CareFirst has always participated in Garden of Fire with a clear focus of incorporating lessons about life, death, grief, and healthy coping. This year, the Summer of Earth, was no different.
The summer workshop sessions provided by CareFirst staff and other community artists focused on change. The earth changes with the coming and going of each season just like our emotions and experiences fluctuate over our lifetime. We can use creativity as a way to adapt, adjust, and even promote change within ourselves.
In one of the workshops this summer CareFirst instructor, Carly Cushing, and artists Tony Moretti and Gwen Quigley were talking with the students about the changes we see on the earth and in our life while building benches made from natural materials. The project is a collaborative effort by the four different youth centers, and tends to grow and change as different centers add their own creative touch to it. By the end of the first session with the Addison Youth Center, they found that their bench had become a Hippo! The lines and shape of the bench took form and reminded the children of a hippo lumbering out of the water. This was the perfect inspiration as the instructors were able to reflect on a beautiful story about the experience of change in the natural world.
The students and instructors shared together about the story of Owen and Mzee, a well-known and amazing true story about a close animal friendship (see children’s story “Owen & Mzee” by Isabella Hatkoff). Owen was a baby Hippo when he was stranded in Kenya after the 2004 Tsunami. With his mother and the other hippos in his pod having been swept away by the waters, Owen was deserted and almost died. Villagers tirelessly tried to rescue him but it wasn’t until making it to a Kenyan Animal Sanctuary that he finally started to recover. It was there that Owen met Mzee, a 130 year old Tortoise. They became fast friends and Owen started looking to Mzee for support in adjusting to this huge change in his life. When Mzee ate, Owen ate; when Mzee swam, so did Owen. Their story of friendship, kindness, and resilience served as the perfect symbol for how all animals found on the earth can cope with the changing seasons throughout our lives.
The natural art the children had created, again, began to morph into exciting possibilities. By the time the Laura Richardson Houghton Corning Youth center arrived later that day, a plan was put into motion to give our “Owen” his very own “Mzee”. The children worked hard to create the foundation for a beautiful tortoise.
On day two, the Salvation Army group moved and sifted dirt to create natural clay from our local earth to put the finishing touches on the pair. As the conversation of growth continued, one of the instructors reflected on the Iroquois belief of how the earth was created. According to the story, before the earth was created, there was an island floating in the air where the Sky People lived. A Sky Woman fell from the island where she landed in the vast, open, ocean. The animals in the water helped the woman on the back of a turtle swimming nearby. They helped to gather mud and place it on the turtle’s shell, where it grew and grew, eventually changing shape and creating the earth under our feet as we know it today.
The Hornell Area Concern for Youth were the last group to add to the beautiful creation. They decided that Sky Woman and the story of how the earth was created should be honored with the sculpture of Mother Nature. Thus, the work of art changed yet again, leaving a collective group of meaningful sculptures representing CREATIVITY AND CHANGE.
CareFirst welcomes you to come see the sculptures that the children made at the Garden of Fire Festival being held at CareFirst (3805 Meads Creek Road, Painted Post, NY) on Friday, August 18, 2017.