Mosaic Art with a Mission: Piecing Together Hearts & Souls in Haiti
“Not all places and people have financial capital, but everyone has creative capital.” — Laurel True
Laurel True is a mosaic artist with a mission: to create economic opportunity and pride in community through mosaic art. In a paper presented to the International Conference on the Arts in Society in Venice in 2009, Dr. Randy Sanders of Southern Louisiana University wrote: “True has coordinated many public art projects that emphasize viable economic options for trades people as well as children in impoverished and blighted regions. Her projects place her in the role of a recruiter of artistic inspiration as she shares her talent while nurturing the participants’ creativity.” True has led community projects in Oakland, California, New Orleans, Louisiana, Nairobi, Kenya and Ghana, West Africa.
Laurel True and her assistant, Erin Rogers, in Kenya 2009
Early in June, True traveled to Haiti with her assistant, Erin Rogers, to design and create a large-scale mosaic mural in partnership with the Art Creation Foundation for Children (ACFFC) in Jacmel.
The mural would serve as a memorial for the lives lost as a result of the devastating earthquake last January, to offer healing through creative action and be a visual affirmation of the future of Jacmel and Haiti.
Established in 2003, the ACFFC has a mission to help children achieve self-sufficiency via the arts and education as well as internalize a sense of social responsibility, community and connectedness. There are currently 80 children and friends in the ACFFC program who receive food, clothing, mentoring, health care, schooling and training in entrepreneurial arts methods with which they can make a good living in the future.
Here are a few of the photos and thoughts from True’s eight days in Haiti sent via iPhone to Nancie Mills Pipgras, Editor and Blogger of Mosaic Art NOW.
Day One: Port au Prince
We arrived in Haiti yesterday. Such a beautiful country. Beautiful, wonderful people. Port au Prince hit so hard. Huge expanses of tent cities.
People still going forwards amidst the chaos and rubble. Market stalls open. Streets congested and people everywhere. Living in shadow of massive destruction and rubble.
Rubble not being moved that we saw. Men on top of pancaked buildings with sledgehammers. People resting on huge hunks of fallen buildings. Barber shops operating while buildings on either side in heaps.
Also beauty in perseverance and hope. People trying to make it.
Day Two: Jacmel
Today was our first day at the Art Creation Foundation for Children (ACFFC) in Jacmel, a town known as the “cultural center” of Haiti.
We had introductions. And talked about the mosaic mural project. Showed pictures and the kids did drawings of trees for the Tree of Life mural.
Intense and wonderful design process. Thoughts on memorial as well as life and renewal.
Tools and techniques lessons taught. Kids practiced mosaics.
We visited wall that mayor of Jacmel offered for the mural. It’s by the beach and there is area for future seating area- mosaic benches.
Many beautiful moments. The kids are naturals. They love it and are doing great.
The kids set over 25 mosaic leaves for the Tree on mesh today.
Others separated a dozen rice sacks full of tile all donated by Mosaiques Gardere in Port au Prince and the 60 pounds of tile we brought into color piles.
Erin worked with more kids to break up lots of tile and cutting mirror.
This morning I did a rough drawing based on the design concepts offered by the kid and included the Tree of Life. I took a small group to the wall for the design transfer. We used a grid transfer technique.
Unfortunately, I don’t have photos of this process, which was awesome. Small group of kids and older teens and the kids had total control of design transfer and making changes to the sketch. The whole design morphed! Awesome. And amazing results and process.
Today was a Marathon day!
A totally amazing day. The mural came to life today and there were so many people involved. About 4o or more kids came down with us in the morning and after lunch even more showed up.
The drawing on the wall looked fabu and the kids were proud.
I gave a short demo and we started putting leaves on mesh up right away. The kids were totally in charge of everything. In fact, throughout the day I realized that there just wasn’t enough body space in front of the wall and it was best for Erin and me to just move aside!
The kids had it handled!
Spirits were high and everyone was so motivated to set mosaic. Once all the leaves were up then we started on the tree, sun and other design elements.
Some of the kids added symbols and imagery to the base design. Awesome.
The Tree has eyes and more eyes floating around. Also birds. Beautiful. The kids used tile and mirror and some tile salvaged from the rubble of the earthquake in the tree. The kids said that the leaves in the tree symbolize people. And when a tree looses a leaf then another one will grow because the tree is strong.
We worked all day in the heat and sun. A huge — and I mean huge crowd formed to watch. Tons of people, moto-taxi drivers, food vendors, other artists and community members to watch. This in addition to the 40+ kids from ACFFC and a half dozen Jacmel professional artists.
This is the mural at the end of the day. I’ve never had a group take to it so quickly and be so immediately comfortable taking over decision making and project tasks.
End of another inspiring day with these amazing kids and new friends and colleagues. The mural is now complete except for the background.
The crowds grew to astonishing proportions as we continued setting in the blazing sun. First off, we completed all the design elements that were already painted onto the wall by the kids. Then they added more!
Bruno paints a bird and a horn.
The mosaic results!
We used almost every last colored tile today in the leaves, beautiful birds, floating eyes, boats, faces, sun and carnival instruments that the kids included in the mural.
