Sculpture Honors Nightingale, Beckons Students to the Future

Alexander B. Hamilton and Kathleen Stevens, EdD, RN, ANEF, FAAN, nursing professor, decided to honor her and her family’s legacy in nursing by working with a Western sculptor from Texas to create a bronze statue of Florence Nightingale, which will welcome students to the School of Nursing.


Alex Hamilton and Dr. Kathleen Stevens view the nine-foot wax model in the artist’s studio in Huntsville, Texas.

With a long history of nurses in her family (grandmother, aunt, sister, cousins, and younger relatives today), Kathleen R. Stevens, EdD, RN, ANEF, FAAN, believes that she stands on the shoulders of those who went before her to be able to contribute to the nursing profession. She credits her success to her family, her family legacy of nurses, colleagues, and friends. She adds that, importantly, over her 48 years of affiliation with the forward-thinking University of Texas System, she has enjoyed the liberty to push the cutting edge in health care improvement and patient safety.

“Considering the growing interest in my career-long work, I started thinking about what would encourage others to sustain the growth beyond my work. What would be a tangible reminder that the past and present are the foundation for the future?” asked Dr. Stevens, Berneice Castella Endowed Distinguished Professor in Aging Research in the School of Nursing at UT Health San Antonio.

Joined by her husband, Alexander B. Hamilton, with his wisdom and keen eye for art, this couple was sparked by the quote, “The best way to predict the future is to create it,” by Peter Drucker. The couple started thinking about establishing a tangible reminder pointing to the future. “It had to be Florence Nightingale. There is no larger image in modern health care and nursing than Florence Nightingale,” she said.

Hamilton started brainstorming with her in 2019. “I’ve been coming to this campus for over 30 years. To me, the School of Nursing building needs more character,” he said. “We came up with the idea to make these buildings distinct by featuring a bronze statue that would be special for the nursing school and the university and give it a unique identity.”

Dr. Stevens said their discussions focused on 2020, the Year of the Nurse, an international celebration based on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, who is famous for her work during the Crimean War in the 1850s. (Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Year of the Nurse now encompasses 2020 and 2021.)

“When Alex and I started thinking about a statue, we decided to find out more about Florence Nightingale,” Dr. Stevens said. “She is heralded as the founder of modern nursing but is much more than that. Today’s interprofessional health care system and hospital design continue to be influenced by Nightingale’s research on nursing and health care in the mid-1800s.”

In the spring of 2020, Alex Hamilton and Dr. Kathleen Stevens approved the exact location for the “Light the Future” bronze statue of Florence Nightingale, which will be located in front of the nursing building. The wax model with pieces missing was used for placement purposes.

“Nightingale went to the front line of the Crimean War to care for wounded soldiers and found that the sanitation conditions were dreadful,” she explained. “She gathered data and crafted charts showing that the death rate in the hospital was far worse than the death rate in the battlefield because of the infections running rampant in the hospital. Her legacy goes far beyond nursing and still resonates across all health professions today.”

As an influencer in England, Nightingale collaborated with British government officials and used statistics to prove her points. “She was an innovator, mover and shaker for public health policy. She gained access to Parliament and convinced the members to provide financial resources to clean up hospitals and establish formal training for nurses.”

“Because of her mathematical skill, Nightingale was the first woman elected into a number of statistical societies and is lauded as an early epidemiologist,” Dr. Stevens said. “In the mid to late 1800s, she was a strong and determined person whose influence is still seen in nursing, the health professions and health care systems,” she added.

Hamilton, a San Antonio native and true renaissance Texan with multiple businesses and interests, has worked with artists all his life. Across multiple levels he brought together junior and senior artists and connected them with their audiences to emphasize the impact of their unique talent on the human spirit.

“Once we decided to propose a statue of Florence Nightingale, we knew we wanted to get an old West artist who had an eye for anatomy and facial structure,” he said. “We met an artist who had a booth at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo and bought a small bronze statue of a steer head that he had done. We took it home and looked at the bone structure, nostrils and eyes and decided to ask him if he would be interested in our project. We knew we had the right artist when he said he would ‘give it a shot’.”

The artist, Rick McCumber, and his wife, Cindy, of Huntsville, Texas, came to San Antonio for an early meeting with the couple and Dean Eileen

T. Breslin, PhD, RN, FAAN. Dr. Breslin, a long-standing admirer of Nightingale, endorsed the idea of the bronze statue for the School of Nursing.

