If you were asleep in Napa on Aug. 24, 2014 at 3:20 a.m., it’s a sure bet you awoke to a cacophony of smashing, falling, crushing, shattering and breaking sounds.
And if you were foolish enough to display 220 vintage ceramic flower boxes on open-facing shelves throughout the house — without the use of museum gel to secure their bases — then you may have also found your precious collection, as did I, piled several inches high in mountains of damaged shards.
We know that “the best things in life are not things.” Even so, I didn’t have the heart to toss everything in the trash; yet salvaging the remnants of this heartbreaking catastrophe proved a Herculean task. So up until just a few months ago, six, large, plastic bins of colorful ceramic shards were awaiting their fate in our dark garage.
To the rescue came Kristina Young — artist, arts educator, administrator and advocate. For her, these shards were fodder for a striking, imaginative mosaic that now frames our garage window. Everything old became new again.
Active in the Bay Area’s creative community for more than two decades, Young’s penchant for managing complex projects and achieving stunning results will soon be evident in her most challenging public project-to-date, the Napa Quake Mosaic.
“I was working at the Grand Hand Gallery in downtown Napa when the earthquake hit,” Young said. “We carried a lot of functional ceramics and glassware, one-of-a-kind pieces that artists made. Basically, everything was broken on the floor, and I couldn’t just throw it away.”
“Everyone in Napa was talking about their experiences, what they lost, how they were coping. Several friends and I started talking about doing something with all of the broken material. The original group included Emma Kruch Morris, Jamie Graff, Mikey Kelly, Miki Hsu Leavey, T Beller and me.
“We wanted to create a piece of public art and started calling it The Napa Quake Mosaic. Grand Hand gallery became a drop-off point for community members to add their own objects. Every time someone brought an object in, they told me their earthquake story as well as the story behind the object. Each piece had personal significance or memories attached and the collection grew.”
Almost four years later, Young has what she describes as “many tons” of donated pieces of ceramic and glass slowly being culled for the project. These fragments will “land” on the front of a disused rail car, placed in the “Southern Gateway” of the Rail Arts District (RAD) on Wine Train property close to where the tracks cross Soscol Avenue. The area around the car will include landscaping courtesy of Gretchen Stranzi McCann.
Young’s interactive approach to completing this monumental artwork is highly collaborative and community driven.
“There are over 400 sections of the mosaic that we are building off-site (and will be installed when the rail car is ready), and I have begun holding public mosaic workshops for anyone to attend and participate in the creation,” Young said.
“The amazing staff at Nimbus Arts in St. Helena have been so helpful with these community workshops, and we have another one scheduled on July 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. Anyone can come, and no experience is necessary. We will provide all the supplies as well as instruction. I have also just started working with TeensConnect and COOL School and hold weekly workshops with students.”
Young created the mosaic design to be simple and graphic so that anyone can participate, regardless of experience.
“I want as many community members as possible to be part of the project” she said, “either by donating their broken treasures, participating in the build, volunteering their time to sort the donations or giving a financial contribution. I want the final piece to reflect the community from which it was made, with each participant having ownership and also enjoying the therapeutic process of mosaic: taking broken things and making them whole again. It’s a lot like making a giant puzzle, something everyone can do.”
Young estimates the full project budget to be about $110,000 with $65,000 left to procure. Grants from Arts Council Napa Valley and Napa County Arts & Culture have been awarded with a crowdfunding campaign soon to launch.
“Funding is so critical to a project like this,” said Young, “and there is only so much you can accomplish with volunteers and good intentions.”
As the countdown to Aug. 24, 2019 – the fifth anniversary of the Napa quake — and the unveiling of the Napa Quake Mosaic quickly approaches, Young is fully aware of the task that lies ahead.
“This project is definitely a labor of love,” Young said. “If someone told me when I started that I’d still be working on it four or five years later, I’d have laughed and also worried about my sanity!”
“But every time I talk about the project, it definitely resonates with people. I love watching some of the workshop participants get really into the mosaic process, especially those that don’t consider themselves artists. I’ve heard people say they had not done anything like this since they were children and now want more art-making in their lives. Others tell me they didn’t expect to like the mosaic process, but as they worked, they found it soothing and satisfying.”
As I savor my new, backyard, mosaic window frame and see the ceramic flowers thriving, it’s satisfying to know that the remains of those six bins of shards have at last found another artistic home – on a rail car!