Sculptor made ‘Spirit of Life’ fountain at City of Hope

Times Staff Writer

Robert Isaiah Russin, an artist and educator best known in Southern California for the “Spirit of Life” fountain sculpture in front of the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, has died. He was 93.

Russin, who lived in Centennial, Wyo., died Dec. 13 after a long battle with kidney disease and hypertension, said his son, Joseph Russin, the executive editor of KTLA news.

Dedicated in 1967, the sculpture shows two adults and a child in a spirited pose. Cast in bronze, the sculpture also includes three basins made of an Italian marble called arabascato. The outer basin is travertine. According to his son, it took Russin a year and half to make the artwork and he also came up with the title.


After several years, the hospital changed its logo from a torch to a silhouette of the statue and embraced the work’s title. It still gives out Spirit of Life awards to major donors.

In an interview for a City of Hope publication some years ago, Russin recalled his thinking about the statue.

“A hospital has a serious purpose. I spent some time there. People live there while their children are being treated. The staff faces catastrophic situations, like cancer. So all of the factors had to be thought out. What do you put in front of a hospital to make it joyful?”

A native New Yorker who made his home in Wyoming for 60 years, Russin taught at the University of Wyoming for nearly 40 years. He also was the school’s artist in residence for nearly a decade.

His numerous sculptures include a monumental bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln measuring 12 1/2 feet high on a 30-foot-tall granite pedestal that for years after its 1959 dedication could be found on the highest point of the old Lincoln Highway in Wyoming. It was later moved to Interstate 80 between Laramie and Cheyenne, where it is the centerpiece of a park and historic museum.

His other public sculptures included his granite “Chthonodynamis” at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., and “Wyoming Crystal” in the state Capitol in Cheyenne.

His works are also in the collection of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., the Hyde Park Museum in New York, Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania and the University of Wyoming. In addition, his works were collected by Bill Cosby, Carl Reiner and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Born Aug. 26, 1914, Russin earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from City College of New York. He taught at Cooper Union in New York before accepting a teaching post at the University of Wyoming in 1947.

In addition to his son Joseph, he is survived by sons Robin U. Russin of Los Angeles, a screenwriter and professor of screenwriting at UC Riverside; Dr. Lincoln David Russin, a radiologist of Mountain Ranch, Calif.; and five grandchildren.

Donations in his memory can be made to the “Robert I. Russin Prize Fund for Excellence in Figurative Sculpture,” c/o Ben Blalock, University of Wyoming Foundation, 1200 E. Ivinson Ave., Laramie, Wyo., 82070.