Looking at loss and rebirth through art

Story by Amelia Kimball, Staff Writer

Walking along the Chippewa River State Trail, the first cool breezes of fall creating crackling sounds from the crisp leaves, symbols of one of nature’s most devastating natural disasters hung within the oak branches.
A representation of rebirth and realization came from a most unusual source: children of the Eau Claire area, including those from the Boys and Girls Club, the Children’s Center, and art education and sculpture majors Catelyn Mailloux and Megan Byron.
Byron and Mailloux began preparation for the River Bend Art Project in February of 2012 by applying for grants. For the past eight weeks, Mailloux and Byron worked to create stick sculptures, objects they hoped would represent debris left behind after a flood.
Venturing into the Eau Claire community, the women asked children of the Boys and Girls Club, the Children’s Center, and families in both Owen and Carson park if they’d like to participate. Children drew pictures of what they would save if a flood occurred.
“We chose to work with kids because we appreciate their honesty,” Byron said.
Children ages four to 12 were eager to show what they would take with them to higher ground.
As one child wrote next to a picture of a bike, “my bike because I bike every day.”
Another child drew books, and next to the books wrote, “books to keep me busy (my iPod dies fast).”
Dogs, horses, cats, ice cream, pizza and family members were more items children chose to draw.
The flood catchers were tied to tree branches along the Chippewa River State Trail with wire by
students and community members who came to the event. Framed Plexiglas stands were also placed along the trail, inviting event-goers to write words
describing flooding.
From the beginning when their interest consisted of responses to human flooding and dealing with emotions, Byron and Mailloux sought to connect with the community.
“ … It was simplistic and sensitive too … we wanted to do something that connected with the community,” Byron said. “We wanted the kids to have a pride in being able to participate in an elective … and also to respond to the ideas of loss. Sometimes we don’t talk about loss with kids because we’re kind of scared to talk about it. We wanted to touch on that with kids.”
Head of  the sculpture department and project advisor to Byron and Mailloux, Jason Lanka said the women came to him for assistance, and it was his job to help with the technical aspects of the project.
“I was there to help guide their development as a professional … I used my experience to help them
better their work,” Lanka said.
Lanka said he was pleased with their hard work and individuality.
“To see a wonderful, articulate and unique work that was their idea was rewarding … their creation and their voice,” he said.
Mailloux said she hopes the project will benefit people in
the community.
“As people are walking, we hope people will look at the drawings … see art as a way to respond to life experiences,” she said.
Byron said it was a way for them to reach out to the community and mature as artists.
“I would just invite the community and students to walk the path and experience the work and drawings,” she said.