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Sculptor Builds Tribute to New Mexico Nurses


Artist L.C. Shank is known for making larger than life objects that speak to the human connection. The Sante Fe native is now getting ready to unveil a 12-foot-tall statue dedicated to local healthcare professionals. He was inspired to create the piece after seeing a group of nurses face off against protesters storming up to a hospital in a truck on the news.

“This young nurse came out of the building. … She stood in front of this truck in this pose, with arms crossed in front of her, her legs spread like ‘I dare you to try to run me over,’ as they were shouting at her raucously,” Shank said. “She didn’t move a muscle, and I thought, ‘This is so iconic.’ “

The statue depicts a nurse wearing a mask and scrubs. It will be cast in bronze and displayed outside the University of New Mexico’s College of Nursing. Shank said he hopes it will inspire the state’s next generation of nurses while honoring all the brave men and women who worked during the pandemic.

“It’ll be an inspiration for nursing students as well as a morale booster,” he said.

Shank created the piece using an 18-inch model, which he measured with calipers and plumb bobs to create a massive replica made of metal armature. He then covered it in clay to bring out the form and shape. He must now cut the statue into pieces to make molds with a glass shell that can withstand over 2,000 degrees F molten bronze. Once each piece has been cast in bronze, the statue will be welded together onsite at UNM.

But the artist is still raising funds to cast the statue in bronze. He recently partnered with the Sante Fe Art Institute, which will sponsor the project and help collect donations. Shank said they plan to raise $96,000 to complete the project.

“It’s a big, expensive process,” Shank said.

Once the bronze has been cast, the statue will be painted to resemble healthcare workers – scrubs and all. Shank said he wants the statue to be racially ambiguous, so nurses of all backgrounds can identify with her.

“She represents all the health care workers in New Mexico, and to me, she represents the strength and determination of the nurses that got us through the COVID-19 pandemic,” Shank said.

Dr. Barbara Damron, senior advisor to the dean of the College of Nursing, said the statue speaks to the bravery and heroism of the nurses who worked the frontlines during the pandemic.

“We work 24/7, and we save lives every day,” Damron said. “We were the ones with patients as they were struggling with COVID … before we had the vaccines and treatment.”

Like many nurses, the providers in New Mexico have had to deal with staff shortages, unsafe working conditions due to a lack of PPE, and backlash from patients who don’t believe that COVID-19 is real – all while being underpaid. Damron said the staffing issues started in the state long before the virus arrived.

“Many hospitals were employing traveling nurses and paid like $200 an hour, where the regular nurses are getting paid $35 to $45 an hour,” Damron said. “It means a lot that artists recognize all that.”

When Shank first got the idea to build the statue, he wasn’t sure where to put it. He reached out to various hospitals, including several in New York, but failed to land a deal.

He finally contacted UNM and offered to donate the piece.

“We appreciate him donating to the College of Nursing; we appreciate him recognizing the important roles nursing plays,” Damron said.

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