"The birds they sang
at the break of day
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee."
Leonard Cohen "Anthem" (excerpts)
I've spent the last months working on a special commission for the Scarlett family. Constance and I met for lunch one day last summer as we savoured being back in the city and oozed with gratitude for a million little things. Between bites of sandwich we talked about loss, heartache, hope, faith and healing. Her family had lost their home to the Horse River wildfire and I was being invited to create an artwork for them, using the precious few items that had been recovered. We were united in the desire to find beauty among the ashes.
I wanted to know what had been on her and her husband's heart and mind throughout the evacuation - if there were any quotes or recurring thoughts that resonated with them in everything they had been through. That's where "Anthem" by Leonard Cohen came in. And then, as she shared with me the broken and charred pieces, each having it's own story to tell, I found my imagination running wild with how they could tell a new story that rang louder of renewal than tragedy.
The first piece I began to work on was the nest. Each length of uncoated wire creating a growing foundation, representing the fragility and temporary nature of "home". Knitted into the wires was one half of a silver compact mirror given to Constance by her brothers, her Mom's baby spoon that had been given to her daughter, her baby bracelet, a coin, a ring, two more bracelets and the spring from her husband's firearm. I thought of how birds carefully select each piece, finding the best place to intertwine what they bring home to create a place of shelter and safety. The birds, sculpted and finished in layers of black leaf became symbols of faith, hope and the courage to leave the nest to start anew. The birds represent their family unit, all having been refined through their experiences.
The next piece to be completed was the lantern. A pre-existing frame was deconstructed, stripped and re-fabricated with many custom adaptations made. Layers of plaster and paint were built up to ensure that this lantern had been through the journey too. The desire to create a lamp/lantern was the first image that came to mind in this project, representing the light required to lead them out of the darkness. It was a symbol of hope and faith, of God's faithfulness, knowing that their experiences and circumstances all work together to tell a bigger story. It was the longing for direction in how to move forward in healing. The lantern also sparked the name for the piece:
Lead Us Home.
Four mosaic sections were assembled, with the first positioned on the inside ceiling of the lantern. This section was created with her daughter's baby Bunnykins bowl as well as the other half of the silver compact mirror. I thought of the resiliency of her young daughter and the joy that she brings to their family - I thought of how hope rises and leads to healing. The other three mosaics, placed along the outer sides, were assembled from two beautiful dishes: a Greek coffee cup given to Constance by her Yiayia (Grandmother) and a tea cup saucer from her Baba (her Ukrainian Grandmother).
The ornamental top of the lantern was part of a teapot, one that had been given to Constance by her Yiayia as a Grad school graduation gift. The handle is a bracelet and tucked inside is a tiny teacup bottom and a ring, both gifts from her Baba. A plaque from her daughter's baby spoon, as well as a number of coins adorned the next section. A beautiful lock from her husband's firearm became a feature on the front and inspired the colour of the lantern. Once the nest and birds were laid inside, the final element was a key from her Yiayia's house in New York.
The individual pieces each came with its own memory of who it belonged to, who had given it, how it had been used and where it had its place in their home. And now they come together to remind the Scarlett family what they've been through but that all is not lost. The gathered pieces are proof of their resilience and that faith is stronger than despair on the long road of healing. Thank you Constance, Mike and Kassia for giving me the honour and privilege of creating this work for you.
"Our sorrows are all, like ourselves, mortal. There are no immortal sorrows for immortal souls. They come, but blessed be God, they also go. Like birds of the air, they fly over our heads. But they cannot make their abode in our souls. We suffer today, but we shall rejoice tomorrow.”