Richard Whitehill stands near his "Dancing Couple"
in the University Hospital's cafeteria courtyard. The sculpture
is now part of the hospital's permanent art collection, pieces
of which are exhibited throughout the Health
U.Va.'s clock, surgeon operates as sculptor
Whitehill attended Medical
School here before joining the staff of the U.Va. Medical
Center as an orthopedic surgeon in 1978. But in all his years
of medical training, he never imagined that one of his post-M.D.
degrees would be a welding certificate, and that he'd wind up
wielding a torch as deftly as a scalpel in the prime of his professional
that's how Dr. Whitehill's dual career has taken form. Today he
splits his time between the hospital, as a spine surgeon, and
his barn-turned-studio, as a sculptor.
are definitely similarities between being a surgeon and being
a sculptor, Whitehill said: "Both deal with form." Sculptors create
form, and surgeons have to fix human ones, he said.
In his new work schedule, which took effect in July, Whitehill
performs two or three operations "from 7:30 a.m. until" on Mondays.
Tuesdays he has outpatient clinic, where he follows up with old
patients and meets new ones. Wednesday mornings are administrative
"conference days" at the Medical Center, and Wednesday afternoons
through Sundays are for sculpting.
reality is I work more than half of my time at the hospital. But
that's OK, they've been very supportive of my decision [to go
part-time], and I enjoy the collaborative nature of my surgical
work. I don't want to give up working with residents, either.
It's a lot of fun" and a good balance to the solitary nature of
sculpting, he said.
The most challenging part of his dual roles is shifting gears.
"It's difficult to clear your mind from the operation you've just
done to focusing on creating," said Whitehill, who's been keeping
a journal to pinpoint his most productive and creative times.
beams and the flair of a welder's torch are what first sparked
Whitehill's interest in welding, and subsequently sculpting. "From
my office in the old hospital, I watched construction workers
build the new hospital, and decided that I wanted to learn how
to weld." So he took a course at the Charlottesville-Albemarle
Technical Education Center in 1993. For his final project, he
sculpted his first piece, "Mr. Lambada," and has created numerous
works out of steel since then.
"provides the sculpture's armature," said Whitehill, who also
uses channel- and I-beams, steel plate and black iron pipe to
construct his creations. From the whimsical to the more serious,
Whitehill crafts both indoor and outdoor sculptures.
of his pieces are animals or sports figures, where his knowledge
of human anatomy and biomechanics comes in handy. A sports enthusiast,
Whitehill runs every day, often with residents, who meet at his
house around 6 a.m. for a four- to 12-mile run. He also skis and
was on the baseball, wrestling, track and soccer teams in high
school. The Norfolk native enjoys sailing, too, but sold his boat
a few years back to devote more time to sculpting.
Two of his pieces are on permanent display on Grounds. "Dancing
Couple" is in the courtyard of the hospital cafeteria, and "Orthopedic
Tree," the symbol for orthopedic surgery, Whitehill noted, is
at the Musculoskeletal Center at Fontaine Research Park, near
his office. Many of his other works are on display at various
homes and businesses in the Charlottesville area, including Ivy
Nursery, Brady-Bushey Ford, Atlantic Coast Athletic Club and Higher
Grounds. "My Karate Kicker' is outside of the new martial arts
studio near the Carmike Theatres," he said.
said his works have become more sophisticated as he's become more
adept at his craft. "I'm much faster now" and have developed better
designs and techniques, he said. A tree he built recently rotates
and a ballerina pirouettes, thanks to an axle bearing he bought
at an auto parts store.
if he has a favorite piece, he replied, "Yes. Whatever I'm currently
working on." Right now that happens to be "Hip Biomechanics,"
which is also the term for "the diagram all orthopedic surgeons
use when in training to determine the force that goes across the
hip joint," he explained. The piece will be part of the American
Academy of Orthopedic Surgery's inaugural art exhibition, to be
displayed in February and March at the Presidio exhibit hall in
San Francisco. "All the works in the show are by doctors or patients
who've received orthopedic care," said Whitehill, who's excited
that his work was chosen for the show, his first formal exhibition.
see some of Whitehill's work, visit: http://www.redbarnwelding.com/