Wreckage from Joplin re-created as art

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September 3rd, 2011

Kansas City, MO – Pieces of twisted metal and scrap wood left behind by a massive tornado that tore through Joplin, Missouri have made their way to a gallery in Kansas City. The sculptures and paintings were auctioned off last week to benefit the survivors of the tornado.

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Ann Leach standing in front of her old home, that has been re-built. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

“I’ll show you my home office, where it was before,” said Ann Leach, a grief counselor, who has lived in Joplin for 14 years, as she walked along a floor of broken glass, shattered wood and twisted metal. Leach is one of the survivors of the May tornado, which left 159 people dead.

Stepping into her old home that was destroyed in the tornado and has now been re-built, Leach pointed out the bathroom, where she tried to hide from the story. “So I was right here, and that’s all the space between me and death,” she said. “Really, that bathtub was gone.”

Leach was protected by a slab of sheet rock that fell on top of her, forming a protective barrier. Now, though her home is being re-built, she said she can’t go back. Every day, she’d remember a piece of her home, she said, where her favorite dishes used to sit, or an old piece of furniture she loved.

A few blocks away, Joplin High School still stands, heavily damaged. Local artists have created sculptures of eagles outside, the school's mascot. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

But some of those pieces she remembers have now found a new home, and a new form, including a music box of her grandmother’s.

Holly Swangstu, the curator of Leedy-Voulkos Art Center in Kansas City, which is housing Project Reclamation, pointed to a white painted music box, that still plays. “[Artist] Luis Garcia created a new music box with pages of the Bible from her [Leach’s] home,” she said, “I can’t wait to show her that.”

Artist Matthew Dehaemers and Curator Holly Swangstu displayed pieces of the Joplin wreckage, which a group of artists had re-created into pieces of artwork. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

The concept of artist Matthew Dehaemers, Project Reclamation connects artists from Joplin and Kansas City. Debris from the town was used to create sculptures and paintings.

“All these objects and materials have a story behind them,” Dehaemers said. “And that story’s only made through the people that own them. So what I thought was in between us and them is this material that has a choice of being put in this giant landfill or it has an opportunity to be re-born in a new, positive way.”

Back in Joplin, the billions of dollars of damage is still being cleaned up. Leach said the community has been resilient, and projects like these help the healing process.

Ann Leach's music box has been re-designed with pages from her Bible. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

“I can be emotional, and I can collapse in this pile of rubble and sob,” she said, “And I have, don’t get me wrong. But really, how is that going to serve me? Change is something you don’t have to be afraid of. A lot of people are, but when it hits you right between the eyes, you’re kind of forced to respond, and just trust that more good will come.”

Project Reclamation auctioned the pieces last week in Kansas City. The proceeds went to help Joplin artists re-build their studios, and host art therapy classes to help continue the healing in a grieving town.

This story was also heard on NPR.

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