A throw-back in honor of the upcoming eclipse.
Twenty-three years ago I experienced my first eclipse. It wasn’t total. It was annular, meaning, because of its proximity to the earth, the moon didn’t completely cover the sun. Unsure about what was about to happen, my roommate and I stood outside our apartment in Lawrence, Kansas waiting for something to change. It came as an odd, slow dimming almost imperceptible but for the sounds. The rising sounds of birds and insects and dogs, howls and chirps that would normally happen as evening approached. Like the animals we are, I felt my hackles go up. It was eerie and instinctual.
I also remember an unexpected effect of the eclipse. It was how it brought people together. It was a true spectacle, something outside of the everyday we could all witness but were powerless to control. And it was in that liminal moment that a space in time was opened for passersby and strangers to meet and wonder - together.
Six years later.
I was in Grinnell, Iowa, the small town where I’d gone to college in the 80’s and was back to work on a mural with students from both the town and college. Early in the project at a community meeting folks were having a hard time getting beyond flat characterizations of each other - elitist, townie, hippie, red neck - when I recalled that moment of the eclipse and of how it briefly allowed people who might not normally talk to each other to gaze up at the sky and chat.
I thought about one reality obscuring, eclipsing another, what we see and how we adjust to absence. The answer during an eclipse is the wild and beautiful corona, which can only be observed when the moon is directly in front of the sun. When one idea obscures another, sometimes new things are revealed. In awe of the eclipse, we briefly recognize our fragility and connectedness. I shared my thoughts with the mural team and after much discussion and drawing, we chose to represent the Grinnell community coming together during an eclipse.
The design has four parts. On the left a group of people, in front an iconic Louis Sullivan bank decoration from town, come 'to the table' to work on an issue, make a plan, discuss a problem, and listen to each other. On the far right, a group of local domesticated and wild animals take notice of the humans. And in the center of the mural above the intersection/crossing of north-south and east-west train lines, a symbolic figure brings a gesture of good will, inspiration, solace, across the dark blue disc of the eclipse.
The mural was commissioned by the Grinnell Area Arts Council. My friend Karla Niehus who worked at the Faulconer Gallery and served on the Arts Council was the project coordinator. Grinnell student Alex Racho was the assistant. Students from Grinnell High School, New Horizons Alternative High School and College made up the design team. If you’re driving across Iowa on I-80, stop in Grinnell for a meal at my friend Kamal’s restaurant, Relish, and then check out Eclipse the mural at the corner of 3rd Avenue and Park Street.