When Laura Goff was contacted by the team at UT Medical Center to come up with a piece of art to honor the healthcare workers, she got to work, knowing that whatever she created would be a way to help people process their grief.
“The original concept was based on a bulletin board that the nurses would [put] post-it notes [on] anytime they were dealing with COVID patients,” Goff says. “If somebody passed, the nurses would write something on a post-it note and stick it on the bulletin board. It was a way for the nurses and doctors to kind of deal with their grief and loss and anxiety.”
The artwork took on a life of its own as Goff began conceptualizing how to represent the journey the healthcare workers were on. She brought on fellow artists Chad Lange and Kevin Johnson to help bring the vision to life. All three artists have worked together on a number of different projects.
Goff’s glasswork draws viewers’ eyes through the piece. “The glass is actually little lightboxes, and they’re small so that it invites viewers to be up close and personal, because this pandemic has hit everybody on a personal level,” she says.
Each of the lightboxes encompasses a visual, created by Goff, to represent the various stages of the pandemic. “There was a list of about 100 items that were important to the hospital,” she says, adding that they then took that list, grouped them, and eventually came up with the visuals shown in the final piece. Aspects of the virus’s life are present including its naming, the diagnostic tools used to detect it, and how the body is impacted. But it also includes aspects of the pandemic that reach beyond the body, such as the scientists meeting in search of solutions or the zoom calls that have become so frequent during the pandemic.
Goff, who has been a professional stained glass artist since 1986, began with pencil and paper, then cut the glass to size, painted each and fired them multiple times. “Each color is fired,” she says, adding later, “it’s a very intensive labor process.”
Johnson brought his ironworking talents to the piece, creating not only the structure on which the artwork hangs but also the Fibonacci spiral in the piece that represents balance and harmony. “We also created a Coronavirus, about the size of a grapefruit, and included that,” Johnson says. “And we also included a dogwood blossom that was all hand-forged.” Goff says the blossom represents that “hope is just around the corner.”
Lange created wood representations of the ups and downs of the pandemic. Lange is all too familiar with this, as his wife works at the hospital. “When it gets to its highest point, that’s where I was like, we should distress these and burn them just to kind of be representative of the stress and the pain and loss of loved ones, and the pain for the healthcare workers having to deal with all their patients passing away all the time,” he says.
All together, the piece took about four months to create. “We needed to get it done at the right time before the next wave hit,” Goff says. “The goal was to give the staff some sort of closure as well as something to look forward to.”
The piece was unveiled at the hospital in November. Goff says it has since been met with silence from its viewers. “Usually when people are quiet, they’re taking it all in, they’re processing it, they’re thinking about something. They don’t just talk a lot,” she says. “That’s a very emotional sign when people are silent.”
And for Goff, it’s emotional too: “This piece is important to me because it helps me process, helps me find and realize that there will come another balance.”