The healing trees
Artist Tom Moberg has been fascinated with nature, especially trees, since childhood, and for more than thirty years these ancient symbols of life have inspired his art. In fact, trees of various shapes, sizes, and textures have been the focus of his artwork throughout his career. Today, his “healing trees” and landscapes offer a sense of hope to people in healthcare facilities throughout the country.
The father of eight children, Moberg works out of Moberg Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in Des Moines, Iowa, where he also resides. His artistic community includes his wife and daughter-in-law, both named Jackie, and son, TJ, also an artist. The gallery, located near the state capitol, represents artists throughout the Midwest. Moberg began creating sculpted landscape for the healthcare field nearly twenty years ago and, with encouragement and assistance from family members, especially TJ, now has clients nationwide.
Moberg specializes in sculpting three-dimensional plaster landscapes. His “healing trees” capture the natural lines of a tree, from its trunk to its more delicate branches and leaves. The artist's creative use of specialized lighting in his artwork produces dramatic shadows that bring his textured scenes to life. Branches grow out and through the interior and exterior walls of the hospitals, hospices, and medical offices where his artwork is showcased, generating a sense of warmth and mystery.
“I don't try to recreate nature with my artwork,” Moberg says in explaining his simple artistic philosophy. “I try to suggest nature by creating an illusion that makes people feel like they are walking into a new experience. Patients, their families, and caregivers all seem to welcome the visual and emotional stimulation my trees and landscapes offer.”
For many, including patients and healthcare workers at Hospice of Pella in Pella, Iowa, the “healing tree” is more than an illusion. Moberg's artwork has been so well-received by those who experience it that the Pella Regional Health Center may soon commission the design and installation of a second tree, according to hospice manager Lori Bishop, RN.
“We call our hospice The Comfort House, and Tom's artwork, designed in 2003, is called The Donor Tree,” Bishop explains. “We wanted a piece of art that makes patients feel at home, and the connection with nature in Tom's work is spiritually important to us. The seasons of life are reflected in the seasons of a tree, and family members donating in memory of a loved one can't wait to get a leaf to put on our tree.”
The colorful Donor Tree extends from an interior wall located near the patient rooms. Laser-cut leaves made of tin, brass, and copper are each engraved with the names of individual donors; brass plates in the roots of the tree are engraved with the names of major donors.
Moberg works closely with healthcare clients at the initial consultation where concepts and subject matter are thoroughly discussed. He collaborates on a design that is appropriate for each client's organization by studying the physical requirements of each facility and presenting sketches of possible designs.
Once engaged, Moberg begins each project with a site survey and sketches. Using chalk, he draws his initial concept on a wall and, when necessary, makes immediate design alterations. He installs metal mesh in the wall to provide structural support for the branches and also at the base of his artwork where rock formations create a three-dimensional effect. Using his hands, he places plaster on the metal mesh supports where textured branches will appear, allows time for the plaster to harden, and begins to shape each “living tree” according to its unique design. Painting and lighting complete each project.
Moberg says his greatest artistic gift is “his gift of perception” and that his work “is all about texture.” His impressionistic murals, he says, “create the realistic sensation that something is growing in and through the walls.”
In Newton, Iowa, visitors entering Hunter Clinic are immediately drawn to the tranquility of Moberg's tree and landscape as it extends toward them from a wall as they enter the building. Located behind a reception counter, staff say patients find the artwork—a tree on the bank of a rushing stream—“calming and soothing” and that “people drive by at night to look in and see the artwork.”
Moberg's most recent landscape project—an exterior atrium sculpture—was completed last year at the Mercy Cancer Center, operated by North Iowa Mercy Medical Center in Mason City, Iowa.
Dr. Martha Ryan, one of six physicians employed at the Mercy Cancer Center, originally donated money to build an exterior garden in memory of her late husband, who died in 1970. A Japanese-style garden was designed and installed; however, plans for a later expansion of the cancer center required a replacement strategy. Dr. Ryan discussed a number of options with an employee of a local landscape company who, in turn, referred her to Moberg Gallery for more ideas.
“I fell in love with his landscapes,” Dr. Ryan recalls, “and our foundation approved plans for a wall sculpture to be built on an exiting outside wall. Once completed, patients and staff described the artwork as ‘gorgeous, beautiful, and unique.’ I think the artwork lends itself to a calm peacefulness, a simple beauty, and takes away the stark institutional reality of a cancer-treatment setting. Tom's work offers serenity and peace at a time when patients feel pretty chaotic about all the issues that go along with cancer treatment.”
Dr. Ryan's experience with Moberg at Mercy Cancer Center demonstrates the increasing importance healthcare administrators and providers place on artwork as part of a patient's healing process. The “healing trees,” as their name suggests, and Moberg's dramatic landscapes, provide a traditional, easily accessible symbol of hope and renewal to all, even when the situation seems hopeless.
For Moberg, whose childhood drawings of nature and trees led to an artistic career, the creation and installation of each “healing tree” and landscape offers inspiration and a sense of wonder: “I get a surge of creativity when I walk into a room and see a space in which I'll be creating a sculpture. These large, open spaces can be so exhilarating, and my mind races with ideas about how to create a warm, timeless piece of art that will have a positive effect on the lives of others.” HD
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