Environmental Plaza

Submitted by John Kirby

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Project

Client: Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital

Location: Charlestown, USA

Completion date: 2013

Project Team

Art Consultant

Charlotte Riggs, John Kirby

Boston Art

Artist

Robert Shure

Skylight Studios

Architect

Perkins + Will

Landscape Architect

Copley Wolff Design Group

Overview

Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital (SRH) occupies a three-acre waterfront property in Charlestown, Massachusetts that includes a healing garden for SRH patients and also functions as a scenic path on the Boston Harbor Walk which is frequently used by community residents. SHR enlisted art consultants from Boston Art to contribute to the design of a space that could serve such a dual function. Boston Art commissioned local artist Robert Shure of Skylight studios in Massachusetts to sculpt seventeen bronze animals and groupings of creatures to adorn the two public garden spaces and the one quarter mile-long walking path.

Goals

The bronze sculptures successfully engage patients, staff and community members while reflecting the hospital’s rehabilitative mission and the local marine history. Spaulding was mandated by the city of Boston to develop their Harbor-side space in keeping with the history and integrity of the land, which was originally marshland and later used for shipbuilding. To complement landscape architecture that integrated locally-sourced granite and timber, sculptor Robert Shure fashioned bronze wildlife sculptures that were historically native to the area. From sandpipers to sea turtles, each sculpture represents a creature native to Boston Harbor, and a critical part of the former marshland ecosystem. The installation supports SRH’s motto: “Find your strength”. Each carefully placed bronze creature serves as a tactile and cognitive destination: patients can measure the progress of their physical therapy by noting which milestones they are able to reach on a given day, and therapists can design creature scavenger hunts for their patients as a tool to exercise memory and mental function. The integration of the artwork into both an outdoor rehabilitation space and a public walkway ultimately linked the therapeutic experience of the patients to the environmental history of Charlestown and enhanced community members’ engagement with an important neighborhood institution.

Process

Consultants from Boston Art collaborated with Perkins Will, Copley Wolff Design Group and Gamble Design and the SRH executive team to develop a public art solution for a dual-use garden. Boston Art then reached out to renowned figurative sculptor Robert Shure of Skylight Studios to discuss and execute the commission. Boston Art consultants then worked directly with Shure to determine the manner in which the animals were sculpted. In light of Boston’s mandate that Spaulding’s public art pertain to the traditions of the natural environment, and therefore that each species represented a genuine part of the Harbor ecosystem, artist and consultants agreed that the sculptures would be made to be as anatomically correct to the real animals as possible. Boston Art consulted hospital staff members and physical therapists, who would be using the garden on a regular basis, to narrow down a long list of animals to the ones that would have the strongest impact on patients who were exercising their memory recall. Spaulding staff were also consulted as to the placement of each sculpture in the garden.