The intersection of art and medicine

Just south of South Loop 336 in Conroe, a dirt pathway leads from the I-45 feeder road to the site of Sam Houston State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. This highly anticipated, state-of-the-art medical school is nearing completion. By fall 2020, this building will be fully occupied, with a road leading students and faculty to their new academic home.

The 108,000 square foot, five-story facility, is nestled into the area’s heavily wooded landscape. The building houses technologically advanced instructional spaces, a teaching theater, a large active learning classroom, case-based learning team rooms, a gross anatomy lab, skills lab, and standardized patient and simulation suites. The intended design is to promote collaboration and inspire innovation with its large open spaces and natural lighting.

Complementing the facility’s cutting-edge architecture design is a new work of outdoor art to welcome students, medical professionals and employees. The sculpture, titled “Pitcher with Flowers (2014),” by internationally known sculptor James Surls, a university alumnus (’66) and former art professor, was installed on Friday, Feb. 14, after traveling from Surls’ art studio in Carbondale, CO.

This is not the first piece the university has purchased from Surls. For those familiar with his work, they may recognize the prominent 16-foot wood and steel installation titled, “Around the Flower Wall” hanging in the Gaertner Performing Arts Center lobby.

Artwork selected for the university is chosen by the SHSU Public Art Committee, in collaboration with representatives from the academic unit, in this particular case, the College of Osteopathic Medicine. After the committee process is completed, a recommendation is forwarded to President Hoyt for her final review and approval.

“During his interview with the committee, James Surls described this work as appropriate for the College of Osteopathic Medicine given the subject matter and the site,” Dean and chair of the university art committee, Ronald E. Shields said. “The external placement of the bronze statue was intentional and connects the work and the building to the surrounding landscape. To do so underscores the cycle of life and nature to the College's mission of health, wellness, and healing. It is a beautifully conceived and crafted work of art. It is a significant addition to the SHSU collection of public art works.”

According to Surls, he wants spectators to observe a nurturing image.

“The vase represents a cream pitcher which gives life to new growth. It is healthy, positive and serves a purpose,” Surls said. “The sculpture is perfect for the site and appropriate for what the building is, what it does, and what it’s supposed to do. I am really happy it is there.”