The Gift was commissioned as a thanksgiving for those "who have given the precious gift of life" as organ donors.
As the sculpture developed, although I felt that "the gift" should be seen as potentially passing either way between the two figures, it seemed to me that the woman had adopted a pose suggestive of that relating to receiving the sacrament during the Eucharist, and it struck me that the words from that service – “though we are many, we are one body” – might be seen as singularly appropriate with regard to organ donation, and I placed them on one side of the block. On the other side are John Donne’s words, taken from a devotional work he wrote when very ill, and which emphasize the importance of the relationship and interdependence of humanity – “no man is an island entire of itself”. If such implications within this work encourage anyone to join the organ donation register it will have been a success. To that extent, perhaps it already has, since I have signed up to the register myself. So many of us have never done so simply because we have not been put in a situation that has induced us to think about it.
In addition to the importance of organ donation, the commissioning committee stressed the value of producing something that might in some way be a comfort to those who suffer the distress or anxiety that can go hand in hand with a hospital situation. The importance of that need was further brought home to me by Richard Corke’s informative and thought-provoking book The Healing Presence of Art, which places hospital art from the Renaissance to the present day in a historical context, looking at the way it has served different needs over time, yet with an overriding and atemporal significance suggested in the title. At the beginning, Richard Corke says:
“Across the world, there is an ever-increasing awareness that art can do an immense amount to humanise our hospitals, alleviate their clinical harshness and leave a profound, lasting impression on patients, staff and visitors. Hospitals can undoubtedly do more to look after the whole person, not just the patient’s bodily ailment. Many critical moments in our lives occur there, from birth through to death, and they deserve to take place in surroundings that honour their true significance.”
Perhaps today, with the marvellous advances of modern medicine, it is all too easy to forget that hospitals are still places where life and death meet. When I was interviewed for this commission, I was taken into the hospital chapel where I saw a little tree with cards attached to the branches bearing the names of children who had died in childbirth. It would have been incredibly moving had there been only one name, but there were so many. It has been a huge challenge to produce a sculpture that could even approach the chaplain's work of art in its intensity and value, and to honour the significance of those “moments in our lives” of which Richard Corke speaks.