Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Children, Lost and Found

Lost Childhood: Galveston, 1900
In 1900 a horrible hurricane tore across Galveston Island, Texas. On the west side of Galveston, at 69th Street on the seawall, was St. Mary's Orphanage, established by Catholic Sisters of Charity. The two dormitories were home to 93 children and 10 nuns.

As the winds increased and the water began to surge over the seawall, the nuns gathered the children around and led them up to the second floor of the girls' dormitory. They all heard the crash of the boys' dormitory as it collapsed and was carried away by the flood waters.

Each nun took clothesline rope and used it to tie between six to eight of the youngest children to themselves, hoping to protect them. Three of the oldest boys climbed onto the roof of the orphanage.

The death and destruction in Galveston was unbelievable. More than 8,000 died and their bodies were littered throughout the city. All 10 nuns and 90 children died in the storm. The sisters were buried wherever they were found, each with the children still tied to them.

Today, where St. Mary's orphanage once stood, there is a Walmart.

I made this piece in 2010 and Seth Apter chose to include it in his book, The Pulse of Mixed Media. Seth is an extremely talented artist and I appreciate greatly his generosity in letting me share my art with you.

Yes, this was previously posted last year. It's time to revisit it, for several reasons. 

One reason is that when we were in New York City last spring Susan took a bunch of pictures of people wearing bright colors.  Because our life has turned upside down (The Big Move) in the last year she didn't bother to look at all of them until recently.  This one caught her eye and was an eerie echo of the Lost Childhood: Galveston piece shown above.

 Now more about the ceramic pieces.  I have a lot of them.  Sometimes we call them The Children, sometimes we call them The Little Sweaters, sometimes they are The Sweater Children.  

They didn't start out to be children, they started out to be a Dude with a sweater on. That idea crashed to earth really fast but the shape intrigued me so I made several more.  Once you have several similar pieces looking at you it becomes time to listen to what they are saying.  And while you are listening to them, you are listening to NPR news.  So, in reality, they didn't start out to be the Galveston children, they started out to be the Poverty Children.  The statistic was this:

26% of the children in the state of Texas are living in homes
that have incomes below the national poverty level.
The plan was to make an installation of 100 of them, 26 with the darker oxide shadowing on them (top left in the picture above) and the other 74 with just the plain white clay.  To me that mean that the 26% didn't have a chance to be as clean as the others. Unfortunately, after I got about 60 made I realized that people might misinterpret it as indicating skin color.  No, that wasn't it, but I let the project go. 
Then Seth gave me a goal of a piece for his book and I knew I wanted to do something with the Children.  Susan and I pondered it for several days and came up with several ideas.  One was to take some that were really damaged-looking and have them represent the children used as soldiers by the Rwandan government. Another idea was to glaze some of them bright red and yellow colors and have them represent the 33 children who died in 2011 because they were accidentally left in a locked car on a hot summer day. Another idea was to have them surrounded by pairs of baby shoes. The shoes would actually be bigger than the little sweaters and the size juxtaposition would question whether the sweater was for a doll the child had or were the shoes just out of proportion.
Finally, I thought of the story of the children in Galveston (where I was born) and created the nun and arranged the right number of children and that was that.
And now the reason for revisiting the piece:  What should I do with all the other Sweater Children I made?
They are no longer lost.  They will be found. Someone will find them and wonder Who? Why? What?
We were in New York City this January. Yes, we try to go at least twice a year. January is a good time to go because the bad weather keeps the amateurs away and the museums are uncrowded.
 I took some with me to be placed in the city. It's a hard thing to do there because the "See something, Say something" mantra makes me a little spooked about putting something down in public.  But I persisted. These pictures are near the bears at The Met.
These pictures are in the subway stop at the Natural History Museum.  In the first picture you can see me nicely bundled up, getting ready to head on out to wait for a bus, Sweater Child placed.
And here we are, 6 hours later, on our way back. 

Some Sweater Children have been given to other people to put in secret places.  Stay tuned.


Roberta said...

That is quite a tragic story. Your sweater children are so poignant.

Rebeca Trevino said...

i grew up in texas, too. corpus. the hurricanes would come every year, but none like the big galveston storm. i remember my mom and dad telling me the stories about the devastation suffered from that storm. i never heard the story of the children and the nuns, however.
thank you for sharing.

i love your little children/ sweaters/ sweater-children. wouldn't it be wonderful to hear back from someone who finds one of your children in NYC? someone who says, 'i found him, and will keep him safe, and thank you'.

if i found one, that is what i would say. . . . a lovely story. thank you again for telling it.

ArtPropelled said...

Such a powerful artwork .... I loved discovering it in the book. Smiling at Susan's photograph and remembering the excitement of school outings. I would still love to see a big installation of your sweater children.

Seth said...

Your piece in my book is still a favorite Don. A powerhouse, made even stronger by the accompanying story.

So happy to be a part of your project. I have done my job and left one of the sweater children in Central Park -- who no doubt is soon to be adopted by one very surprised and lucky person! I will blog about it soon!

~*~Patty S said...

Hello ~ I am visiting from Seth's blog and as blown away by your Sweater Children project along with all I learned by reading your post...

Very moving and inspiring!

elle said...

Bless you. Hope is a powerful thing. It is good to 'hide' it and also to find it!

Jo Murray said...

This is a heartrending story, and a wonderful project. Maybe some will travel internationally and be found all over the world...a lovely thought.

Leanne E said...

Wonderful story that you shared, and wonderful you to help them be remembered :) Namaste.

Katie said...

As a New Yorker, I usually am annoyed by tourists, but I like you.

Jan said...

I recently read about that storm in Galveston and your article and the photos of the sweater children really added to the impact of that event. I wish I could have found one of the children! I often leave small works of art to be fond - paintings, post cards, etc. I especially love leaving art post cards in library books.

Beth DiIorio said...

How incredibly touching! I am blown away. LOVE the idea of your Sweater Children project on so many levels. I'll happily spread the word of your idea in hopes of inspiring other artists to use their creative perspective to raise awareness and foster kindness. Thank you again!

Patti said...

Just came from Seth's and I have to say that your work, the inspiration and stories... all beyond incredible. Thanks so much for doing what you love and for sharing your beautiful work!!