Best of 2011 #4 – Artists helping artists

Project Reclamation

The horrific tornado and loss of lives in Joplin was certainly not one of the bests of 2011 but the project started in Kansas City to help the affected artists was.

We lived with the news of the Joplin tornado from the moment that it happened. Only 150 miles from Kansas City, many of our friends grew up in Joplin but left for KC as we are the closest big(ish) city, and many still have family living there. We watched Facebook feeds of friends traveling to collect their children, and others going to help their parents put their lives back together. So I was grateful and humbled to be able to take part in an amazing project put together by a great artist and former studio-mate of mine, Matt Dehaemers, and the talented Holly Swangstu.

Debris pile from Joplin tornado in Leedy-Voulkis Art Center

Description from Dehaemers:

A Debris pile collected from 6 Joplin, Missouri homes devastated by the EF-5 tornado on May 22, 2011.  98 Kansas City artists were asked to create a new work of art incorporating this debris.  The result was over 100 new works of art.  These works of art were auctioned to create a new grant made available to Joplin artists whose homes, studios and art have been destroyed by the tornado.  The Twist and Shout Auction (Part II of Project Reclamation) raised over $20,000…

…Collectively, this will be our way to bring some sense of order and hope to the chaos and darkness. Nature has wielded its own raw power and mystery through the destruction of this storm. As artists, we can work to balance that energy and force with our own expansive and powerful creative process. (more from Dehaemers)


Equus Ferus (Wild Horse)

Each participating artist was invited to the debris pile to pick out a few items to be used in their artwork. I selected a plastic toy horse – cracked and caked with dirt.

Toy Pony on Painted Steel

Back in my studio photographing the pony, I thought about the child that lost their toys and with it their innocence and sense of safety. How scary it must have been. I thought about our resilience and our ability to make something beautiful from the scraps. It was a profound afternoon for me- my energy so entirely focused on the people of Joplin.

On a subsequent trip to the debris pile I photographed textures including a wheelbarrow, metal flashing, and a skinned tree branch to layer into the piece. The textures of these items give context to the journey the little horse has been on, representing the power of both destruction and survival.  Each mark the scars that make a thing more beautiful and unique. How uninteresting he would be if he was perfect and new.




  1. bigjim January 4, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    i love this project and your response is beautiful.

    • Chris January 4, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

      Thank you. I need to find more projects like this to get involved in.

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