August 10, 2023

New Mural in The Orthopaedic and Spine Hospital at UAMS Brightens Lobby

By Ben Boulden

UAMS College of Medicine student Alexa Pearce’s creative and academic lives intersected this summer, resulting in the creation of a vibrant, 40-by-8-foot mural on an interior wall of The Orthopaedic and Spine Hospital lobby.

The idea of the mural was born when C. Lowry Barnes, M.D., chair of the UAMS Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, was at her family’s home and saw her paintings on the walls there.

Alexa’s father is Charles Pearce, M.D., assistant professor in the UAMS Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and a sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon. The Barnes and Pearce families have known each other for a long time, said Alexa, who graduated from New York University with a degree in art history.

Barnes and her father proposed that she paint a mural to brighten the lobby of the new hospital, then in its earliest phases of construction, she said. So she came up with a design and sent it to Barnes.

Charles Pearce said he, Barnes and the department’s faculty all want to make use of Arkansas artists and their work where possible in the new hospital, adding that much of the art is built around the theme of bodies in motion.

Alexa said in her first year as a medical student she did many medical illustrations.

“I’ve done several medical illustrations for the Joint Replacement research team at UAMS, and I also sold anatomical paintings on my old Etsy shop called ‘Ligament Lex.’” Alexa said. “One of the unsold paintings I donated to the anatomy department last year, and it now hangs outside the cadaver lab.

Those efforts combined with the theme of bodies in motion and input from her father led her to the idea of a mural depicting human bones in motion.

Her first renderings used more muted colors, but her father urged her to take a bolder, more playful approach in terms of the color palette and style, which she did. After she submitted the design, the process slowed and Alexa had to wait for construction work on the lobby to finish.

Months later, when the building project was closer to completion, discussion of the mural resumed. Alexa again started talking about the proposed mural with Paul Stover, MBA, who asked for some small revisions to the design. Stover is the assistant vice chancellor for clinical administration. Once the design was finalized, Alexa started devising a plan for painting it.

Instead of projecting her design on the wall and tracing the lines and shapes in the projected image as some muralists do, Alexa decided to map out a grid on the sheetrock of the wall in chalk, and then overlay a grid on the image of the design on her iPad. That allowed her to paint the mural square by square, referring frequently to the digital image for guidance. The work took her about 95 hours over two weeks before it was done. Although complete, the mural is as of now untitled.

“I am happy with it. I could have worked on it for the rest of my life, if I had let myself. At a certain point though, I had to say to myself, ‘No more,’” she said.

While she was painting, Alexa said patients and their family members would stop to ask questions about the mural and even take photos.

“Feedback has been good so far,” she said. “I like hearing how other people are interpreting it. I had patients come up while I was painting and were excited by it. Maybe it provides some relief for a moment to people coming into the hospital. It’s been very positive.”

TOSH Mural Alexa

Over the course of 95 hours and about two weeks, Alexa Pearce completed the painting of this wall mural at UAMS. The bones of a human torso are shown as part of the mural to her right.