How long of a gestation period does a community-wide public art mosaic project require before being "birthed"?
"About a thousand years," jokes Renée Suhr, Owner of Stray Cat Studio who years ago voiced a dream of creating a piece of public art as a contribution to the revitalization being experienced in Beaver Falls.
Thankfully, less than 1000 years later, (closer to 6), the project was installed and brought to life this month due to the dedication and nurture of Christine Kroger (Executive Director, Neighborhood North) with whom Renée originally collaborated about her vision. With support from the Beaver Falls CDC, in partnership with the Beaver Falls Art Council who accepted fundraising and installation responsibilities, and under the faithful guidance of Christine, this mammoth mosaic project has now been installed on the southern wall of Data and Design at 7th Avenue and 9th Street.
The process from initial inception to installation has been a special one for Christine who spent 6 months in discussions with 5 different groups in Beaver Falls, consisting of 20 dedicated participants each, who all embraced the idea of choosing a unified vision for the piece. During weekly meetings, friendships were formed, ideas were shared, and designs were drawn.
For Tyrese Riggins, 17, these weekly meetings were especially meaningful. “During our Saturday meetings, our group became like a family as we worked on the project.”
Inspiration was instilled through group field trips to view public art. The Spring Hill area and Pittsburgh Zoo, specifically, served as examples of successful public art endeavors, both having used mosaic as the medium. These visuals and a commitment to collaboration resulted in each individual group working independently to create a mosaic section reflecting their unique character. After months of these groups working separately, the individual visions which combined tell a love story about Beaver Falls were assembled by the hands of literally hundreds of community members. The piece is a warm welcome from its residents to those entering the city.
“The project is a symbol of hope showing what we love about our town,” shared Simon Swanson, 17, who worked on the project for 18 months. “Even in the midst of dirty, industrial stuff, there is beauty here in Beaver Falls.”
Taking such an approach to a larger artistic work is uncommon.
Whereas large scale art projects are traditionally based on one
artist's primary vision and then dictated step by step, here the mosaic’s design came directly from months of community input. Boys from Tiger Pause, pre-teen and teen-aged girls at Trails Ministry, Geneva College college students, Beaver Falls Middle, and High School students and a wide variety of community members all played an active role in the overall design and ultimately turning what they love about Beaver Falls into a piece of art meant to encourage and impact their community.
Within that community, many people, both young and old had the opportunity to participate in the project thanks to Gerry McKorr from the Center for Creative Arts Expression who invited the mosaic project to her Arts in the Park festival so visitors could contribute. Without Debra Hvisdak, the owner of Data & Design, the mosaic wouldn’t have found a permanent home.
As Christine shares, “We had such difficulty locating a space for this mosaic, and Debra has been wonderful,” adding, “She is extremely community-oriented, has been accommodating in every way possible and is delighted to house the mosaic. She has made life easier for us, and we are grateful to her.”
And ensuring the final piece was secured safely and correctly for all to enjoy was Townsend Construction.
Julian Kroger, 16, a high school student involved with the project, described what the visual meant to him. “The piece portrays how we see Beaver Falls. The things that are important to us.”
When asked what that meant for him, specifically, Kroger added, “Home. Beaver Falls is home.” A sentiment shared by several of the participants.
Recycled and donated ceramics and tiles make up the 26 individual sections consisting of 150 pieces each (yes, that's roughly 33,750 pieces of ceramic tile) and hail from Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, Splash in Cranberry and even larger businesses like Home Depot. The mosaic also includes a few pieces from Shenango China, (a sister company of Mayer China), donated by Chris Knab whose father Gary Barr was a designer at the company. All these broken pieces arranged together in a unified vision, convey the respect, pride and diversity of the Beaver Falls community. Football/basketball, the cityscape, green rolling hills, Geneva College, music/arts, and Oram's are just a few examples of the story the artists chose to share about their city.
"Our artists want to show you what they love about where they live," shares Christine Kroger, "And how fun will it be for someone to point to this piece later in life and say 'I helped make that!’"
Just as hundreds of small pieces were thoughtfully placed to create this beautiful masterpiece, the same is true of the Beaver Falls community, where several small segments of the neighborhood came together for the purpose of exposing the beauty of their city.
One hand and one piece at a time.