“We decided we wanted a nine-foot statue which is 150 percent of her height. Nightingale was 5’7” tall,” Hamilton explained. “We told Rick that we wanted her to stand in front of the School of Nursing building with the proper candle lantern in her right hand and her left hand beckoning students to enter their future through the School of Nursing.”

Artist Rick McCumber (right) presented the wax maquette of Florence Nightingale to Alex Hamilton at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, which is where Hamilton and Dr. Kathleen Stevens first saw McCumber’s bronze pieces.

Beginning with pencil sketches, McCumber started working on a wax maquette, which is a model for a larger sculpture. The couple travelled repeatedly to the studio in Huntsville to offer suggestions for the maquette. Once the maquette was approved, McCumber took it to Oklahoma to a company that drew the maquette with a laser and transferred it to an AutoCAD design. A 3-D laser image was created and transferred to a machine that created a nine-foot foam model,” he said. “The foam was sprayed with a waxy clay, and then it was cut into nine pieces so Rick could take it back to Huntsville. He put it back together, basically re-sculpted parts of it, and then we reviewed it and agreed on final touches.”

“We made a separate trip just to work on her face. This was a very difficult step because there are few photographs of Nightingale, especially in profile. The back of her head and scarf were particularly challenging.”

“McCumber researched Nightingale and repeatedly made detailed revisions—mostly with his fingers and few tools,” Hamilton said. “Then, all of a sudden, she was just right. Kathleen and I approved the design, and that was it. The statue was once again broken down into the nine parts so each part could be cast at the Omega Bronze foundry in Smithville, Texas.” Dr. Stevens and Hamilton were joined by several family members and friends in Smithville in November 2020 for the casting of the final piece—the head.

When all nine parts were cast, they were put back together and welded with bronze. “The welder, who is an artist in his own right, is directed by the sculptor. This step also is very meticulous,” Hamilton said. In December 2020, the statue was final.

Because of the pandemic, the statue has been stored in Smithville. The couple recently gave the go-ahead for the protective finish to be applied to the bronze statue in anticipation of outside display.

Once the design was approved, the statue was cast at the Omega Bronze foundry in Smithville, Texas.

Dr. Stevens said, “We have thoroughly enjoyed the technical details. It has been a fascinating process. It brought together art, metallurgy, science, history, and brut pouring of molten metal.”

In addition to overseeing the statue itself, the couple created the bronze statue’s name: “Light the Future” which pays homage to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem called “Santa Filomena” immortalizing Nightingale’s work during the Crimean War.

During her time in the hospital, Nightingale walked at night among the beds checking on the wounded soldiers. She held a Turkish candle lantern in her hand to shine light on the patients.

Dr. Stevens said her husband has a longtime passion for early Texas history and has a collection of antique lanterns. “He searched online and found a lantern that was authentic to Nightingale’s time. It is like an accordion with corrugated paper that folds up. You can stretch it down and light the candle inside. We made sure that detail was accurate.”

Placement of the statue will be in the area between the two nursing school buildings. An unveiling celebration is expected in the near future.

Dr. Stevens and Hamilton are saddened that McCumber, who became their friend during this very involved process, will not attend the celebration. Dr. Stevens said they learned their friend died unexpectedly on January 8, 2021. “We were stunned by Rick’s death. Alex and I sat beside each other for a day, numb and not believing it, and pondering the implications. And then we were refocused by the meaning of the statue—legacy—and decided that Rick would want us to push forward,” she added.

Recalling accomplishments of each other’s long careers, Dr. Stevens and Hamilton see their next step not as “passing the torch” but as “lighting the future.” Hamilton said the “Light the Future” sculpture was the apex of McCumber’s career as a self-taught, cowboy artist. “This will be his legacy as well. We hope his wife and family will be able to join us for the unveiling to celebrate his contribution.”

As Dr. Stevens reflects on her family legacy in nursing, Hamilton’s career accomplishments, and McCumber’s achievements as an artist, she said, “They say if you give the next generation roots and wings, you have done them well. These are the roots. We give the next generation of health care professionals roots because Florence Nightingale had such an impact on health professions. And now this art symbolizes wings for the next generation of nurses by lighting their future.”

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