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Objects of Art: Jane W. Larson Ceramic Mural - Milestone

Location: Outside the Lister Hill Auditorium

An artwork that is educational as well as beautiful, "Milestone Molecules in Medicine," portrays a "top ten list" of molecules including DNA, ether, insulin and ADP/ATP. The large ceramic piece also bears impressions of various flora, including the signature pink crab apple blossoms that adorn the front of the Library. Other plants are medicinal herbs - obviously appropriate for a work displayed at NLM.

Ceramic Mural by Jane W. Larson
Photo: Bethesda artist Jane W. Larson with her latest ceramic commission, "Milestone Molecules in Medicine." NLM's celebrated crab apple blossoms frame the upper part of the work.

The artist, Jane W. Larson, 76, has been working in clay since the 1950s and has had solo exhibitions in galleries since 1973. But science is also in her background. Years ago, the Bethesda resident worked as a science reporter and technical information director on the Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic bomb.

Through a technique she refers to as making 'bedding planes' - actually a paleontologist's term - she makes a sunken relief of plants and other images. "By being sunk, they are protected from erosion and wear and are very durable." To the images of plants, she adds ceramic disks that show the structure of the molecules themselves and images that suggest their meaning or purpose.

Larson enjoyed conferring with researchers and physicians (including NLM's Director, Dr. Donald A.B Lindberg) on what the top 10 medical molecules should be. Her work includes homage to Dolly the cloned sheep, and to Austrian botanist Gregor Mendel. Fittingly, given the Library's mission, a computer terminal has also been immortalized in the clay stone.

Jane Larson has already completed commissions for ceramic works at the chemistry department of the University of Maryland, College Park, and the Residence Inn on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda.

Larson had several helpers on this ambitious work - most notably, Mary Lindberg, the wife of NLM's Director. "Milestone Molecules in Medicine" is a gift of Dr. Morris F. Collen of Walnut Creek, CA, a respected authority on medical informatics.

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Last Reviewed: February 27, 2012