"The Snowflake Effect": Coral Springs Museum of Art Responds to Sandy Hook

When a gunman ripped through the classrooms of Sandy Hook Elementary School, horrendously killing 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, the world mourned. It was a cold day on December 14, 2012, when this senseless act of violence broke hearts.

As America expressed outrage and gun-control debates raged, Newtown school officials had to find the surviving elementary students a new school to attend. Before the doors were to open, administrators sought to erect a "Winter Wonderland" memorial in the new school, honoring those precious lost lives. In January 2013, the Connecticut Parent Teachers Association requested that the community send in hand-cut snowflakes made of paper to decorate the school.

The call for "Snowflakes for Sandy Hook" garnered a bigger response than they could have imagined. First, an envelope of lovely paper snowflakes arrived along with handwritten sympathy cards and piggy-bank money. Then a box. Then a truckload. Within two days, officials who thought they would receive just a few boxes had deliveries from a semitruck dropping off loads of snowflakes mailed in from around the world.

To some, this avalanche of love proved the power of art.

Staffers at the Coral Springs Museum of Art saw a CBS report about the snowflake phenomenon as they were planning their next year's shows. Now, at the massacre's one-year anniversary, the museum presents "The Snowflake Effect."

This fall, the museum asked local children and families to make snowflakes out of paper to contribute to the forthcoming show. About 80 of them are hung from the ceiling with fishing line throughout the museum's Kuhn Gallery space. Some are treated with markers, and lines of glittered puff paint add touches of color. Some are simple — small and all white — while other snowflakes are large, with intricate designs. Seeing it in person feels magical and sentimental.

"We taught the kids how all snowflakes, just like artists and individuals, are all different," says Julia Andrews, the museum's curator. "Like people, no two snowflakes are alike." While the show is on display, visitors are invited to make their own snowflakes to keep or leave behind.

"The snowflakes are a symbol of support that lets the Newtown families know that people care about what happened," says Andrews. "This show takes a look at art and symbolism and how communities come together to offer support and comfort through art. Art has healing powers."

"The Snowflake Effect" show also features 16 winter scenes, including paintings and photographs by local artists — from abstract painted snowballs to a photograph of horses galloping in the snow. Gloria Eckart's Arise at Dawn piece has a serious tone, consisting of an array of text, some in large cursive letters and some small — hard-to-read statements that appear on paste, paper, and gouache. The piece seemingly questions the existence of God where it reads "the immortal in Heaven must be crazy with wine to cause such disorder." Perhaps the most moving piece of the show is Laurianna MacDonald's painting of a sad and desolate snowstorm. A black silhouette, back turned to the viewer and holding an umbrella, walks over a snow-covered bridge as street lamps gently illuminate the path, but it's not clear what's ahead — perhaps chaos, perhaps nothing but a warm bed. The edges of the painted paper are frayed, suggesting conflict, yet specks of glitter appear across the canvas, giving it a shimmer of hope.

In the museum's main gallery, a solo exhibition featuring Quebec artist Andre Desjardins is on display. This collection includes bronze sculptures and mixed-media portraits that appear as androgynous beings transfixed in various emotive states of inner turmoil and bliss. Desjardins' solo show runs through March 15, 2014.

To further the theme of healing arts, the museum has displayed a panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, a massive quilt that honors nearly 18 percent of all United States' AIDS deaths, or 91,000 names. The panel shown at the gallery is just one piece of the quilt that weighs more than 54 tons and spans 1.3 million square feet. The quilt consists of blocks each roughly three feet by six feet. Some panels include images of the dead; some, thoughtful messages like "She touched the stars" and "Always in our hearts."

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Andrea Richard