Martha Townsend has lost two sisters to cancer and knows what a dark, difficult battle it can be. 

When she went to work creating her submission for the Montreal University Health Centre's (MUHC) new cancer centre, she knew she wanted to bring back some of the light lost in that struggle. 

“In a way, it’s a tribute to my sisters,” she said. “It means a lot.”

Townsend drew upon her personal experience to create the mural, one of several significant pieces commissioned by the MUHC for its new facilities at the Glen site. 

The concept came naturally to the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-based sculptor.

“I feel like I have some kind of connection to draw on for myself, in terms of empathizing maybe with people who are dealing with cancer today," she said. 

The artwork is called Lux Domum – Latin for “House of Light”. It consists of a  7.7 metre by 7.6 metre mural with a maple wood surface embedded with two concave domes: one made of yellow gold, the other of white gold. The gold-leaf surface reflects light that changes subtly as you moves past the piece.

Lux Domum MUHC Martha Townsend

Lux Domum features a maple wood mural embedded with a yellow gold dome and a white gold dome. (Richard-Max Tremblay)

Notion of light central to Townsend

Bringing light – literally and metaphorically – into the hospital was one of the goals of Karine Raynor, curator at the MUHC.

“We were looking for artists who know what it is to be empathetic to a hospital experience, who understand context,” she said.

“We were also looking for work that was really smart and that allowed for a viewer to look at it again and again and not exhaust its meaning.

"We were looking for things that would be well-integrated architecturally but without disappearing in the architecture. And we were looking for objects or interventions that were compatible with MUHC values. Optimism and hope was a big one.”

Martha Townsend’s work, along with 10 other commissioned artists’s works, will be ready for public viewing when the MUHC opens in the spring.

All 11 works selected for MUHC’s public art collection can be viewed online.