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5.19.2015

Holocaust Survivor and Professor Shares Message of Courage at alex’s place

Peter Tarjan, Ph.D., is more than Professor Emeritus in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Miami and a docent at the University’s Lowe Art Museum. He is also a survivor of the Holocaust. Because of his childhood experience, documented in a collection of memoirs, “Children Who Survived the Final Solution,” Tarjan has always had a special empathy for kids in need. He has combined that passion with a favorite hobby – making brightly colored flowers out of old hubcaps, golf balls, bottle caps and sprinkler pipes.

Through Tarjan’s artistry, these scraps are reincarnated as whimsical flowers. A few years ago he was asked to provide 20 flowers for a silent auction to benefit the Children’s Cancer Fund for programs and services at alex’s place at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. Joanna Davis, M.D., associate professor of clinical pediatrics and Medical Director of the Comprehensive Pediatric Hemophilia Treatment Center at Sylvester, and Letitia Cason, Child Life Coordinator, suggested creating an installation from the remaining flowers for the garden area outside of alex’s place.

I Fiori Della Strada, or “flowers of the road,” is a celebration of bright colors, imaginative creations and a distraction from the day-to-day struggles of fighting cancer. The display of blooming flowers sends a message of hope.

The outdoor exhibit of flowers was unveiled at alex’s place to the delight of patients, families and staff. “The flowers are very beautiful,” said 6-year-old patient Nicholas Taylor.

“From a purely tangible standpoint, the planters and the riotous arrangement of flowers achieve the goal of sending a message of joy, hope and happiness to all of our families,” said Davis. “No matter how bleak the weather or how challenging the day’s treatments, it is impossible to catch sight of the sculptures without feeling a small positive change.”

To create I Fiori Della Strada, Davis, Cason and Billie Lynn, MFA, associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History at UM, compiled an energetic group of undergraduates enrolled in a course to “produce art with social significance.” Over a semester, Lynn’s students, who were assisted by graduate art student Robert Fitzgerald, learned to weld, use complex machinery, assemble and paint, and collectively designed the display using about three dozen flower sculptures.

While Tarjan was gratified by the warm reception to the exhibit unveiling, he also has a larger purpose for the sculptures. He knows that kids learn by example. Tarjan beat the odds to survive the unimaginable. His message to those children now going through their own challenges – a message he hopes is remembered each time a patient walks by the flowers – is one of survival: “If I can, so can you.”

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