At the HEALTHCARE DESIGN.08 conference in Washington, D.C., there was one section of the exhibit floor that stood out to the HEALTHCARE DESIGN editorial staff more than any other; not because of exceptional or innovative architectural design, but because of the sheer size of it. Standing starkly in the field of design firm booths were the massive steel structures of Prescott Sculpture. “When people saw the sculptures at the conference, they all smiled,” says Fredrick Prescott, the mind behind Prescott Sculptures. “They all got excited and smiled. Going through a trade show floor, there isn't a lot to make you smile or get excited. It was all pretty much architecture and furniture.”

Prescott Sculpture is a Santa Fe-based art studio that has been creating steel sculptures—commissioned, donated, and otherwise—for anywhere from the American Embassy in Thailand to Hillcrest Women's and Children's Medical in Waco, Texas, since the mid-1970s. After beginning with smaller, indoor pieces and Prescott's experiments with similarly sized pendulum pieces that pushed the limits of steel sculptures, the designer moved onto larger-scale works; namely, the massive animal sculptures that have been commissioned for several hospitals across the country.

If you were unable to attend HEALTHCARE DESIGN.08, it may be difficult to imagine the sheer immensity of these “kinetic” sculptures. Ranging anywhere from 9 to 14 feet tall and 10 feet long, these enormous sculptures can weigh upwards of 3,000 pounds. Though simply creating life-size (often oversize) animal monuments wasn't enough. “When I did the big sculptures, the really big ones, I was putting the head on and it wasn't going to move,” says Prescott. “I said, ‘Wait a minute. This is a big moose. Moose don't just stand around frozen—they move.’ All animals are always moving. So I said, ‘What can I have move?’ It took me another three or four weeks to figure out how to make the head move in the wind.”


But getting these heads to move was no easy task. With some of the heads weighing as much as 1,200 pounds, it would take a significant amount of engineering to enable them to move in the wind. Fortunately, Prescott's prior work with pendulums gave him some insight into the process, and he was able to find a solution relatively quickly. “The head weighs 1,200 pounds, half a ton. You have to have a six mile-per-hour breeze to make it move,” says Prescott. “What you have to do is balance that head at the fulcrum point and put it on stainless steel bearings because that part is going to move. It will actually move in the wind—just a breeze will do it. If you have a 50 or 60 mile-per-hour wind, it'll take the head back and it has big rubber stoppers that will stop it during the gust. When the gust lets up, it'll start moving again.”

Prescott notes, though, that all of the work is definitely worth it. “I did sculptures for years that didn't move,” says Prescott. “Now, all of a sudden, I've started doing these kinetic sculptures with pendulums. It has made a huge difference. You have those moving for 45 minutes and it's like the whole sculpture comes alive. It gives a whole new dimension to the sculpture.”

Ultimately though, Prescott isn't really aiming solely for visual accuracy, as anyone who has seen his sculptures can attest. He often uses playful and vibrant colors on the sculptures because of the sense of joy that it adds to the pieces. “I just like the use of color. I can understand other colors, and some people don't like bright colors,” says Prescott. “I'm not trying to make the animal look just like an animal. I'm trying to make it look a bit more abstract. It's more than just a regular animal; it's a sculpture, so I have a lot of artistic license. You look at a bronze animal [statue], and they try to make it look exactly like a real animal, but then it's a brown monotone color. Instead, I've got a bright, translucent, candy strawberry moose with diamond dust over it so when the sun comes up, it sparkles and shimmers in the sun. You know it's a moose, but no one's ever seen a moose like that before.”

It's this sense of imagination that Prescott finds so rewarding and why he continues to produce pieces for hospitals. He remembers when a hospital worker once told him, “The biggest problem is getting the kids to want to come back.” Much of Prescott Sculpture's work then is geared at accomplishing just such a goal. “With the big animals, the kids become attached, and then all of a sudden, they can't wait to go to the hospital to see the animals,” says Prescott. “It's difficult. Some of these kids have serious conditions and have to go there for years, and the parents have to be there, too. I think if you make it a little bit more exciting and fun, it's not such a problem going to the hospital all the time.”

Still, Prescott laments that while art programs in hospitals are integral to the organizations, many hospitals still neglect to include artwork in their buildings. “Art makes a huge difference,” he says. “It gives the hospital a personality. It becomes a more exciting, more vibrant place. For staff and visitors, all of a sudden, it becomes important. It's not just a mundane, going-through-the-motions place. You go to some places and there's an energy there; there's art and energy and people [want to] come there. Then you go to another place and they've got nothing; it's a dead zone, and it just has no personality. But I think a lot of hospitals have seen the light.” HD

For more information, e-mail Prescott Sculpture at prescottstudio@gmail.com, visit http://www.prescottstudio.com, or call 505.424.8449.

Healthcare Design 2009 January;9(1):54-55