Along with the generous donation from Mosaique Gardere in Port au Prince, Erin Rogers and I carried 60 pounds of tile and 20 pounds of glass half marbles that we used up in the mural.
George took me to a tiny hardware store in Jacmel to buy mirror, which we used in the eyes, for the suns rays, stars and more. Mirror rocks. Thank you Isaiah Zagar. Your influence is felt around the world
We also combed the beach for materials and found that the sea churns up an incredible amount if sea glass! And sea tile. And sea ceramics. Plus shells and white flat pebbles. Gifts from the sea in the form of seemingly endless tesserae.
The kids jumped directly in and we all worked all day long, only stopping for short breaks.
The Mayor of Jacmel, who gave us a wonderful wall/ location for the mural and another 200 ft of blank wall, came today and thanked us and vice versa.
George Matellus, Director of ACFFC, Jacmel’s Mayor and me.
There will be a seating area with benches covered in mosaic that we will create soon. The Mayor loves idea! The Mayor even added a piece to the mosaic. So cool. He is so supportive of this ongoing project of ACFFC.
Amazing day. Can I say that every day?
We put in two-thirds of the background today. Worked half day and cleaned up before the air started to boil.
The mural is unbelievable. People, neighbors, community members, other artists coming to say thank you and how wonderful it is. So amazing.
Will I sound like a broken record if I say; kids are so, so awesome. They are incredible in so many ways.
This crack in the wall was caused by the earthquake. The kids want to leave it in as part of the mural. Shells will be places for visitors to leave prayers and messages.
After we worked we played. Kids rapped. Played soccer. We talked about our lives and families. They are so patient with my crappy French. They are so loving and open and whip smart.
There was a group of musicians playing that were wonderful. We want them to come for out mural dedication on Monday evening.
For the projects I have facilitated in Africa, participation by boys far outweighs that of girls. Not so in Haiti! Go girls!
Haitian food is amazing. Conch, fish, lobster, plantains, rice and beans. We’ve been invited to dinner tonight and we’re looking forward to it.
We finished all the setting in the mural today! Sunday was not a day of rest, but we did have a short day on the mural.
I actually love background setting.
Every time I squeezed in to work on the wall I either got demoted to thin set holder or got squeezed out by the kids!
Ha! So awesome:)
When there was little else but a thin strip at the top to fill, in one of the teenage boys, an accomplished painter called Ti Charles, suggested that we paint in a blue sky there.
We were thrilled. Georges and Ti Charles went back for paint and then Ti Charles went for it with beautiful results.
Yes! This mural rocks!
After we returned to ACFFC everyone took a well deserved rest.
We’ve finished completely and with lots of hard work and pride and are ready to offer the mural to the City of Jacmel tonight at a dedication celebration!
A Haitian band will play and all the kids are coming. I’m sure the fête will draw a crowd.
Finishing the mural today, though, was hard work! We grouted with sand from the river which the kids sifted in a large sieve then mixed with cement.
We were all sweating!
We buffed with brown jersey gloves and scraped away excess cement for a beautiful finish.
Later that evening . . .
We had a wonderful celebration tonight. Beyond words. The kids and the ACFFC staff and the community came out for our fête.
The band played wonderful traditional Haitian music and everyone danced! So fun.
I took lots of pics with my camera because the iPhone doesn’t do well in the dark. I’ll send those when I get home.
But here is a beautiful pic of the mural with candles lit on the little shelves we put in. A wonderful idea of Nancy Josephson’s!
Our fête ended tonight just as it started to rain. The rain held off all week for us!
We leave in the morning. Too soon. We will miss the kids and new friends and wonderful Jacmel. I so look forward to returning to continue on the mosaic mural project. I hope before end of the summer!
How You can Help Laurel and the ACFFC Jacmel Mural Project
Laurel True will be returning to Haiti in August to complete the wall mural. She asks that you consider supporting ACFFC and its continuing work with the children of Jacmel. Every dollar sent goes straight to the children in the form of food, clothing, health care, school materials and art supplies. Click here to make a donation. Thank you!
About Nancie Mills Pipgras
Nancie Mills Pipgras is an editor for the annual publication Mosaic Art NOW (MAN) and blogs regularly at http://mosaicartnow.blogspot.com. MAN promotes the international understanding and appreciation of contemporary mosaics through quality publications and a lively online presence, delivering provocative and inspirational content for artists, curators, architects, designers, collectors and educators. The 108-page full color 2010 edition of the publication featured an exhibition in print featuring 18 mosaics selected by Dr. Scott Shields of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California.
A former marketing executive and adult education consultant for a Fortune 50 company, Mills Pipgras first became interested in mosaics in 2003 when she decided to fill in an architectural niche in the facade of her circa 1924 home in Sacramento, California.
Since then, she has studied with one of the art form’s most respected teachers and served as President of the Society of American Mosaic Artist. Nancie currently lives in Santa Rosa, California with her husband, Frank, and Pippin the Wonder Doople. (Follow Nancie/Mosaic Art Now on Twitter.)