One of the goals of Camp Hope’s Wacky Wednesdays last month was to create a lasting work of art–a mosaic–for Hope Place’s reception area. It was a huge undertaking, however, that quickly became much more than mere art.
For several weeks, I scoured Louisville-area Goodwills and peddlers malls for brightly colored ceramic plates that we could smash into thousands of pieces. By the third week of camp, we had built a large enough supply that the camp children could each break one. We wrapped the plates in towels, donned protective goggles, and began smashing with abandon.
Confused, a tentative little boy with raised eyebrows asked, “More?” A little girl begged to break another dish, “Pleeeeeeeease?” she pleaded. A dad dropping his son off late stared in shock as a kindergartner giddily slung a hammer toward his towel without aim.
That afternoon, I began to outline the design on concrete backer board. I can now freely admit that I was in over my head. I had never attempted a project this large and I had no idea how much time and material I would actually need. I formed the shapes of the iconic buildings in my design with small glass tiles in order to keep the lines bold and straight. During week four of camp, the art class began to piece together the sky.
“There are many things that have happened in our lives that have made us feel like these beautiful plates that have been broken,” we explained. “Right now, they may seem like useless pieces that serve no purpose, like maybe the pieces should just be thrown into the trash. But we will soon see how God uses all of our broken pieces to make a beautiful masterpiece.”
Fifth-grader Jonathan learned to use the glass tile cutters. Phoebe and Fikir glued geometric teal forms to the board. Chrisily delighted in placing a single aqua bead in the growing atmosphere which looked like a fading star. Still, only a small portion of the 5’x6’ canvas was finished by the close of camp.
In the days that followed, help trickled in each evening. For several days, we ate pizza and played music and neighborhood kids shared their lives with me while we worked late into the night.
Hadeel, a local mom, built celadon-hued windows into the exterior of the iconic Galt House. Malik, Ruby, and Layla glued tiles to the dual red-topped Waterfront Plaza towers. Isaiah, Joseph, Donald, and Yerandy affixed hundreds of irritatingly irregular pieces of pea gravel that, much like them, would not stay put. Mariam sorted through piles of glass to find the perfect shades of blue for the Ohio River. Hope Place Director Kristy Robison used them to build portions of the shimmering, patterned water. After his African church service ended on Sunday afternoon, four-year-old Frank firmly held the tiny pieces of a heart in place while the adhesive dried. My husband built and stained a frame. This truly became a community project as the weeks passed.
The mosaic process itself is a piecing together of many different types and styles of glass, just as our neighborhood is a blend of people from all around the world: Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Burundi, Nepal, Cuba, and America, to name just a few. Each of these cultures contributes to the unique beauty we find here.
I knew at the start that I wanted to make a mosaic of the Louisville skyline and the word HOPE. Although I had a basic image in mind, it began to take on additional symbolism as we worked. The sunrise signals the hope of a new day. The Hope Place tree grows along the riverbank. Small strips of mirror create movement and also point back at the viewer who himself becomes a part of the artwork. And at the bottom, a tiny heart waits anxiously to break out of its stony prison into the hope above. It is buried, yet it hopes.
The grouting process was the hardest for me personally. Burying what was already a perfectly nice picture beneath messy black sludge is a slightly terrifying process. In only a few minutes, long hours of tedious work become concealed by a dripping, charcoal-colored mess that stains everything it touches. All of the children who saw the mosaic during this time thought that I had certainly ruined it. But as I slowly wiped the drying grout away from the tiles, they saw the image being revealed: the hope of something more glorious than they ever could have imagined back when we began with just a pile of broken shards and sticky mud. How often it looks like all is lost when we are buried in the pain, only to see God make something so much more beautiful out of our situation in the end. And sometimes we can’t see this until we can step back and appreciate the process from a distance.
The finished mosaic is a piece of art, for sure. But it has also been a process in growing and cementing relationships, a remedy to fear, a call to courage, and a monument to what God is doing through his people at Hope Place as he builds this diverse community. It was an honor to be able to collaborate on it with so many talented, but unknown local artists–our own campers!
We invite you to come by Hope Place and see where you fit in the picture.
(Thanks to Elevate Dance Ministry for inspiring this idea.)