive health care, including pediatrics, adult medicine and OB/GYN services.

The project is the brainchild of Ron Fondaw, professor of sculpture and a noted public artist, whose courses frequently include a public-art component. Since 2001, Fondaw’s students have created more than a dozen artworks for several elder-care homes, as well as for two other Grace Hill neighborhood clinics.

“Studies have shown that the spaces we live and work in have a great deal of influence on how we feel,” Fondaw explained. At the same time, “a focus of my teaching is to help students find ways of contextualizing their work other than the white box of the museum or commercial gallery. The challenge here was to design artwork that fits aesthetically into the building and is sensitive to the clients of the specific clinic.”

Fondaw first approached physician Valerie Higginbotham, M.D., OB/GYN for the Water Tower clinic, about the project last summer.

In the fall, 12 students toured the facility, met with staff and patients and began developing ideas.

In October, each student made a formal presentation, from which six projects were approved by Grace Hill administrators. Construction began in the spring, with materials and equipment donated by the Sam Fox School. The finished pieces were formally dedicated May 9.

Many of the works are interactive and characterized by a sly sense of humor.

“An Apple a Day” by junior Jon Yanillos consists of 365 hand-carved wooden apples that are scattered throughout the clinic. Graduate student Cathy Cannistra installed “Nimbus,” a kind of three-dimensional “rain cloud” that allows children to “draw” on water-sensitive paper.

“Circles” by junior Carley Mostar consists of materials and instructions that allow patients to create a kind of ongoing mural in the clinic’s Women, Infant and Children’s Area.

Meanwhile Fondaw supplied “Pill,” a small abstract drawing, for the clinic’s main hallway.

“Infinite View of You” by senior Yu Araki is a series of infinitely reflecting mirrors installed in the small area where patients are weighed and measured.

Michele Owens (MFA ’02), adjunct lecturer in sculpture, employed glass in an almost painterly way. Ten brightly colored panes, installed in a series of small windows, take advantage of the natural light and suggest cellular images as seen through a microscope.

“These students have really risen to the challenge,” Fondaw concluded. “They’ve had great learning experiences and completed works of public art they can use to create a portfolio that they will use to apply for more lucrative commissions.

“And the clinic has gotten permanent artwork that will enliven the space for many years to come.”