On Friday morning, August 9, Dave Ackert, chairman of The Newtown Foundation, and Steve Stuhmer and Geoffrey Schiffenhaus of the Kraft Group Family of Businesses Rand Whitney in Newtown hovered over the design table in the Edmond Road container company’s design room. On the table lay one of eight sculptures that make up the “Meditation On Mourning” installation, recently released by its creator to The Newtown Foundation “so that it can help in our efforts to raise awareness of the impact that gun violence has on families, as well as to aid in the healing and transformational work we do,” said Mr Ackert.
The mission of The Newtown Foundation is “To provide comfort, education, scholarship and other support and resources to people and communities impacted by, and living or growing up among or in the aftermath, of violence in American society; and to help them lead the way toward positive cultural change over the long term.” It is a sister organization to the grassroots organization Newtown Action Alliance, dedicated to reversing the escalating gun violence.
Rand Whitney did not hesitate to help, Mr Ackert said, when he contacted them last week to see if they could construct secure storage and shipping boxes for the eight sculptures.
Installed at the Judson Memorial Church in New York City for the tenth anniversary of 9/11, “Meditation On Mourning,” a 15-by-15-foot installation of eight, life-sized prone sculptures of women, arrived in Newtown Thursday afternoon, August 8. The landscape-like installation, created from muslin, ash, marble dust, and polyurethane, is the work of Catskills artist S.B. “Susie” Woods.
“I started ‘Meditation’ in 2001, and finished it in about three years,” Ms Woods said. “The women [sculptures] were originally all about love. Then I found myself under those planes, in my New York City loft, on 9/11, with my son in school just a block from the World Trade Center,” she said. The subsequent war in Iraq, the Tsunami in Thailand, and acts of violence, manmade or by nature, began to affect the sculptures.
“‘Meditation On Mourning’ was made as a response to the enormity of loss that has occurred over centuries as a result of wars,” writes Ms Woods in her artist’s statement at www.sbwoods.com.
“In that one moment, smoke filling the sky fueled by oil, people jumping to their deaths, broken glass flying upward in millions of directions, inexplicably compelling to see as it was horrible, I was changed.”
On Monday, August 12, Ms Woods added, “Everything kept going, and going, and I felt like I was going more into grief and the loss of love. That’s when the sculptures became wrapped in muslin. I felt engulfed in grief.”
It was not until she was working on the fourth piece that she started to feel the procreative aspect of the sculptures, she said. “The piece was taking me back into the love and feeling a deeper peace,” she said.
‘A Kind Of Peace’
After the 9/11 anniversary installation, the sculptures returned to storage. “I knew they were safe, and I didn’t really worry about where they would go,” said Ms Woods. Then Newtown happened, last December.
“I saw an interview with Lynn McDonnell [whose daughter Grace died at Sandy Hook Elementary School] and it hit me so deeply. She seemed to have a kind of peace, and I knew that ‘Meditation On Mourning’ should go to Newtown, to assist in any way it could,” Ms Woods said.
She made overtures in January to the C.H. Booth Library and to the Town of Newtown, both of whom were not able to accept the offer. In July, she tried again, reaching out to The Newtown Foundation and Newtown Action Alliance.
It was an amazing experience, said Ms Woods, to deliver the eight sculptures to Newtown on August 8.
“My first priority has been to find a way to protect the sculptures,” Mr Ackert said, and the custom packaging that Rand Whitney is donating will take care of that concern.
Currently stored at Mr Ackert’s residence, the sculptures will not be displayed locally, but are headed to the ArtStreet “Bullet: Who Pulls The Trigger?” exhibit at the University of Dayton in Ohio next month.
“I think that the installation is too emotive for local exhibition, right now,” Mr Ackert said. Ms Woods gave the installation to The Newtown Foundation, offering to assist the group in exhibiting it, or in marketing the work.
The Newtown Foundation recognizes not only the healing value but the market value of the sculpture, Mr Ackert said, and will consider selling the installation to fund programs supporting the organizations’ goals.
While the journey from New York to Connecticut on August 8 was only hours long, the journey for the sculptures actually began more than a decade ago, Mr Ackert noted.
“The inspiration for their creation was sparked by the loss of life on 9/11, and there was no shortage of additional inspiration in the three years that it took Susie to complete them,” he said.
The figures of “Meditation On Mourning” have no faces, representing anonymity, and are female in representation of procreation, lying in fetal positions of pain. The artist sees the “Mourning” women as containers of grief. “They hold the loss and the longing for a better world.”
But rather than have “Meditation On Mourning” sit in a warehouse while deciding its future, The Newtown Foundation decided to seek galleries and other public places to exhibit it.
“Here’s where the serendipity or spirituality or whatever you will call it, comes in,” said Mr Ackert. “The Newtown Foundation really does not have the expertise to deal with art work or store it, and even to sell it will take time. But two days after we accepted the work, I got a call from Brian LaDuca, the ArtStreet director in Ohio. He had been working with a local advocate since about February, hoping to work with children here to create a work and deliver it for the ‘Bullet’ exhibit,” he said. The opening of the exhibition was intended to showcase the children’s art, but because that effort did not come to fruition, the director was hoping that Mr Ackert could put together a program for children to make art.
“I don’t really have that kind of time right now, I told him. But I told him about ‘Meditation On Mourning’ and he got pretty excited about it,” Mr Ackert said. The two men quickly arranged for ArtStreet to ship the installation out to Dayton for the opening of the show on September 24. It will be part of the six-week “Bullet” exhibit, along with other pieces created in other cities impacted by gun violence.
“When I found out that South Chicago was participating, too, I thought, let’s do it. It’s not just Newtown we’re fighting for,” said Mr Ackert.
ArtStreet will also fly Mr Ackert or a Newtown Foundation representative and artist S.B. Woods to Dayton for the opening. Ms Woods will suggest proper lighting and positioning of the installation, he said. Adding a new dimension to the installation will be the projection of the names of all of the gun violence victims in the country since 12/14, an effect that Ms Woods believes will make the installation that much more potent.
The University of Dayton will also ship the installation back to Newtown in November, Mr Ackert said, or it may be directed to another city. The Newtown Foundation would like to see “Meditation On Mourning” travel to other universities or public venues, Mr Ackert said, but those details are still to be determined.
On Friday, Mr Stuhmer and Mr Schiffenhaus brainstormed the best way to securely package the fragile pieces of art.
“We usually make bulk packaging here,” Mr Schiffenhaus said, “not packaging for artwork. But in this case, when we got the request, we knew it was within our ability to help.”
Mr Stuhmer’s assessment was that some kind of foam design to encapsulate the figure would be the first step.
“I hope to have the installation on the road by the end of the first week in September,” Mr Ackert said. In the meantime, he was grateful to Rand Whitney for the packaging that will keep the delicate sculptures safe while in storage and in transit.
Ms Woods said that she has never before released one of her pieces. “I couldn’t feel richer doing this. It is completely fulfilling. I feel,” she said, “like [‘Meditation On Mourning’] has been waiting to come to Newtown.”
(“Bullet: Who Pulls The Trigger?” is a collaborative art installation with artist James Pate, Dayton Early College Academy, South Chicago Art Center and the art from Newtown, and runs September 24 to November 3, at the University of Dayton in Ohio ArtStreet space. The event is free and open to the public. For more information on The Newtown Foundation visit www.NewtownFoundation.org.)