Mayo art for the heart
Laura Tanna LETTER FROM LAURA
It's hard to imagine Rochester, Minnesota, near the American Great Lakes as a 'frontier town', but that's what it was in 1863 when an English immigrant doctor brought his wife, son, and two daughters to live there. A second son was born to the couple and eventually Dr William Worrall Mayo and sons, Dr Charles Horace Mayo and Dr William James Mayo, joined forces with the Sisters of St Francis to open what has become the internationally renowned Mayo Clinic which is celebrating its 150th anniversary.
Many have heard of the medical expertise which attracts patients worldwide, but unless you personally visit the numerous buildings which comprise the medical complex, you may not know that five generations of Mayo doctors considered the arts as an important aspect of a patient's healing process.
Soaring above the Nathan Landrum Atrium inside the Gonda Building is the Man and Freedom Statue created by Yugoslavian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic in 1954, at his studio on the Notre Dame University campus in Indiana. A peasant sheepherder, born in Croatia in 1883, he managed to study at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and work in Rome before his family came to America.
Mestrovic meant this work to celebrate symbolically the Croation/Serbian overthrow of domination by the Austro-Hungarian empire. Mestrovic explained his work by saying: "To all living beings ... individual freedom is the most precious, free not only physically but spiritually as well." As a patient walks across the atrium expanse, viewing the 28-foot, 6,900-pound cast bronze sculpture with hands outstretched towards the heavens, one's spirits are lifted, no matter how burdensome one's own illness might be.
Often, the sound of live piano music played on a grand piano wafts through the marble-floored atrium, two storeys high, with a wall of glass overlooking a flower garden. Connecting the Gonda, Mayo and Charlton buildings, this atrium is a spiritually uplifting experience. Over to another side of the Gonda Building is the Mayo Nurses' Atrium, where 13 blue, green, and gold glass chandeliers by artist Dale Chihuly are suspended in all their glory. Six thousand pounds, 1,375 pieces of glass spread across 45 feet of ceiling reflect light from picture windows.
Take the elevator, and on every floor you'll find something beautiful. Among my favourites are 16th- and 17th-century ceramic tiles from Syria and the Ottoman Empire, a gift of the Al-Bahar family of Kuwait. There are cabinets of 16th through 20th-century Chinese ceramics, porcelain table settings from The White House - gifts from grateful
patients and benefactors across all cultures. Self-guided audio tours for patients and their guests are available Mondays to Fridays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., in the lobby of the Gonda Building, Tel: 507-266-2066, while a guided art and architecture tour is offered Mondays to Fridays from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. You may call 507-284-0239 for more information.
Flying into Rochester, one views farmland, rectangles of green fields, straight roads, meandering rivers and, on every farm, a barn, shiny metal silo and tall, bulbous water tank. Driving in from the small airport past fields of corn, one is confronted with a giant painted ear of corn protruding into the Rochester skyline, at night aglow with a red light.
Downtown itself is surprisingly scruffy, but in the suburbs, one finds lovely homes and gardens. RochesterMNtours.com Tel: 507-421-0573 offers guided trolley rides to visit the town's highlights, one of which you'll want to return to separately: historic Mayowood Mansion.
The Mayowood Estate started as Dr Charles Horatio Mayo's 340 acres in 1907 and developed into 3,300 acres with eight farms, stables, a zoological garden and a greenhouse. He and wife, Edith, completed the stone, concrete and tile mansion in 1911 and their eldest son, Dr Charles William Mayo, moved there with his wife, Alice, an artist and decorator, after his father's death in 1939.
Dr 'Chuck' and Alice gave this home and collected art and furnishings, along with 10 acres of wooded land, to the Olmsted County Historical Society. Now, the Mayo Clinic has undertaken a US$3-million restoration of the home with the historical society maintaining the artefacts and furniture.
Stone lions, the Mayo family symbol of welcome, adorn the mansion, as do photographs of everyone from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Emperor Haile Selassie to the king and queen of Nepal, as well as movie stars Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loye, and Gloria Swanson, not to mention Queen Farouk of Egypt.
Alice always set an extra two places at the large dining table, since guests were frequent. The mansion abounds with artwork and artefacts worth viewing, which also give insight into the men who created the Mayo Clinic. A huge wooden oxen yoke for two hangs on one wall, the father's way of telling his sons "you must work together", a lesson they learned so well you can see the double rocking chair on which they sat side by side on their veranda in town before their wives suggested moving apart. The Mayo brothers had not only walked to work together every morning, but the two families shared a bank account!
Thirteen baroque gilt mirrors, made in Spain, purchased in Mexico and shipped up the Mississippi River, decorate the 55-room mansion along with a 17th-century entranceway from a German castle. Waterford crystal chandeliers hang over the dining table and an antique mother-of-pearl fan once belonging to France's Empress Josephine rests on a baby grand piano. Wallpaper of a Tuscan countryside covers a bathroom wall while a Tiffany lunar grandfather clock keeps time. The excellent guides at Mayowood can give you all the details. They are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays to Saturdays and are closed on holidays.
Plummer House of the Arts is another historic venue of interest in the suburbs, while in downtown Rochester, near the clinic and hotels, is my favourite restaurant, Sontes, Tel: 507 292 1628. Founded by Tessa Leung and her husband from Hong Kong, their sophisticated wine bar and tapas serve as an art gallery with works for sale.