Hospital’s new sculpture walk offers patients a tactile treat

By Laura Petersen

Colorful, carefree and tactile, there are no “Do not touch” signs posted in front of the sculptures in the Wolfstein Sculpture Park at Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla. While no children are treated at this hospital except newborns in the maternity ward, many of the pieces call to the inner child of every visitor.

When docent Rhonda Phom first saw “Scribble Mountain Sunrise,” a polychrome steel sculpture by Ron Tatro, she was taken in by the bright colors and squiggly shapes. She said it whisked her away to kindergarten. Escaping into the worry-free world of a child, even just for a few minutes, is just what the doctor ordered.

Scripps La Jolla officials say the hospital believes in treating the whole patient. Along with the care from doctors and nurses, a patient needs an environment that is comfortable and filled with beautiful things. Art, including the 17 sculptures around the hospital campus, helps provide patients and their loved ones with a healing atmosphere.

“It’s when you drive onto the campus, it’s appealing,” said Selina Hudgins, associate director of development. “You get this sense of, ‘OK, this is going to be comfortable. This is going to be doable for me.’ ”

Now offering 90-minute guided tours of the sculpture park, Scripps La Jolla hopes others can enjoy the art as well. The tour would be a unique opportunity for student, art, business and social groups to learn about the diverse sculpture mediums.

Gary Fybel, chief executive of Scripps La Jolla, is supportive of expanding the hospital’s role in the community by adding sculptures.

“I think the public display of art is a very healthy process for the community,” he said.

Docents have lunched with all of the living artists, and are well-equipped to share the stories and inspirations behind each piece.

“Surfboard Cedar Survivor,” by Betsy Kopshina Schultz and Hans Tegebo, earned its name for withstanding the flames of the 2003 Cedar Fire, mainly because it is made out of cement. The surfboard-shaped tree was singed on one side, but Schultz was able to restore the sea-foam greens, ocean blues and sunset oranges splashing around rusted hooks and gears.

Adamant believers in the healing power of art, Ralyn and Nate Wolfstein founded the park to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 1993. Since the first piece was installed in 1998, the couple have each year donated a sculpture by an artist from San Diego or one well-known in the area.

Jeffery Laudenslager, whose kinetic sculpture “Archimage” can be seen from the freeway in Del Mar, has contributed four pieces to the park. Italo Scanga’s “Symbolic Forest with Elijah” graces the premises. He was a longtime professor at UCSD.

Christopher Lee created “Spiral Tetrahedron #1 and #2" and is also well-known for the boat hanging from the ceiling in the La Jolla Library.

This year, six pieces have been added to the park. The newest members spread childlike joy like their predecessors.

Frolicking in the fountain outside the main entrance, is “Little Girl with Fishes,” a bronze sculpture by T.J. Dixon and ames Nelson. The artists were an obvious choice when the Wolfsteins wanted to commission a sculpture to dedicate to their grandchildren. Dixon and Nelson also cast the bronze sculpture of Ellen Browning Scripps with a young child that stands nearby.

The Wolfsteins dedicated the sculpture to their five grandchildren, four of whom are girls ranging in age from 12 to 25. Their grandson, an 18-year-old Eagle Scout, did not identify with the dancing girl, so the Wolfsteins instead dedicated to him “Happy Tree,” by Doug Snider and Linda Joanou.

“Happy Tree,” “Urban Evergreen” and “Surfboard Cedar Survivor” are transplants from the Port of San Diego’s “Urban Trees” art project that the Wolfsteins donated to Scripps.

“We can’t afford to build them buildings, but we can afford to decorate their front yard,” Nate Wolfstein said. “That’s sort of the way we look at it, and we’d like our grandchildren to have a sense of pride and a sense of participation.”

“Treehouse,” donated by the Scripps La Jolla Radiology Department, is labeled a gift to childhood. The artist, Nassar Pirasteh, never had a treehouse growing up in Iran. Inspired by Robinson Crusoe, he built a treehouse for his children while living in Minnesota. His sculpture stems from that parental experience.

The tree’s trunk, built out of a large, iron I-beam, contains drawings burned into it that a 9-year-old student drew in a letter to the artist.

La Jolla resident Pirasteh is overjoyed that his piece is now on the hospital grounds. He hopes it will give patients and their loved ones a break from their suffering and the monotony of longterm treatment.

“Everybody has that childhood memory,” he said. “Either they did experience it or they want to experience it. So, if I can make people think about something fun, good, healthy, I think I’ve done my job.”

Not a nickel has been spent by the hospital for the sculptures. The Wolfsteins envision the park will house 30 to 40 art pieces. They hope more donors like the Wegner family who donated one of this year’s additions, “Corner” by welder Tom Waldron, will come forward.

Scripps La Jolla will offer a 90-minute docent guided tour Sunday, May 22, at 11 a.m. Call (858) 626-6994 for more information.