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Sonoma Stories: Capturing an institution in its best light

  • Thomas 'Mas' Giansante, assistant chief engineer facilities management at Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa, painted the historic old hospital campus on Chanate Road. The painting now hangs at the hospital's new campus, along River Road near Highway 101. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

The love Thomas “Mas” Giansante feels for the worn and soon-to-be-vacated Sutter Hospital building — previously home to Community Hospital and, originally, to Sonoma County Hospital — is not the love of a plant engineer.

Giansante knows and maintains and appreciates the boilers and the pipes and wiring and bones of the structure on Chanate Road, the heart of which dates to the mid-1930s. But it’s the artist within the hospital’s assistant chief engineer that connects most potently with the bronze-doored old beauty.

A Sutter employee the past eight years, Giansante recalled, “As soon as I walked through those doors I thought, ‘I love this building.’ Little did I know I’d be painting it so much. It became my favorite muse.”

By “painting it,” he does not mean applying fresh colors to the walls, but creating a series of affectionate and vivid canvases that portray some of the many aspects of the hospital on the hill that intrigue him.

Giansante, 61, has become a student of the craftsmanship that went into the construction of Sonoma County Hospital, dedicated in Depression-stressed 1937.

“You can tell there was a lot of civic pride that the county had its own hospital,” he said. He regards the long ground-floor hallway a boulevard of visual delights, and he finds that all through the day, the building produces great shadows and transitions of color and shade.

He’s thrilled that Sutter purchased one of his larger renditions of the old building for permanent exhibit at the new hospital to open in October alongside the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, just north of Santa Rosa. The piece is a 90-inch by 50-inch, orange-hued portrait of the main building, with its doors of glass and bronze.

Sutter could have opted to leave the walls of the new hospital bare, or to adorn them with institutional art prints. Instead, officials incorporated into the construction budget the cost of about 360 pieces of original, local art.

An array of artists responded to an invitation to submit proposals for submissions to what will be one of the largest collections of Sonoma County art ever assembled and placed on permanent, public display. Among the pieces are a great mural of poppies that brightens the hospital’s bistro and an elaborate portrayal of a flying stork in the labor-and-delivery unit.

A glass wall honoring donors to the new medical center stands 11 feet high and is backed by a map of the Russian River region.

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