Artist clear-cuts hospital mural, Hospital administrators ‘appalled’ at artist’s actions
August 12, 2003
Two years ago, Erik Holland volunteered to paint a mural in the halls of Tahoe Forest Hospital. In the depiction of an old-growth red fir forest, Holland wrote two cryptic messages in the trees.
One read: “Stop clear-cutting.” The other: “Sierra Pacific, don’t destroy the Sierra Nevada.”
Two years later, hospital administrators have decided to paint over the mural. However, first they told Holland, a 44-year-old Reno resident, to remove his messages from the mural on the second-floor wall, but Holland had his own plan.
“I’m going to give them what they want: a clear-cut forest. I’m going to turn those trees into stumps,” Holland said on Monday.
Hospital administrators told Holland to remove the hidden text after a family member of an employee of Sierra Pacific called the hospital, upset with the painting’s messages. Hospital auxiliary member and art chair Marjorie Woodbridge told Holland he had one week to remove the text.
The auxiliary is in charge of the mural project. The murals were painted on the walls because fire code would not allow hanging art in the upstairs floors of the hospital, Woodbridge said.
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“We make it very clear with the artwork we display: nothing religious, nothing political, nothing naked,” Woodbridge said. “Environmental politics don’t really have a place in the hospital; it’s all about healing.”
Holland contends that the hospital auxiliary OK’d his mural – including the message – when he created it in 2001.
So on Friday afternoon, armed with a paintbrush, Holland set out for Tahoe Forest Hospital’s second floor.
Holland figured someone would tell him to stop, he said, so he knew he had to “rapidly take the trees out.”
“This is definitely one of the crazier things I’ve done in my life,” he said as he got to work.
Someone had already painted over the “Stop clear-cutting” message but not the reference to Sierra Pacific.
Twenty minutes later, most of the giant red firs in the painting were stumps, and Holland had received no admonition for painting over his old work, save for a frown from one hospital employee.
Thirty minutes into his work, another hospital employee stopped to watch as Holland painted “Don’t worry, I’ll replant” in large white letters on the mural, promising that he will repaint the mural to the original composition if the hospital administration would allow him.
“I admire this painting every day,” the hospital employee said. “I never noticed the message (in the trees).”
After adding and then removing a gated community from the mural (“I don’t want to jumble up my message,” Holland said while painting over the homes), Holland decided it was time to walk away from his art.
In 45 minutes, Holland had turned his red fir forest into a half-barren landscape.
Before he walked away, he left a note for Woodbridge: “Dear Marjorie, I imagine the changes will upset you. I will repaint the mural to its original if you are still speaking to me. Erik.”
After the weekend, hospital administrators noticed the changes in the painting and said they planned on painting over it immediately.
“We didn’t know the artist had placed a political message in the mural,” said Tahoe Forest Hospital CEO Robert Schapper on Tuesday morning. “Effectively, we’re going to paint over it. We’re appalled that the artist would do what he has done.”
“It’s disappointing that members of the community would deface the hospital,” he added. “[The mural] should be gone today.”
After the weekend, Holland said he regretted what he did to Woodbridge and the hospital auxiliary and that he didn’t spend more time making his mural look more “artistic.” That day he returned to his mural, still on the wall as he’d left it, and touched up the paint on the stumps and sky.
Despite his regrets with the mural, Holland said the incident has revamped his interest on clear-cutting issues.
A professional artist, political cartoonist and teacher, Holland said he has been involved in logging issues for years. He even ran for the Alaskan House of Representatives in 1996 on a platform that was for limited logging but against clear-cutting. He hasn’t been active in forestry issues since 2000.
“Basically I’m going to reinject myself back into the process,” Holland said. “That’s the irony: If they wanted to get me moving again, they did it.”