Locally famed artist Richard Rowland looked on Friday as crews used a crane to back his 2-ton mosaic into place on the side of the radiation therapy chamber at the Knight Cancer Collaborative in Astoria.
With the help of Columbia Memorial Hospital and a small army of volunteers, Rowland spent the past year sculpting in clay a plane tree — a genus of North American ornamental trees and a representation of the hospital’s patient-centered ethos.
Rowland’s mosaic was the centerpiece among the works of around 20 local and regional artists the hospital incorporated into the cancer center, a partnership with Oregon Health & Science University that has expanded chemotherapy and brought the first radiation therapy center to the North Coast.
“I try to be a member of the community,” said Chris Laman, director of the hospital’s pharmacy and cancer care. “Doing this project, I wanted locals involved in making the cancer center.”
Randy McClelland, the hospital’s director of strategic initiatives, was in charge of gathering artwork for the cancer center. He had worked with Rowland in the past and mined his connections to come up with a diverse list of artists and mediums.
“Every single piece that went into the cancer center was created for the cancer center,” McClelland said. One exception was artist John Stahl, who died in January but had several of his pieces posthumously selected.
Artists were given guidelines on art in a healing environment by the hospital’s consultant from the Planetree Alliance, a group of more than 60 health organizations worldwide focused on patient-centered care.
“The idea behind it is to bring in that healing aspect of nature,” said Felicia Struve, a spokeswoman for the hospital.
High above the front lobby hangs several paper lights, made to look like seed balls of the plane tree, created by Lâm Quảng and Kestrel Gates of HiiH Lights. Throughout the heavily wood-covered and earth-toned cancer center are several murals incorporating local flora used in cancer treatment.
“We have an example of one of the greatest healing environments that health care can provide,” McClelland said.
In the surgery department of the main hospital building is a large tile mosaic of a plane tree made by employees. Laman approached Rowland, locally famous for his large, wood-fueled anagama kiln — a type of ceramic firing technique that originated in China some 4,000 years ago.
He asked Rowland if he could create something similar at the cancer center from broken pieces of pottery. But Rowland had something more in mind.
When the hospital asked for a mosaic, Rowland said, he was in the middle of building a new anagama kiln.
“But I knew it was the right project, because the cancer center being important in the community,” he said. “I knew right away I had to take time off from my regular work.”
Rowland has been working over the past year on the mosaic. He started with an at-scale drawing on transparent plastic, later creating molds of the branches and leaves spread over about 80 1-square-foot tiles.
Testing and firing the tiles took three rounds in Rowland’s kiln. Each firing requires five cords of dry wood. Donations of dry wood came in from all around the world, he said. Most of it was donated by David Nygaard, a member of the hospital’s board of trustees and head of Warrenton Fiber Co.
Preparing the kiln takes three days, along with another 110 hours of continuous firing, McClelland said. Volunteers converged at Rowland’s property in July to cut wood, load the kiln and complete the final two firings of the tiles.
“It was back to back,” McClelland said. “We had to unload the kiln when it was 130 degrees inside. Then we turned right around and did the reloading again, just immediately.”
On Friday, Rowland was the first to touch his finished exhibit, followed on Monday by the entire cancer center’s staff on the first full day the facility was open.
“The vision of the mural was to get people to walk up to it and touch it, put a hand on the tree, whether it’s patients or family members,” McClelland said.
By next spring, Struve said, the mosaic will be surrounded by a healing garden outside the cancer center. For those wanting to see the art, the center will open during next month’s Second Saturday Art Walk.
Artists exhibited in the Knight Cancer Collaborative
• Christina Amri, crystal
• Rick Cassidy, acrylic
• Howard Clarke, anagama ceramics
• Brand Dichter, anagama ceramics
• Drea Rose Frost, mixed media
• Lam Quang and Kestrel Gates, paper and light
• Sam Hoffman, anagama ceramics
• Kirsten Horning, monotype
• Terry Wakako Inokuma, ceramics
• Randy McClelland, anagama ceramics
• Roger McKay, oil on canvas
• David Lee Myers, photography
• Brad Mildrexler, stoneware
• Henk Pander, oil on canvas
• Lillian Pitt, mixed media
• Ray Propst, photography
• Greg A. Robinson, wood
• Richard Rowland, anagama ceramics
• Jan Shield, acrylic on canvas
• Miki’ala Souza, monotype
• Chris and Susan Spence, photo collage
• John Stahl, watercolor
• Noel Thomas, watercolor