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The northwest Wisconsin artist will design the sculpture for Essentia Health’s Vision Northland project

The sculpture will reside at the replacement hospital’s patient drop-off point on Second Street

Essentia Health is proud to announce that award-winning artist and Drummond, Wisconsin resident Sara Balbin, Dragonfly Studios resident, will create a signature sculpture to welcome patients as they enter the replacement St. Mary’s Medical Center.

The healing waters of Gitchi Gamig Balbin was awarded the contract after a national search for artists with connections to the Essentia service area was conducted by Integrated Art Group.

Essentia’s interior design committee for the Vision Northland project, along with the art consultant Integrated Art Group of Madison, Wisconsin, oversaw the selection process. Following an in-depth analysis of the candidates, including presentation of drawings, concepts, models and personal interviews, the leaders of Essentia were recommended an artist and their vision.

“I was grateful to be rewarded with this project,” Balbin said. “It felt right and the decision hit home. I intentionally went to the shores of Lake Superior to receive the news. It was both a homecoming and the culmination of my artist’s journey ”.

Named “The Healing Waters of Gitchi Gamig,” Balbin’s artwork draws on local history, including Anishinaabe culture, while drawing inspiration from Lake Superior, wave images, rock mounds and more.

(Please note that “The Healing Waters of Gitchi Gamig” is the correct name of the sculpture.)

Although Balbin has been an artist for decades, she was forced to apply for this particular piece for two reasons: her “Water Trilogy Series” which includes flowing, healing and living waters and her health experience at Essentia.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021 and received most of my treatment in Essentia,” Balbin said. “Every staff member, nurse and doctor I met on my journey to remission touched me and gave me hope.”

Balbin said those meetings will not be forgotten and is dedicating this piece to the kindness and patience of caregivers.

“Their support was an important part of the reason for my recovery and my positive outcome,” said Balbin. “I am so grateful to them for their management, teamwork and sacrifices.”

He also attributes his recovery, in part, to his work and designing this piece for Essentia.

“Designing the sculpture during chemotherapy and radiation allowed me to take my mind off the negativity of the disease,” said Balbin. “As a sculptor and art therapist, I understand that part of the healing process is being involved and creative and producing something beautiful and enjoyable that gives good feelings for healing.”

Balbin said the sculpture forms waves that reflect the grace, beauty and power of Lake Superior while symbolizing the healing properties. He hopes that those who pass by when they enter or leave the hospital will find peace, comfort and hope.

The multi-tiered sculpture will have a heart-shaped base to symbolize Essentia’s healing mission. The cairns, which are an integral part of the meaning of the sculpture, represent an orientation guide for patients on their path to health and well-being. They provide the assurance to those who enter that they are on the right track.

The artwork will be illuminated at night so that it can be viewed at any time of day. It will be about 10 feet tall, 12 feet wide and five feet deep. The body of the sculpture will be in stainless steel, a beautiful and practical material that does not require maintenance

This new work of art does not replace Paul Granlund’s existing “Lofting” family sculpture that has welcomed patients for years at the patient depot near the Miller Dwan Building. Instead, it will be a compliment, with the two sculptures standing about 95 feet apart.

Balbin is currently working on the sculpture. Installation is scheduled for spring 2023.

Balbin has owned and operated Dragonfly Studios since 1987. His work can be seen in Wisconsin and Minnesota in museums, colleges, government buildings, tribal entities and more. A certified art therapist, she has also been recognized for her work to help connect people with disabilities to art resources.

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