Medical pioneer brings ‘Masterworks’ to Fulginiti Pavilion, expertise to CU School of Medicine

April 27, 2017


Morton Mower, MD and his wife, Tobie Mower, are pictured in front of a painting by Claude Monet.
Morton Mower, MD, with wife Tobie Mower at an exhibit of part of their personal art collection at the Fulginiti Pavilion for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus on Thursday, March 30, 2017. Claude Monet’s, “River and Mill near Giverny,” which the impressionist painted in 1885, is among 21 works on display through late May.

In the shadows of two University of Colorado School of Medicine education buildings one can now find Chagall, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Rodin, and Sisley, among others. These are not students lounging about the green between classes, but rather works of art on display as part of the Fulginiti Pavilion for Bioethics and Humanities’ “Masterworks” exhibit.

These stunning artworks share no obvious kinship with the biomedical minutiae being hammered into so many young minds in the taller structures flanking the Fulginiti Pavilion in which the precious art temporarily hangs. And that’s the point.

The 21 impressionist and modern paintings, drawings and sculptures comprising Masterworks belong to Morton Mower, MD, a CU adjunct distinguished professor of medicine, and his wife Tobie. They have lent them for public display from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday through May 24. Masterworks is open to the public and admission is free.

Why here?

The obvious question is this: Why are creations that make art-museum-curator hearts flutter spending the better part of two months between two medical education buildings on the Anschutz Medical Campus?

Simple, Tobia Mower said. “Medical and other students are so wrapped up in their studies that they forget about culture.” Making such works accessible, she added, can help “culture-ize students.”

The Mowers know medical education firsthand. Before moving to Colorado from Baltimore about four years ago, Morton was a longtime Johns Hopkins School of Medicine faculty member. His co-invention of the implantable cardiac defibrillator and, later, cardiac resynchronization therapy, saved and improved many lives while enabling the financial wherewithal to invest in art. Tobie was a nurse for 25 years with a focus on addiction medicine, and she founded Jewish Recovery Houses in Baltimore. Their daughter Robin graduated from the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science and is now a clinical oncology pharmacist at Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver. It was through Robin that the Fulginiti Pavilion exhibit came to be.

Marc Chagall's painting, "Solomon and the Queen of Sheba," is pictured.
Marc Chagall’s “Solomon and the Queen of Sheba” hangs among “Masterworks” by Ferdinand Leger and Henri Matisse.

She and ex-husband David Thompson, associate dean for academic affairs and an associate professor at the School of Pharmacy, suggested that, as Tobie put it, “You guys aren’t getting and younger. It’s time for you to move here.”

The Mowers did. Morton, now 84, was interested in working with CU Cardiology and other faculty on research related to the electrophysiology of not only the heart, but also of other organs.

Electricity’s role in pacing the heart is well-understood, he said. But it looks like putting electricity into the pancreas, for example, and into other tissues can have benefits, too, such as causing to stem cells to migrate to those areas, he said.

“These are all electrical phenomena,” Mower said. “This is totally new.”

In addition to Thompson, the CU faculty involved include pulmonologist David Schwartz, MD and cardiologists Peter Buttrick, MD, and William Sauer, MD, Mower said. They all practice at UCH.

Léger at the bar

The Mowers brought along their art. They had started collecting in the mid-1990s. Their timing was auspicious. Japanese banks, which had filled their vaults with world-class art collected as collateral after that country’s bubble burst in the late 1980s and early 1990s, were quietly selling collections, Morton Mower said.

They had lent out parts of their collection to university galleries before; Thompson connected them with the leadership of the CU Center for Bioethics and Humanities overseeing the Fulginiti Pavilion. The Mowers invited them to their Denver condominium. Tess Jones, PhD, who directs the Arts and Humanities in Health Care Program at the Center for Bioethics and Humanities, recalled the experience.

This photo shows a sculpture by August Rodin and lithographs by Henri Matisse.
August Rodin’s Standing Faun (1897) bronze sculpture at the “Masterworks” exhibit of the Mower collection at the Fulginiti Pavilion. In the background are Henri Matisse lithographs.

“We walk in and we’re standing there and Tobie offers us coffee, and the first thing I see are two Warhols and that Léger,” Jones said, motioning toward Composition with Dancer on the Fulginiti Pavilion gallery wall. “It was at the end of the bar.”

Above the fireplace hung a Monet, a Renoir and a Pissarro. Outside the bathroom, a Degas. Outside the bedroom, a Chagall. And so on.

Simon Zalkind, the Center for Bioethics and Humanities’ curator of exhibitions, was there, too. At first, he said, he was surprised. But then he thought about it and realized that these monumental artists didn’t create their works for the rarefied museums in which they so often have come to reside. Rather, these works were at home in a home.

“They were meant to be lived with,” Zalkind said.

Together with the Mowers, they narrowed it down to the 21 works now in the exhibit. Zalkin printed out postage-stamp-size versions of the individual works and arranged and rearranged them on a printout of the Fulginiti gallery’s floor plan until he was satisfied. The Fulginiti Pavilion soon had its 16th exhibit.

Art at the heart

It turns out that the Mowers’ belief in the importance of art and culture to the medical profession dovetails with the driving ethos of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities. The pavilion itself, opened in 2008 and built with $4.5 million in private donations, aims to provide vital doses of humanism to medical trainees and professionals so often swamped in the details of modern care.

The Anschutz Medical Campus is at the forefront of medical technology, says Matthew Wynia, MD, MPH, who directs the center. But, he adds, technology alone can’t answer the most difficult questions facing physicians, nurses and other providers, the sorts of questions that reach beyond what medical experts can do and into what they should do. Think end-of-life care. Think genetic engineering for enhanced intelligence or athletic excellence. Think human cloning. These are questions in which art, literature and music can serve as vital windows into the human condition, which in turn can help the field of medicine find better answers, Wynia says.

The art such as that now on display in the Fulginiti Pavilion, Zalkind added, “represents the highest appreciation of what it might mean to be a person.”

There’s more to come in a few months. In September, the same gallery will host the Mowers’ collection of Rembrandt etchings.

“It’s great to be able to show it,” Tobie Mower said.




About the author

Todd Neff has written hundreds of stories for University of Colorado Hospital and UCHealth. He covered science and the environment for the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and has taught narrative nonfiction at the University of Colorado, where he was a Ted Scripps Fellowship recipient in Environmental Journalism. He is author of “A Beard Cut Short,” a biography of a remarkable professor; “The Laser That’s Changing the World,” a history of lidar; and “From Jars to the Stars,” a history of Ball Aerospace.