Towline Mural Showcases Support Services Workers

Baltimore artist Bridget Cimino stands next to the painting she created for the hospital’s underground supply delivery system. | Photo credit: Jon Christofersen

Published in Dome - Dome Sept./Oct. 2022
When the elevator doors open to the Zayed building subbasement, a colorful mural comes into view. The commissioned project, completed in August 2022, celebrates the employees who ensure that linens, patient meals, surgical instruments and other supplies reach departments in a timely manner, via the “towline.”

Overhead signals blink and warning alerts beep along the milelong network of intercrossing tracks. Every day, 24/7, staff members load some 1,000 carts with requested supplies to be sent to various locations throughout the hospital, explains Colleen Cusick, director of materials management and general services at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. An operator inputs the destination information into a touch-screen console, and the system directs the cart where it needs to go. (See a video clip here.)

Now, the 300-plus support services employees who work behind the scenes are enjoying the 8-foot by 47-foot acrylic painting by local artist Bridget Cimino that depicts their critical roles. (See sidebar)

The hospital’s towline — the only one in the country, says Cusick — was built in two sections, in 2004 and in 2011, to coincide with the opening of the 12-floor, 1.6 million-foot Zayed Tower and The Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center building. The first half of the towline was installed prior to the buildings being built. The second half of the towline and the new towers were built and opened simultaneously.

“Many people in the institution don’t even know the system exists, nor about its vital role,” says Cusick. “Prior to the towline, this space virtually did not exist. Services were conducted in many areas.” She notes that because the towline is all underground, it did not take “valuable real estate” from clinical services.

Why the Mural Matters

Such subterranean activities are easily overlooked and underappreciated, but towline operations manager Gary Wagenfuehr says the new mural “is bringing work to life,” with images such as gloved hands carefully handling surgical instruments to transport.

“The mural is very natural and stands out. It showcases different jobs in our department,” Wagenfuehr adds. “People are enjoying it, and it has definitely boosted morale.”

Though the towline was designed to require minimal maintenance, a welder, an electrician and a support specialist are on staff to ensure the towline’s safe operation. This was especially important during the pandemic, says Cusick, as health care leaders were overwhelmed with COVID-19 and H1N1 influenza, and supplies were difficult to obtain.

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A Daunting Assignment

Baltimore mural artist Cimino recalls her initial visits to the towline — “one of the strangest environments I’ve ever painted, but really cool,” she says. Her studio is located in Greektown.

“What struck me [about the concept] was the diversity of professions that utilize the towline area and the variety of items transported, as well as the important suggestion to include the Johns Hopkins Medicine dome.”

At the same time, she points out, “The department leaders also wanted to make sure to show that the employees had lives outside of work, such as gardening.”

Cimino sketched out the mural on her iPad and later used acrylic paint across two cement walls. Unsure about how to incorporate the iconic image of the dome, the artist decided to superimpose a line drawing of it in white. “I created a grid and had an assistant. My strategy was to get everything sketched in and then fill in the spaces.” (See slideshow below)

The painting took 15 days to complete. Cimino would arrive at the site at 5 a.m. and leave at 2:30 p.m., with a break for lunch. “I love painting people more than anything else, because when you get it right, it’s wonderful.”

The best part of the experience, she says, was when employees walked by and recognized themselves: “Oh, that’s me! So cool.”

Among those enjoying the mural is Johns Hopkins Hospital registered dietitian Ginger Muscalli, associate director of patient services. “I love walking by and seeing all the colors and things that all the services handle,” she says. “Our work is very much behind the scenes.”

A photo of the finished mural in the Towline
Towline HUD Gallery
Towline HUD Gallery
Towline HUD Gallery 1
Towline HUD Gallery 2
Towline HUD Gallery 3
Towline HUD Gallery 4
Towline HUD Gallery 5
Towline HUD Gallery