Blue Lady Sculpture

January 2015

Blue Lady, by Barbara Kaufman
The "Blue Lady" sculpture by Barbara Kaufman stands beneath the trees outside the Main Dining Room.

Last April the "Blue Lady" sculpture, which stood outside the Main Dining Room at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center was vandalized and according to Director of Safety and Security Dan Dahmen, they still do not know who damaged the sculpture.

Following an extensive restoration that lasted through the summer and fall, the Blue Lady, donated to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in 1995 by the artist Barbara Kaufman in memory of her late husband Ralph, once again occupies her place beneath the trees outside the Main Dining Room. According to Marianne Barthel, Arts Program coordinator, the Blue Lady's return has restored a certain sense of continuity as well as beauty to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. "I was deeply touched by the outpouring of sentiments around the vandalism. Reports from staff and visitors came flooding in immediately after it was discovered, and people were genuinely sad that such a beloved piece of art could be the subject of someone's anger," she said when the restored Blue Lady was unveiled in November. "Once she was removed for repairs, many people who were unaware of the damage to the statue were asking where she was and what had happened. Quite a few staff members asked to be kept apprised of her reconstruction and return."

The restoration, an extensive and complicated process that took several months to complete, was overseen by artist Eric O'Leary, working with fellow artist Sheldon Austin. The pair was chosen for their familiarity with Kaufman's work—O'Leary, in fact, has known Kaufman since he was a teenager. "When I first saw how damaged the Blue Lady was, I didn't say anything but I knew it was going to be a big challenge to bring her back to the way she was," says O'Leary. "In a sense we got lucky, because we found pieces of the face. And one of the Blue Lady's eyes was still intact, so that gave us a point of reference. But we couldn't find good photographs of what the original Blue Lady looked like. That was a challenge, because in restoring the face we needed to get the surface just right, or else it would look like a new face that was just stuck on."

Austin made a rubber mold of the head, which was used to make a new head for the sculpture from a special resin that would attach to the Blue Lady's ceramic body. Before the reattachment, the body was given an acid wash to clean it, then bracing was installed inside the body followed by filling with foam to help stabilize the sculpture and prevent micro-cracks from developing.

"We're really happy with the way it came out," says O'Leary. "We were lucky to have Sheldon on this project, because his work as an ornamental plasterer in Boston is in huge demand."

Kaufman, who is now 96-years old, was present at the unveiling, along with family members. A highly regarded artist, her work has been exhibited in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, and is currently represented at the AVA Gallery in Lebanon, New Hampshire, and the Grayson Gallery in Woodstock, Vermont, as well as in private collections throughout New England, California, Florida, Canada, and Bermuda. Her studio is in Woodstock.

"From the patients who can take a walk through our beautiful grounds who come upon her, to the family members who get a much needed respite from the stress of a loved one being in the hospital, to the staff who recharge by walking these paths, the Blue Lady is a beacon of tranquility in what can often be a stressful place," commented Barthel at the unveiling. "Personally, I have walked past her many times and have been struck by her beauty and serenity. No matter what my thoughts are before I reach her, I always stop, take a deep breath and drink in her serenity."

Recognizing the value of art in the health care setting and the importance of the Blue Lady to the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center community, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center administration funded the restoration. Presently, there is no fund at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center to restore or maintain the extensive art collection on display throughout the organization, while there is an ongoing need. If you are interested in supporting the restoration or maintenance of the art collection please contact the Arts Program.