Often when I read about an event in the news I feel compelled to do something about it – make a donation, follow the details, make art about it. At the same time I feel frustrated that my efforts seem so small in comparison to the magnitude of the event. When the shootings occurred last December at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut I was horrified and heart-broken. I woke up worried about my beloved nieces and nephews as they went off to their schools every day. I thought endlessly about the families in Newtown who lost their children and those who gratefully held theirs extra tightly.
I’ve been to only one child’s funeral and looking at that small light blue casket was one of those moments when you think that such a thing should never be required. No one should make child-sized caskets and no parent should ever have to stand near one. Carter Pei didn’t quite make it to kindergarten. He isn’t still in this world, but I assure you that every person who met him still carries him in their heart. I often think of him and the joy he brought.
After Sandy Hook I imagined twenty families mourning their children. The parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, family friends – it’s really quite a never-ending ripple of people whose lives changed forever. And then I thought of the six teachers and staff members who gave their lives trying to protect “their” kids. I remember the teachers at my school and their protective mother lion instincts when it came to the children in their care.
And so I am thinking of it now as I tell you about a new book, Sandy Hook, which memorializes the twenty children and six staff members killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th, 2012. A combination of the desire to do something (all profits will be donated) and a frustration with our short social memory and the way that important events fade quickly led me to create this book.
In thinking how to represent the children and school staff who were killed, I settled on the idea of using teddy bears for the children and apples for the adults. After spending several days purchasing individual bears and apples, I began taking the school portraits. It got harder and harder as I worked on the book, and taking the group photo left me in tears. I couldn’t help but think of all the group photos those children will never be in: graduations, weddings and countless family portraits.
When I first started showing the completed book I was surprised at the reaction – people were angry. When I explained that all profits would be donated to the United Way fund for Newtown, people exclaimed “that they don’t need money!” But yes, they do. I know from my years of working with families that they will need money. Money for expenses, for counseling, lots and lots of counseling, and to rebuild their lives. But I thought about it and put the book away for a while.
I’m ready to release it now. I hope that it will be received in the spirit with which it is intended. It is a memorial. An attempt to make sure we don’t forget those children and adults and their families in the same way that we seem apt to do. It is also a fundraiser. I’m donating my time and materials. Sales of the books will go to the United Way fund. I’ll update you in December with how much I’ve been able to send so far.
Have you made art in response to an event in the news? Share it with us in the comments.