The Katrina Collection is one of those series that has a huge story overshadowing it. In this case, the whole world knows about the 2005 hurricane that “was the costliest hurricane, as well as one of the five deadliest, in the history of the United States.” But what of the smaller stories, people like you and I who had jobs, and family, and made art and sang songs. Having survived this onslaught from nature, what was left for them? How did they go on?
Lori Gordon’s poignant answer is enough to make you weep:
Before Katrina ravaged our coast, I used to drive down streets just to marvel at the beauty of my surroundings. I spent countless mornings on the beach, sitting in the sand with a cup of coffee as I watched the sun rise over the Gulf. My favorite evening activity was to bicycle down the beach road at sunset, luxuriating in the cool breeze coming off the sound. I could not paint enough local landscapes, or stand to stay away from my studio for long.
In the aftermath of the storm which ripped our lives apart, I did none of those things. Instead, I swept the slab where my home used to stand. I picked among the rubble of splintered wood and rusted metal where my studio rested amidst a beautiful grove of bamboo. I looked for signs of life in what used to be my community, and I waited. I waited for the insurance adjusters to come and I waited for the county to allow me to go back home and I waited for some sign that things were really getting better. I waited for the moments of anger, sorrow and fear to pass. I waited for nights in which I could sleep, and for the cessation of troubled dreams which I didn’t understand. I waited for the clock of our lives to start ticking again.
Remarkably, it was only five weeks of “waiting” before Lori “started sifting through the rubble of her life.”
[I] began creating something new from the mounds of debris that cover my property. My canvases are now composed of twisted, rusty pieces of metal and battered pieces of plywood. I have found treasures in the form of clocks which stopped at the moment that destruction rained down upon Clermont Harbor. Broken dolls which washed up on my lot have been transformed into visual stories of shattered lives. Plaster angels have found new halos of dartboard wire, and fragments of paintings which I plucked from tree limbs like damaged fruit have been reborn in new forms.
This process of creating art from the rubble of her life helped Lori Gordon to “make time start again,” and “dare to hope for our future.”
Notice that word “our.” Lori is still part of a community, and friends like Ellis Anderson have also, most eloquently, expressed the stories of “before and after Katrina:”
I have . . . friends living in tents in their driveways or in cramped travel-trailers rather than taking refuge with family in other towns. They want to stay connected with the place that has been their home, even if the structure is no longer standing. It may not seem very practical, but practicality flew out of the window along with everything else when Katrina tore through Mississippi two months ago.
Ellis also refound her hope, declaring that “We’re fluent in the language of loss now, but we’re also learning more about the language of love.”
There is evidence of many others expressing similar emotions:
I witnessed the Miracle of the Shrines – neighbors would pick through the rubble from houses of friends and salvage the few personal belongings they could find. They would set these items up at the edge of the property. One could drive down the street and pass Irish crystal vases, family portraits, pottery or silver candlesticks, neatly arranged at the curb, awaiting the owners who had evacuated.
I cannot pretend to understand what it feels like to be crushed under so much loss, and dig my way out again. What I feel most is a tremendous respect for those who created something meaningful out of the remains: be it a piece of art, a shrine, a song. They were the spokespersons for all the rest, for those who were experiencing a rubble of the spirit, who required witnesses to inform the world of the weight of this degree of loss.
Scroll down Lori Gordon’s Katrina Collection website. Unbelievably,it is followed by The Gustav Series.
Do not be shocked by words like fun, or perfect, wonderful, or sacred. They are peppered in descriptions of the art which contains the bits and pieces, the vestiges of her former life, and the life of friends and neighbors.
Before Katrina, Lori’s usual mode of expression was painting. After Katrina, assemblage became her new modus operandi. Her terse answer as to why she changed her process: “No house, no studio, no paintbrushes, no canvases.”
Lori wants her work to be a reminder of how your life can change in a second, and that you really can make lemon-aid out of lemons. But the number one thing she hopes the collection proclaims is “the kindness of strangers,” something she experienced over and over again. When we are self sufficient, this lesson may not be realized.
What an amazing testament to the beauty inherent in loss, to the revealed light of the human spirit, stripped of its physical trappings and determined to illuminate others once again. Lori Gordon is one artist who has decimated any doubts she might have had about the power of art.
(If you want to hear more about Lori, and see her answer questions, you may view a video about Lori Gordon and the Katrina Collection.)