Nursing As Art

April 27th, 2012


By , BSN, RN

Many people will tell you there is a real art to nursing, but did you know that there is a lot of nursing in art? Around the world and through the ages nurses in one form or another can be found in paintings, sculptures and photographs.

I got to thinking about this today when I saw a news story about a famous statue, designed from a famous photo. That statue is in need of some repairs after it was involved in a motor vehicle accident recently.

The Famous photo is called “V-J Day in Times Square” or “The Kiss” and it was taken by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt on August 14, 1945, in New York City. I think, pretty much everyone has seen this picture somewhere. The photo was published in Life magazine along with many others celebrating the victory of the Allies over Japan as World War II was ending. The photograph became a cultural icon overnight.

Not quite as iconic, and some critics will say not art, is a sculpture by J. Seward Johnson, which references the historic photo. Named “Unconditional Surrender," and standing 25 feet tall, the statue has been on display at Sarasota, Florida’s Bayfront for quite a while. Right now, however, the sailor is nursing some wounds.

On Thursday afternoon, the famous sailor “sustained a shattered right foot, a deformed right leg and a stress fracture up to his waist after an encounter with a runaway car,” it was reported in the Miami Herald.

“The crash had occurred around noon when a 60-year-old woman traveling north on U.S. 41 jumped the median and crashed into the statue, said Lt. Ken Rainey, a Sarasota Police Department shift commander.”

Now, the famously smooching couple is taking a rest, lying on its side in a grassy area about 50 feet from the accident site waiting for some cosmetic surgery. They should be back up and greeting visitors in no time.

There are many other famous statues about nurses and nursing around the world, commemorating famous individual nurses from Florence Nightingale to Clara Barton and beyond. But let me introduce you to two of my favorites, both found in Washington, D.C.

Called “America’s Most Hallowed Ground,” Arlington National Cemetery bears witness to our American heritage and the military service and sacrifice of men and women in uniform throughout our history. There are many sections within the cemetery that honor specific dead such as Civil War, Spanish American War and even more specifically, nurses.

Against a background of evergreens, the heroic-size white marble figure looks out upon the Army, Navy and Air Force nurses who so valiantly earned their right to lie at Arlington. The granite statue of a nurse in uniform, sculpted by Frances Rich, honors the nurses who served in the U.S. armed forces in World War I, many of whom rest among the hundreds of nurses buried in Section 21 — also called the "Nurses Section."

On July 13, 1970, Navy Capt. Delores Cornelius, deputy director of the Navy Nurse Corps, requested authority to install a bronze plaque over the existing inscription on the Nurses Monument. The inscription at that time simply read "Army and Navy Nurses." Authority was granted Nov. 20, 1970, to place a 12-inch-by-18-inch bronze plaque over the carved inscription. The inscription, in raised letters, on the plaque reads:

This Monument Was Erected in 1938

and Rededicated in 1971

To Commemorate Devoted Service

To Country and Humanity By

Army, Navy, and Air Force Nurses

She is elegant in her simplicity and soothing in her own way, as she keeps watch over the many nurses who have given their lives while serving their country.

Certainly less serene is the statue which commemorates the estimated 11,500 American women who served in Vietnam.

Efforts to put a woman's statue at the Vietnam memorial site began in 1984, with the establishment of the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project. On June 15, 1988, the U.S. Senate approved the addition of a "woman's statue," possibly based on Roger Brodin's model of a young woman in combat fatigues cradling a helmet. The statue was to be sited in Arlington Cemetery. In 1990, a nationwide competition was held, sponsored by the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project.

Glenna Goodacre, sculptor, won the competition with her dramatic and pain filled depiction of three female nurses assisting a wounded male soldier on the battlefield. A standing African-American female figure looks towards the sky. Another female figure kneels to her proper right, holding the soldier's helmet. The third female figure sits on a stack of sandbags with the wounded soldier lying across her lap.

It is touching and powerful and in the shadow of the remarkable Vietnam Veterans Memorial, known to many as “The Wall” it is a poignant reminder of the work performed by nurses in battle.

As I said at the beginning these are just a few of the depictions of nurses in art. They are powerful, and painful, and sometimes joyous. They reflect the good, the bad and to coin a phrase, the ugly of what nurses do every day, whether on the front lines or at home, caring for the ill and injured.

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