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Physician Renewal

After a successful 20-year career as an orthopedic surgeon, sculpting bone to exact specifications, Hardy Jones '73 has delved into a much less precise art form. These days, he crafts asymmetrical creatures, welding scrap metal into whimsical dragons, dancers, unicorns, and fish.

"Orthopedic surgery and the type of metal sculpting I do are similar in many ways," Jones says. "They both involve working with my hands, and I use an artistic judgment in solving problems orthopedically. In orthopedics, though, patients aren't quite as thrilled when their legs aren't the same length."

The story of Jones's journey from operating room to art studio began in 1967. Just months before he was supposed to attend HMS, a devastating motorcycle accident injured his brain stem, crushed his left leg, and left him in a coma for two weeks. "When I woke up," Jones says, "I was paralyzed on the right side of my body, and I had slurred speech and significant memory loss." His long recuperation and experience as a patient, he adds, "significantly contributed to my choice of a medical specialty and my style of practice."

Jones fully recovered from the neurological injuries, and he finally made it to HMS two years later. His orthopedic problems, however, were chronic. "I had complications that required long-term antibiotics and repeat surgeries," he says. As a medical student, he was on crutches for two years and briefly used a wheelchair.

Despite his physical challenges, Jones launched a productive and rewarding career as an orthopedic surgeon, becoming chair of his department at Santa Clara Kaiser. "I was able to practice the type of medicine that brought me happiness, not only in tems of the professional challenge, but also in terms of keeping promises I had made to myself when I was a patient," he says. "I think I was a kind and gentle physician, and I have no regrets."

Jones knew, however, that his body might not always be able to keep up with the physically demanding schedule he kept as a surgeon. "I was told 30 years ago that I would have problems later in life, and now I'm living later in life," he says. "I'm paying the price of significantly worn hip and knee joints."

Since his retirement at age 52, Jones says, "My cup has runneth over. I now get to follow the road not taken. I feel freed emotionally and spiritually to pursue my artistic desires without a guilty conscience. I enjoyed the patient contact, the teaching, the collegial interaction, and the stimulation of medicine. But I also was able to go out on top, with people standing and clapping, rather than focusing on my increasing limitations."

The transition was made with the support of his wife, Jane, whom he married the summer he began medical school. "We have raised our children, launched our careers, and traveled through life together," he says. "She helped me organize my options and ultimately retire from medical practice."

Although Jones has no formal art training, in a sense he has been studying found-metal sculpture his entire life. As a child, he would leave the beach with his pockets full of pebbles, or return from railroad tracks lugging spikes, washers, screws, and bolts. "Artists who paint need easels and palette boards--all the purples, blues, and oranges, " he says. "I have a junk pile." Just as he did as a boy, he ventures into the country for his materials, scouring old barnyards for automotive parts, industrial scrap metal, broken farm equipment, and discarded tools. "Prospecting for rusty metal treasures is a crucial part of my art career," he says.

Jones's life-sized pieces are neither abstract nor entirely realistic. In one of his sculptures, a warrior's shield is a hubcap, his right arm the steering linkage from a Chevrolet, and his knee cap a tractor gear. Jones once created a half-acre piece called "Rock Band" made out of old stove parts, telephone cable, and large chunks of driftwood.

These days, Jones works out of his home, using dollies to move sculpture and working at a welding bench. "I've managed to design my art studio so I don't have to do any heavy lifting," he says. Over the years, he has made hundreds of sculptures and won numerous awards. More than 20 of his pieces are displayed in public places in Santa Clara County and the Silicon Valley, where he lives.

"I try to capture the essence of an animal or dancer, the spirit of the piece, without effort, to have it just pass through me," Jones says. "It's a delight when I have finished a sculpture and can enjoy the outcome."

Although sculpting a prosthesis to fit a deformed joint can be as creative as sculpting metal, Jones says, "The difference is the intensity. My art is open-ended and flexible. Orthopedics is rigorous and unforgiving, and you can't walk away from your mistakes. In my art, I'm often working on three or four sculptures simultaneously, and I can leave one or more unfinished until I find the right part for it. It's not a stress, it's a discovery, and a counterpart to the intensity of a medical career."

"I made two great decisions in my career," Jones adds. "One was to go into medicine, the second was to retire from medicine. I regret my body's limitations, but I now have a wonderful opportunity."

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