Rabbits and Imagination Abound at Sculpture Dedication

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When Dr. Hugh Thompson responded to a challenge from his former medical partner to create a sculpture for a pediatric courtyard at TMC for Children, he had to puzzle for a bit over what to create.

At the dedication ceremony Monday of the bronze “I Spy a Rabbit, Do you?”  Thompson explained he wanted something interactive – something that evoked the Sonoran Desert, but that also would encourage kids to touch and mull and ponder.

And clearly not just kids. Jenny Baumgartner, the assistant manager for patient care in the pediatric unit, said she’s come out to the courtyard a number of times to do the mental gymnastics the work inspires.

For example, Thompson used the negative space of the piece to conjure up a rabbit. Children can trace routes to help “lost” babies reunite with their families and can guess which embedded footprints belong to which animals. Children can figure out how the rabbit got off course and think about what the race has to say about being a winner.

The sculpture sits in the courtyard that carries the name of Dr. Harold Willingham and his wife, Nancy, who provided financial support for the outdoor play area. Dr. Willingham said not only is the sculpture a nice tribute to Thompson’s father, a pediatrician who had strong ties to TMC for much of his career, but noted he appreciated the thought that went into it. “Children are smarter than we are, so they’ll be able to figure it out,” he quipped.

Thompson, who took up working on sculptures in 2000 after he retired, said the piece is kid-tested and approved, noting his grandchildren explored the piece and counted 30 rabbits.

Thompson’s neighbor and sculpting mentor, Merlin Cohen, said he watched his friend labor for two years on what was supposed to be a six-month project. It was Cohen who suggested, when Thompson was struggling with carving the detailed small animals, that he shape them in dental wax.  “Everything had to be perfect before he would move on to the next step,” Cohen said, adding he has rethought his “rabbit’ mentality while watching the project unfold.

It was also a learning experience for Thompson, who donated another piece to TMC Hospice as well. “Projects like this teach me a lot about patience,” he said.

Maureen Warwick, the director of women’s and children’s services , noted that when her son was sick in the hospital, he remembered playing outside. “The stuff that’s painful and hard fades away, and they remember everything that’s special,” Warwick said. The courtyard not only houses laughing children, but offers a place of respite for staff as well, she said. “We’re extremely blessed.”

Thompson’s current work traces the cycle of life, showing that every obstacle is an opportunity in disguise.

Sometimes it just takes a little dental wax.

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