Saturday, September 3, 2011

Joplin - Creating the Mural Design Part I

Fashioning together a mural design from the hundreds of images and ideas generated is a daunting task. And there is always an inclination to try include everything and create a kind of patchwork mural. We challenged ourselves to take things a step further and create something more integrated and dynamic that reflected our shared experience in a beautiful and interesting way, while incorporating the work of a large and diverse group of participants.

To do this we first needed a theme, a general visual and conceptual idea, to work from. As a group, the design team considered:
  • The significance of this moment in Joplin's history.
  • The input we had received from community meetings and drawing workshops.
  • Where the mural was going to be located.
  • Who the audiences viewing the mural would be.
  • What we wanted to communicate.
From these considerations, a few key ideas kept coming up. They were transition, vision, metamorphosis, and revitalization (including the myth of the Phoenix). There was also a strong feeling expressed for using the drawings that young people created as a significant part of the mural. In the studio, the design team took these ideas and began to form images that symbolized a kind of visionary metamorphosis, while Amber, Kyle and I searched through all of the kids drawings to find ones that seemed to best capture the moment.

Here are some of the design team drawings that used visual icons like trees and  butterflies as vessels to be filled with ideas about transformation and revitalization.

And here a few of the drawings kids made that we chose to use parts of in our design.

Then I had an idea... What if the kids drawings were somehow brought to life by something symbolizing a beautiful transformation - like a butterfly.  It felt right and so I quickly did this mock-up where a butterfly takes flight from one of the their drawings.
The next piece of the design puzzle came from one of my favorite poets and Joplin native son Langston Hughes. We had been looking for poetry to enhance the mural's developing story when Sharon, one of our design team members, brought in the poem "In Time of Silver Rain" by Hughes -

In time of silver rain
The earth
Puts forth new life again,
Green grasses grow
And flowers lift their heads,
And over all the plain
The wonder spreads
      Of life,
      of life,
      of life!
In time of silver rain
The butterflies
Lift silken wings
To catch a rainbow cry,
And trees put forth
New leaves to sing
In joy beneath the sky
As down the roadway
Passing boys and girls
Go singing, too,
In time of silver rain
      When spring
      And life
      Are new.

Amazing. The poem's tone and imagery seemed too fit perfectly with the direction our design was taking. All we had to do was figure out how to bring together all these sources - the kid's drawings, the design team's work, my ideas about the butterfly, and the poetry - into something that looked and felt like a short (picture) story.

The mural design we created from this material is just one of the countless designs that could have been made, and it couldn't possibly include all of the incredible images that were created as part of the process. The good thing is that Joplin has many other walls calling out for a murals - hint, hint.

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