News | March 18, 2021

CommunityEngagementFaculty and StaffFeaturedNewsStudent Life

‘FGCU Remembers’: Community gathers to mourn COVID-19 losses

4 - minute read

Art installation on Great Lawn to feature thousands of handmade tributes to victims

PHoto shows sculptures
A copper glaze that turns varied colors differentiates tributes to local COVID-19 victims. Photos: Student photographer Tiffany Shadden.

Thousands of hand-sculpted tributes will soon spring up on FGCU’s Great Lawn as a powerful visual memorial to the scores of individuals lost to COVID-19.


The art installation, “Field of Remembrance, Cathedral of Sky,” will begin taking shape in the heart of campus at about 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 21 as volunteers arrange the first of 8,000 to 9,000 votive-inspired pieces on the lawn. They will remain in place through Monday, April 5, with two ceremonies and a related interactive ArtLab Gallery exhibit called “What We Lost, What We Learned, What We Hope For” also planned. Smaller events are scheduled throughout the two-week commemoration.


Photo shows FGCU student
Hundreds of volunteers like Danielle Miller shaped votives by hand in shifts over the past couple months.

Ten ministers from diverse faiths will attend a dedication at 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 23. And at 4 p.m. March 28, “FGCU Remembers: The COVID Memorial Project,” will feature FGCU President Mike Martin and other speakers as well as performances by musicians from the Bower School of Music & the Arts. Limited community participation is allowed, and all visitors to the installation and the ArtLab must abide by FGCU requirements for wearing masks and maintaining social distance.


Over the past couple of months, about 100 art students, faculty and other volunteers have devoted countless hours to creating the memorial markers, which were inspired by votive candles traditionally used as prayer offerings in many faiths. These are more “conceptual candles,” not intended to be lit. Shaped by many individual hands, no two are exactly alike, yet they resemble calla lilies, the fluted spring flowers associated with holiness, faith and purity as well as rebirth.


The palm-sized pieces were then fired in kilns outside the Arts Complex before being attached to sustainable bamboo stems that will allow them to be “planted” by the thousand on the lawn. A copper glaze that adds a hint of blue and sometimes pink will differentiate the ceramics representing Southwest Florida COVID-19 victims.


Organizers are still working out details on what will become of the tributes afterward; they are considering offering them as tokens to individuals making donations for pandemic-related charities.


PHoto shows hands sculpting clay
Each handmade tribute will be one of a kind, just like the individuals being memorialized.

Professors Maria Roca and Patricia Fay hope the scale and symbolism of the installation, along with the other events planned around it, will encourage reflection on the impact of pandemic losses as well as lessons learned from the past year’s experiences. In December, they proposed the memorial to Martin, who provided funding with additional support from College of Arts & Sciences Dean Chuck Lindsey. As the spring semester started, they marshaled volunteers to begin fabricating the artistic component for this community moment of mourning.


“We needed some kind of public grieving and reflecting opportunity,” says Roca, chairwoman of the Department of Integrated Studies. “Seeing the votives all planted on the lawn will help people understand the magnitude of the pandemic.”


Art program coordinator Fay says she felt compelled “to do something — and this is something I can do.”


“The installation will span the vernal equinox and Easter,” she says. “It’s a uniquely spiritually-minded time of year. It’s a time of rebirth.”


Inspiration for the “Field of Remembrance, Cathedral of Sky” concept derived from “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red,” Roca says. The 2014 public art installation in the moat of England’s Tower of London commemorated the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. It consisted of 888,246 ceramic red poppies, each intended to represent a British or Colonial serviceman killed in the war.

PHoto shows FGCU students
Shifts of volunteers have been assembling the votives since January.


The following events are all at the Veterans Pavilion:

March 23

11 a.m. — Memorial dedication with area spiritual leaders

4:30 p.m. — Project launch with faculty and students from “Contemporary Ceramics” and “Contemplative Life” classes

March 24

6:30-8 p.m. — Mindful Living event with Maria Roca & Mindful Living Community

March 25

1:30-2:45 p.m. — “Loving the World as Our Own Body,” Kevin Aho

6:30-8 p.m. — Crystal Bowls Meditation – Linda Rowland

March 26

Noon-1 p.m. — “Poetry for Grief, For Healing, For Rebirth,” Jen Macbeth

March 28

4-6 p.m. — “FGCU Remembers” featuring President Mike Martin and guest speakers and musical performances

March 31

1-3 p.m. — Campus Cancer Campaign

6:30-8 p.m. — Mindful Living event with Maria Roca & Mindful Living Community

April 1

1-3 p.m. — Campus Cancer Campaign

3:30-4:30 p.m. — “The ‘Shadow Pandemic’:  A Discussion of Gender-Based Violence During COVID-19,” Mari DeWees and Alison Elgart

All visitors to the art installation and the ArtLab must abide by FGCU requirements for wearing masks and maintaining social distance.[/vc_column_text]

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