Our new facility will draw on New Mexico’s rich art legacy to help create a beautiful and welcoming environment of hope. Around the corner from the main entry will be a healing garden, where a nearly six-foot tall bronze bear fountain sculpture will greet visitors. The Gift depicts a standing grizzly bear, pouring water from his outstretched hands to the parched Earth below, giving life to the land; a tree of life is etched into his back, and human forms are shown on his front. Created in 2005, The Gift is the final work of Gene Tobey, a remarkable artist and former UNM Cancer Center patient who lost his fight against leukemia in 2006. His wife and partner in art, Rebecca Tobey, felt compelled to place the sculpture at the UNM Cancer Center as a monument to not only her husband, but to all those who fight cancer.
Rebecca and Gene’s story is a tapestry woven of love, laughter and hanging on through tough times. Art is the central theme throughout. The two met at a Santa Fe art gallery where Rebecca, working as the gallery director, showed his work. It was love at first sight, and they were married a year later. During their twenty-year marriage, their partnership experienced a unique fluidity, harmoniously complementing each other. Rebecca recalls that if she was working on a watercolor and the phone rang, she could hand the brush to Gene, who knew instinctively how to continue. Their creations flourished, and the couple began signing all of their work with “Gene and Rebecca Tobey”.
While on a routine hike near their Tesuque, New Mexico home in 1993, Gene experienced an unusual shortness of breath. Although they were not aware of it at the time, years of working in ceramics had led to lung disease. He continued to struggle with his health, prompting the Tobeys to move to a lower altitude in Texas, where breathing was easier for him.
More bad news came in 2003, when Gene was diagnosed with pre-leukemia, becoming full-blown leukemia two years later. During their final vacation together, in New Zealand, Gene asked where Rebecca would like to live if something happened to him. Her answer was easy; she had always been in love with New Mexico and wanted to be closer to family and friends in Santa Fe. With the reassurance that Gene would be under excellent care at the UNM Cancer Center, the couple packed their belongings and returned to the Land of Enchantment late in 2005. Months later, Gene passed away, leaving Rebecca to continue working under the name of Gene and Rebecca Tobey. “I’m still very much married to him and in love with him,” Rebecca said, adding that he continues to inspire her.
Before leaving Texas, the couple completed two large pieces, The Patriarch, a large buffalo, and The Gift. The sculpture was a fitting final work; Gene had always felt a close kinship with bears, and the pair depicted many throughout their career.
Art had been intrinsically woven into their lives, and it was while sitting with Gene in the chemotherapy room that Rebecca realized the desperate need to embrace something beautiful during such dark times. “For us, it was the beauty of the people who were taking care of us,” Rebecca said. “Our experience with the UNM Cancer Center was so phenomenal, I just felt really strongly that there needed to be a piece of art at the new building to commemorate not just my husband’s life, but also the outstanding care that he received. We hope this will provide patients and families with a peaceful and quiet experience.”