Three weeks ago I received a phone call from one of the pastors at First Presbyterian Church in Grapevine. She had heard about my work as a visual artist and performance artist, and was calling to ask me to organize a visual art piece for an upcoming event. The event was to be called “Peace Together” and was the inaugural event of a grassroots effort toward peace among people of multi-cultural backgrounds. The coalition includes about 20 or 30 local (Northeast Tarrant County) non-profits and worship centers, including: Jewish Federation of Fort Worth & Tarrant County, Multicultural Alliance, Daughters of Abraham, Baha’ais of Northeast Tarrant County, Brite Divinity School, Fellowship of Freethought, Professional Good Doers, a number of local United Methodist churches, local Islamic centers and associations, synagogues, and a few Christian non-denominational churches.
The coalition had a concept and logo based on puzzle pieces – a play on the words “Peace Together” – so they were asking me to produce an artwork that would literally piece together a series of puzzle pieces that would represent our desire, as a community, for peace. They wanted the congregated group to have an interactive role in the creation of the artwork and the art would become visible during the program itself. There was also no budget, so it needed to be low cost. I thought it would be appropriate for the visual art piece to rotate among the different groups in the coalition, so it also needed to be portable and lightweight.
I met with a group of trusted artists to discuss our options: do the pieces need to actually fit together or can they just be overlapping? We had no idea how many people to expect would first of all come to the event (anywhere from 100 to 500) nor did we know how many would actually participate in the puzzle piece part of it, so there was a large margin of random chance. What material should it be made from? How can this become something visually appealing enough to be part of our next art gallery exhibit (conveniently also themed “Peace”)?
After that, I met with the Peace Together steering committee to discuss their plans and I discovered that they really didn’t know what they wanted beyond what I had already heard – they needed someone like me to fill out the logistics and the specifics of the idea. I love it when that happens because it gives me creative license to think big. During that meeting, we ascertained that there would likely be 300-350 (the limit of room capacity) so the people could still write on them, but would not be able to actually place their pieces on the art AND they would turn in their puzzle pieces (with inspiring words about achieving peace written on them) throughout the entire event rather than just during one song. This gave me the ability to almost totally control the outcome, which meant I could guarantee that it would look good. No offense to the crowd, but leaving the look to the people would give it a haphazard appearance at best and make it a mottled mess at worst.
Sometimes I get an idea that just won’t go away. I try to listen to those because I think they sometimes come from a divine source. For this event, the idea that just wouldn’t go away was a mandala. That’s a set of concentric circles, geometrically symmetrical, kaleidoscopic looking symbol of wholeness. It seemed not only appropriate, but with the four colors of the Peace Together logo, I could make something really beautiful if I planned it out well.
I spent a few days constructing a styrofoam (sheet insulation) backdrop on which to attach the puzzle pieces with a light wooden frame behind so that it would stand up, bend in half, and not weight much. With two panels, it measures 8 feet square. I pressed a series of concentric circles into the foam and painted the surface yellowy beige color and used duct tape in tan and maroon for a border around the edges (both to reinforce the styrofoam and make it look finished). I have a friend with a laser machine who cut 600 4 inch x 6 inch puzzle shaped pieces out of card stock in purple, dark blue, light blue, and peach. I spent two days arranging them into what I thought would be a cool looking pattern and made myself a map to use during the event based on the compass rose. I had planned on using double-sided tape (my laser friend also had two double-sided tape guns and she was happy to come help out on the day of the event – thank you!!!). I was worried about the pieces stuck to each other but not the backdrop and falling off in a clump, so as an extra measure of security, I also pinned the pieces in place (another good property of foam).
I enlisted the help of my family for set up. My daughter Abigail was the unsung hero of the event. I had made two stacks of puzzle pieces that was the minimum of each color necessary to make the mandala: one for the rings, one for the decoration. The rest got handed out to the congregation. The event was an hour and half long, so that’s how much time I had to make this thing take shape. As the puzzle pieces with writing came from the audience, Abigail swapped out the written pieces with blank ones until we knew exactly whether we had received enough to make the mandala was well as how many extras we would have (plus blank ones we could add in if we needed more a particular color). I started with the plain circles and we saved the decorative border for last. She was awesome and I couldn’t have done it without her.
The event was a huge success, about 300-ish people were there and many of them came up afterward to take selfies in front of the mandala.
Amazing sunset this morning (the morning after). The colors match those we used in the Peace mandala: purple, dark blue, light blue and peach. I hope it is an omen.