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Tile sculpture was a community creation

What do a sea turtle, a pencil, a pair of ballet slippers, and a guitar have in common? Each represents a personal notion of "well-being," and each is depicted on one of the more than 500 clay tiles recently mounted in the lobby of the outpatient clinic at DHMC. The tiles were created as part of an ambitious community arts project sponsored by the Koop Institute's ArtCare program and coordinated by Canaan, N.H., sculptor Emile Birch (pictured above installing the tiles).

With the help of 25 Dartmouth undergraduates Birch conducted tile-making workshops throughout DHMC, as well as at area schools and community service agencies. Participants were asked "What gives you a sense of well-being?" and were given a damp square of clay and a simple carving tool with which to create a response. Tile-makers from kindergartners to grandparents showed a lively diversity of opinion on the subject. One child, Birch recalls, inscribed a detailed image of a cruise ship, explaining that a cruise with his parents had been one of the best times of his life. "You got 30 meals a day, and you didn't have to pay for them," the boy said enthusiastically.

Image by Flying Squirrel Graphics

Within the Medical Center, tile-making stations were set up in patient rooms, the main lobby, and the cafeteria. "There were lots and lots of people who wanted to do it," says Birch, who got many more tiles than he expected.

To create the frieze, Birch trimmed each tile into a parallelogram and, after firing, applied an antique patina of gold or teal or plum to "pick up and clarify the details." Mounted on laminated board in a design integrating thin diamonds of copper, the tiles now encircle the outpatient clinic rotunda. Patients passing through might not guess that the face of a baby was fashioned by his grandmother, tired after staying up all night to witness his birth. They might not understand the particular significance of a cat or a hiker ascending a mountain. But they will feel the aggregated power of these small images.

"It's a wonderful concept," Birch says, "because people will be able to see this for years to come. Such a collaboration emphasizes the way our lives intermingle in many ways." C.T.

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