It took thousands of bricks to build the new 12-story Le Bonheur Children's Hospital at the corner of Dunlap and Poplar, a $340 million project made possible by local donors.
Now the people and companies who helped fund construction are honored in the lobby of the facility with a permanent art installation featuring nearly a thousand precariously stacked wooden blocks.
Ben Butler, a local artist and sculpture professor at Rhodes College, has been putting the finishing touches on his donor recognition wall for the past several weeks, marking the conclusion of his nearly eight month project.
The wall of hundreds of irregularly shaped blocks, constructed from mahogany, sapele, and oak, are stacked upon one another in a way that looks like a rugged and fantastical mountain range crafted by an imaginative youngster. And that's certainly the desired effect, Butler said.
"There's a thread in my work that's kind of playful in a sophisticated way. I think it stands out. There's a lot of great art [in Le Bonheur], but often our preconceptions of what kind of art belongs in a children's hospital is kind of simplistic — bright colors and simple forms."
Butler said the wall serves as a visual metaphor recognizing that donations to the hospital were the building blocks that made the physical building possible. The hospital's new location opened in December.
"Ben's piece has this unexpected, whimsical, and child-like component to it," said volunteer Linda Hill, who's heading a project to fill Le Bonheur's halls with original, local artwork. "Ben's work is so elegant, involved, and sophisticated. Kids just want to go and hold on to it and be a part of it."
Block sizes, ranging from roughly a few square inches to three square feet, correspond to the amount donated. For example, the Urban Child Institute has the largest block. It donated $25 million toward Le Bonheur's fund-raising campaign. Other blocks recognize FedEx, Harold Ford Sr., the Hyde Family Foundation, and Smith & Nephew, among others.
"It's an inversion of the traditional donor recognition wall," Butler said. "Normally, you have the big donors on top, and these various categories going down. I needed to stack the large blocks at the bottom, and those recognize the larger donors: the metaphorical foundation of the hospital.
"There's less of a hierarchy [of high-paying donors], because every donor is important. Every donor has their place, and in a way, if any one of them were removed, you get the sense that the entire wall would topple," Butler continued.
Butler's donor recognition wall joins more than 200 pieces of art created for Le Bonheur by regional schoolchildren and professional artists. Hill said the hospital plans to create a recorded phone message visitors can call for a guided tour of the art collection.