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June 4, 2019

Mayo Physician Leaves Legacy of Art on Bike Trails

By In the Loop
Photo courtesy of Kalianne Morrison
Photo courtesy of Kalianne Morrison.

Dr. Richard Brubaker spent his career caring for patients and contributing to teaching and research at Mayo Clinic. In his retirement he continued to give to others, creating art that everyone can enjoy.


To those who observed him around Mayo Clinic, Richard Brubaker, M.D., was the consummate Mayo physician. He was well regarded by patients, well recognized by students, and well published, authoring more than 200 articles. By the time he retired in 2000, he'd also held an impressive list of leadership positions, including chair of the Department of Ophthalmology, president of the Staff, and medical director of Mayo Medical Ventures.

But there was another side to "Dr. Bru," who passed away in October 2018. His obituary offered a delightful glimpse of this alter ego, introducing a man who "built harpsichords, sang in a barbershop quartet, ran many marathons, windsurfed on Pelican Lake, invented three bike boats, took up ice hockey at age 50 and snowboarding at 60, and learned to play the soprano saxophone during his 70s."

Dr. Bru also "amazed friends with his ability to double whistle" and "could be seen unicycling, hacky sacking, and playing street hockey with neighborhood kids while on rollerblades. He was never too old," the obituary reads "to try something new."

And one of those new things was art. In retirement, Dr. Brubaker became a prolific sculptor, creating more than 100 metal masterpieces in a studio on his Oronoco, Minnesota, farm. It was a creative use for a skillset he began developing as a student at Harvard Medical School, where he worked as a "part-time machinist, making parts for custom-made stereoscopic cameras in the Howe Laboratory in Boston's Eye and Ear Infirmary," according to this biography. At Mayo Clinic, "he continued learning metal work in the fabrication of research instruments for his laboratory."

Last month, Dr. Brubaker was recognized for donating five sculptures to Art4Trails, "a public art initiative to promote local artists and enhance our public parks by installing original art along Rochester's bike trails." Dr. Brubaker was "a crucial member of the group," according to KTTC-TV. "Anyone who wants to see his work can take a ride along the trail or they can take a walk along the trail and see the work that he's done," Mary Ellen Landwehr, Art4Trails co-chair and member of the Mayo Clinic Emeritus Staff, tells the station.

Photo courtesy of Kalianne Morrison.

That's a legacy Dr. Brubaker would be proud of, says the good doctor's wife. "He felt that it was important to have art on the trails so everyone could enjoy art," Nancy Brubaker tells KIMT. "A lot of people are never exposed to it and he felt that by putting art on the trails, everyone could enjoy it." Dr. Brubaker's contributions include "Sunrise, Sunset," "Tractor Cat," and "Phoenix Rising." That piece, Dr. Brubaker told the Rochester Post-Bulletin last year, is "a metaphor for Rochester." The town, he said, "was devastated by a tornado and it was the Mayo Brothers and the Sisters of Assisi, who really rebuilt the town. … This town rose from the ashes just like the mythical phoenix."

You can see Dr. Brubaker's work at the 2019 Art4Trails sculpture unveiling, which will take place Sunday, June 23, at 1 p.m. The event begins at another of Dr. Brubaker's pieces, "The Artist," on the trail near Mayo Civic Center Plaza.

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Tags: Community, Dr. Richard Brubaker, Employee Stories, Mayo Clinic in Rochester

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