Gombert creates mural for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital

Gombert creates mural for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital 

March 21, 2018 

The walls of East Tennessee Children’s Hospital just got a little more colorful – and a lot more interesting.

 “Big Sparkly Universe,” a multicolored, rubber-stamped, 4-by-16-foot mural created by Maryville College Professor of Art Dr. Carl Gombert, was installed March 19 in the Knoxville hospital’s South Tower.

The mural, which is in a clinic lobby, consists of a myriad of small- to medium-sized rubber-stamped images arranged in colorful and complex geometric patterns, such as mandalas, stars, wheels and spirals. Rubber-stamped images include family-friendly and upbeat subjects, such as butterflies, fairies, flowers, sporting equipment, toys, animals and decorative elements.

Gombert, who has completed many public art projects in the East Tennessee area, was contacted last year by Mary Morris Arts, a Knoxville-based art advisory company that works with corporate and private collections, and asked to submit a proposal for a mural at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. The 152-bed hospital is certified by the state of Tennessee as one of four Comprehensive Regional Pediatric Centers in Tennessee. 

“It’s a site-specific piece, meaning I went to the hospital, took some measurements and photographs and looked at several possibilities for where things could go and what parameters I had to work within,” Gombert said. “We talked about several possibilities, and I submitted proposals for a couple of options – one was a narrower but taller piece, and this one was longer and shorter.”

Gombert was commissioned in December to create a continuous 4-by-16-foot image painted on two 4-by-8-foot wooden panels. An overlaying piece – a 4-foot circle – covers the seam in the middle and creates a three-dimensional appearance.

This isn’t the first rubber stamped mural created by Gombert. In 2014, Gombert created a 38-foot-long mural –  for a while, “the world’s largest rubber-stamped mural” – at Coulter Grove Intermediate School in Maryville. In 2016, he completed a 51-foot-long rubber-stamped mural at Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church.

Most of the work for the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital mural was completed in January, during Maryville College’s three-week January Term. For three months, a classroom in the Clayton Center for the Arts became his studio.

“Since I didn’t have any teaching responsibilities for those three weeks, I was in the classroom all day, every day,” Gombert said. “I started by building the panels, priming them and laying in big circular patterns of color. I eventually started rubber stamping on top of that, then glueing sparkly stuff on top of that. When it’s all filled up, it’s done.”

A fan of art that includes “mystery bonus prizes,” Gombert often creates elements that “reward the diligent viewer,” meaning the people who are willing to spend more time looking at the art can continue to find things they wouldn’t have seen before.

“I’m also intrigued with this piece in the fact that it’s in a hallway, and nobody will be able to get more than a couple feet away from it,” Gombert said. “It actually works so that people are moving past it, and it takes on a sort of time dimension that way, where they won’t be able to see it as a single whole. Instead, they’ll see one part, then move to the next part, then move to the next part, so I think that’s sort of fun. You can approach it from one end and move this way, and then you can approach it from the other end and move that way and have slightly different experiences.” 

Art of Healing Program

Gombert’s work is a part of East Tennessee Children’s Hospital’s larger “Art of Healing” program that was started when the hospital’s new South Tower was built. Donations and grants have funded the art that has been acquired for the hospital, and art has been collected from Tennessee artists to fill the halls and waiting spaces, said Carlton Long, vice president for institutional advancement at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.

“Our goal was to use art as a form of therapy and distraction for all that entered our building,” Long said. “Each time you come to our hospital, we hope that the children and their families find the art interesting to look at, uplifting and inspiring when you might be having a tough day. Any day when your child is not well is a stressful time for the family.”

Gombert, who describes the mural as “fun and playful,” said viewers can look at the mural multiple times and see different elements each time, and he hopes children who view it will enjoy playing “Where’s Waldo”-type games to find the rubber-stamped images (several of the images are one-of-a-kind), he said.

“Carl’s use of rubber stamps and colorful geometric designs will offer our families an opportunity to see something new each time they come to the facility,” Long said. “Children will be able to sit in front of his art and search for all kinds of objects. The vivid colors and shapes in his art will hopefully act as a distraction and a form of entertainment. Art has a healing side to it, and that is why we wanted to surround our families and patients with  interesting art while they are in our hospital.” 

About Carl Gombert

Gombert started taking painting lessons at the age of 14 with money he earned delivering newspapers. He earned his B.F.A. in drawing from the University of Akron, his M.F.A. in painting from Kent State University and his Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Fine Arts at Texas Tech University.

He joined the Maryville College faculty in 1993, and his areas of teaching include painting, drawing and art history. He has exhibited in more than 200 shows throughout the country.

Public Art Projects

Although the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital mural was a solo art project, Gombert and his students have been involved in many public art projects over the years:

  • “Evocation of the Smokies” is a 38-by-6-foot mural that was designed and painted by four MC art students in the Howard H. Baker, Jr. Federal Courthouse in Knoxville. The mural, which was dedicated in September 2005, features a Regionalist-style depiction of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its surrounding region.
  • “We the People,” a mural created by five MC art students, was dedicated in August 2007 in the lobby of the John J. Duncan Federal Building in Knoxville. The giant mural, measuring four feet in height and over 90 feet in length, was installed in three pieces along three second-floor walls that are open to the lobby below. The wording “We the People” appears on the middle wall, and the words to the preamble to the Constitution run the length of the mural at the bottom of the three pieces. Silhouetted against the red and white stripes of a waving American flag are 13 people of various ages participating in various activities – from fishing to building to serving in the military.
  • In 2007, 10 upper-level MC art students created a three-paneled mural for Farragut Presbyterian Church’s middle school youth meeting rooms. The mural, which was inspired by graffiti art, introduces more contemporary versions of the PC(USA) logo, emphasizes the verse from 1 Timothy 4:12 and identifies the space – “Middle School Youth.”
  • MC art students created a mural for Union Grove Middle School in 2010. The mural, which consists of 10 silhouettes of students, is roughly eight feet tall and spans 42 feet on a wall in the school’s cafeteria. The silhouettes are designed to depict middle-school-aged students who are lined up outside of the cafeteria, and each figure is unique. Above the silhouettes is the school’s mission statement, “Learning Today, Leading Tomorrow.”
  • Nine large-scale oil on canvas paintings by nine MC art students were dedicated during a ceremony in April 2012 in the Howard H. Baker, Jr. Federal Courthouse in Knoxville. Each five-foot-tall painting depicts a different wildflower that is native to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  • In summer 2014, Gombert created “the world’s largest rubber stamp mural” at Coulter Grove Intermediate School in Maryville. The mural is 38 feet, 4 inches long and is stamped with many shapes, including brooms, butterflies, gingerbread men, hawks, shoes and Mr. Spock. Gombert installed a similar piece on one of the walls in the Clayton Center for the Arts’ art and recital hall building.
  • In fall 2014 and fall 2015, students in Gombert’s Art 321: Drawing 3 class transformed blank walls in two Peninsula Hospital rooms into bright, cheerful scenes for patients and staff to enjoy. In the children’s room of the hospital, the class designed, painted and installed a mural that includes a colorful landscape scene and the C.S. Lewis quote: “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” Students also turned one of Peninsula’s rooms into an aquarium by covering the walls with large tropical fish and plants on a bright blue background.
  • In 2016, Gombert completed a 51-foot-long rubber-stamped mural at Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church.

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,154.