In 1969, Françoise Gilot, a French painter and muse of Pablo Picasso, traveled from her home in Paris to La Jolla, where she was offered a tour of the Salk Institute by its founder, the polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk.
Although Gilot’s two children were some of the first in France to receive the polio vaccine, she knew little about Salk’s work or other scientific studies. Salk, in turn, knew hardly anything about art, including Gilot’s colorful abstract oil paintings. But this knowledge gap did little to deter the attraction between the two; they were engaged a year and a half after they first met.
When Salk married Gilot in a small ceremony at a city hall outside Paris, it brought something larger than their new life together as husband and wife. Forty years later, their union still melds the arts and sciences worlds in San Diego. Through Gilot, Salk came to believe in the importance of using art to stimulate creativity, and he envisioned that his institute would be a place where art and science could merge.
“He understood the appreciation of art, and saw its connection to science,” said Dr. William Brody, Salk’s current president. “That was a very far-sighted vision.”
The Salk Institute celebrated that vision last week during its 50th anniversary with a special twist: Coiling and vibrant yellow, green and pink glass-blown sculptures from Seattle artist Dale Chihuly decorated Salk’s gray concrete and steel. At the display’s hub: one of the artist’s signature pieces, a 15 foot-tall ball of twisting glass tubes called The Sun.
The blending of science and art doesn’t stop at Salk.