Clay Art Center & Gilda's Club of Westchester Present Tree of Life Mosaic

Clay Art Center’s “Clay Expressions” program, offered free to members of Gilda’s Club of Westchester each fall and spring, has transformed the lives of more than 200 men and women impacted by cancer. This unique program, which began in 2011, is funded by an anonymous donor and in 2017 funding was matched by the National Endowment for the Arts in order to double the number of classes and create a piece of public art. 

The class brings together the tactile qualities of clay with meditation to give each student a place to center themselves, relax, and escape the harsh realities of living with cancer. Led by teaching artist Denis Licul, students are guided through a hands-on mediation with clay, focusing on breathing and feeling the moist clay change shape and temperature in their hands. In the classroom, they release their stress, anxiety and pain into the clay. Students create narrative sculptures and ceramic vessels as they build skills and find solace. “Healing with Clay” has provided stimulation for students in times when their physical bodies were struggling and a creative outlet when they needed space for themselves outside of their cancer. 

The artistic process has helped students realize that their illness is not their identity. Over the last seven years our Gilda’s Club students have grown into an ever-changing  family. This space and time to connect with one another and build lasting relationships is integral to the healing process.  Jane, a participant of the Clay Expressions class states, “After being diagnosed and being ill you realize you really need that time for yourself. I like sitting with a group of people who are going through a similar experience. It is unfortunate to meet people in this way but also so fortunate to have met people during the class that have such a great outlook on life. The clay has brought a new calmness to me and has given me a new way to express myself.” Clay helps give students back their voice after being devastated by illness, and the warmth of companionship lends support as they find a new place in their communities. 

In the winter of 2016, Clay Expressions participants faced the loss of a classmate, Ilene Rose. The students, who had experienced the transformative power of clay together while sharing their journeys through recovery, felt her absence keenly. The class decided that they would like to use their upcoming class sessions to create a commemorative mosaic mural, to honor the life and spirit of Ilene, and other members of Gilda’s Club who have passed before her. Though their instructor provided the outline for the mosaic, the content of individual tiles was left open to interpretation by each student who proved to create vibrant and joyful artworks. The culminating mosaic features elements of growth, nature, renewal and warmth. The mosaic is full of life and has thus been aptly titled, The Tree of Life.

On Thursday, November 9th, we were proud to unveil this beautiful project honoring and supporting women and men battling cancer. Those present were able to experience the power of  clay arts therapy in promoting self-discovery, comraderie and healing. 

Leigh MickelsonComment