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Published November 26 2010

Essentia to keep iconic sculptures

Health care facilities in Fargo-Moorhead have been getting face-lifts lately as a result of recent mergers.

Innovis Health signs are being replaced with the logo of Essentia Health. MeritCare red is quickly giving way to Sanford blue.

But one golden icon isn’t going anywhere.

Essentia Health has no plans to take down the trio of golden sculptures that have graced the former Dakota Clinic building at 1702 S. University Drive since the mid-1970s, spokeswoman Miranda Glandt said this week.

That should come as welcome news to patients and longtime employees who have been asking whether the sculptures – often referred to as the “golden family” – will remain now that Innovis signs are being replaced to reflect the merger with Essentia, said Bob Bakkum, senior director of administrative services who oversees Essentia facilities in the metro area.

“It’s kind of become a landmark,” said Bakkum, a Moorhead native.

The sculptures depict a physician with one arm around a mother holding a baby and the other around a boy with his arm in a sling. They’re covered in 10-karat gold leaf, which has started to peel, Bakkum said.

Following is a brief history of the sculptures, compiled by Bakkum with additional material from Forum archives and Essentia Health’s website:

Dakota Clinic was founded in 1926 through a physician partnership with 10 employees. The original clinic was at 702 1st Ave. S. near Island Park.

In 1957, the clinic relocated to a new building on South University Drive. When it expanded to three stories in the late-1960s and early ’70s, the physicians wanted something other than a sign to identify it.

As Bakkum tells it, a group of Dakota Clinic physicians met with Perry Clark and Mark Nelsen from the Clark and Holman architecture firm of Fargo to discuss the project. The physicians wanted a representation of the practice of medicine that Dakota Clinic was providing.

The 14-foot pieces were designed and sculpted by Peter Eide of Design Services Associates in Fargo, with assistance from Nelsen and Larry Simpson of Design Services.

Eide applied the gold leaf in 4-inch squares mounted on paper using a slow-set adhesive, according to a Dec. 30, 1973, article in The Forum. The gold was then burnished with cotton into a permanent high sheen.

“The resin and its gold cover are impervious to heat, sun and cold,” Eide said at the time. “It will last a long, long time.”

The clinic’s director at the time, Ralph Schmierer, said the physician’s executive committee was happy with the results.

“The sculptures, along with the clinic name below them, will help visitors find us,” he said in the Forum article. “We felt the huge south elevation of the clinic addition called for something different. The architects and the artist put much early thought into what we believe will be a very pleasing result.”

Indeed, the sculptures continue to catch eyes.

Bakkum said one question he heard often when the Dakota Clinic name was changed to Innovis Health was whether the sculptures would go, too. At the time, clinic officials considered taking the sculptures down and re-covering them but decided to leave them up.

Bakkum said he’s since received a $10,000 bid to recover the sculptures with gold leaf, but a decision hasn’t been made to do so.

In the meantime, the time-tested “golden family” will continue to greet patients at the facility.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528