Healing Garden in Sacramento Hospital Hosts Interesting Art Piece


The outdoor seating, the bridge that crosses a bit of water, the greenery in Sacramento’s Mercy General Hospital may easily draw attention away from an interesting piece of art on one wall, the depiction of the Greek god of medicine addressing the personification of Pain. This sculpture, fascinating in its own right, was created in 1963 by a noted Sacramento artist: Helen Post.

Post created the sculpture, “Asclepius and Pain,” in 1963, casting the figures at Brandt’s Foundry in North Sacramento. The sculpture, which won the Masonry Institute Honor Award in 1964, was originally created for the Asclepius Medical Building, 5120 J St., for pediatrician John Babich.  Dr. Babich was a friend of Post’s, according to Dreyfuss-Blackford Architecture in Sacramento.  He also helped create Sacramento’s first managed health care system, according to his 2015 obituary. Post’s sculpture started at the J Street medical building when the office space was built in 1963, but the art piece has since been moved into the hospital healing garden.

Post, who was active as a civic leader in Sacramento, died in 2010. Her husband, Alan, also an acclaimed artist and California’s legislative analyst for 30 years, died the next year. The Alan and Helen Post Park in McKinley Village is named after the couple.

According to the informational plaque displayed with the sculpture:

The large bronze figure represents the god Asclepius. Asclepius was known as the “first physician” and later made the Greek god of medicine and healing. The Latin form of Asclepius, Aesculapius, is used in the Hippocratic oath taken by physicians. Asclepius translates “unceasingly gentle.” Asclepius always carried a staff which had a serpent wrapped around it. From this staff the familiar caduceus was designed.  Asclepius is in high relief and is connected to the medical building, symbolically a part of the building. His right arm turns into a serpent and is entwined with another serpent representing or symbolizing medical science. His left arm is extended down offering humane assistance and compassion to the other figure, Pain. Asclepius has ears and hears all, but he has no mouth because he is sealed by the Hippocratic Oath.

                Pain is the small bronze figure cast in the round. He is not connected to the building as is Asclepius to appear as if he had come to the medical building for help. Pain is sexless and has no ears, for he hears nothing but his own cry.

Those who spend time in the outdoors, working in gardens or hiking the countryside, often speak of its healing qualities. The outdoors reduces stress, provides opportunities to exercise, and gives the body vitamin D through sunshine. Research shows gardens really do help people heal, and more hospitals are including them in their designs, according to a 2012 article in Scientific American magazine.

The healing garden at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento includes many of the design elements key to successful hospital gardens, including comfortable seating, shade, and accessibility to staff, family, and patients. One of the most common barriers to successful healing gardens, research shows, is lack of visibility. People just don’t know they exist. The Mercy General Hospital healing garden is difficult to miss, tucked between the cafeteria and admissions on the ground floor.

Link to Common Core standards: The sculpture found in Mercy General Hospital’s healing garden is an example of items teachers can use to link the real world to classroom lessons, in this case the teaching of Greek mythology, and figurative language such as symbolism and personification. The Common Core strands that deal with figurative language can be found in the Reading Literature section of Reading Literacy.

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