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Art and Music Help Gulf Coast Residents Create New Lives

By Rhonda Miller | Published 30 Aug 2011 11:14pm | comments
Music therapist Charles Crowley says songs can help make peace with the past and make the most of the present.

People along the Mississippi Gulf Coast are still working their way back to normal from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Today in our series, Mississippi Six Years After Katrina: From Rubble to Resilience, MPB’s Rhonda Miller found some rebuilding their lives with the help of art and music.

In a barn on five acres of land near Picayune, artist Lori Gordon drags out broken dolls, scraps of wood and bent pieces of metal.

"This xylophone I found someplace in the Bay St. Louis-Waveland area," Gordon says. "I found a lot of musical instruments, smashed trombones or trumpets.  I don’t even know what they were."

Gordon starting collecting debris soon after Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home on the bayou near Bay St. Louis. 

"Oh, yeah there was just a slab left. That was it. We never did find a piece, you know, of a wall or a part of a roof that we could identify as being ours. We found bits and pieces of a couch here," Gordon said.  "I found my new stove back in the woods about a block or two from where the house had been. But mostly everything was completely shattered."

It was from the shattered remains of people’s lives Gordon found a new purpose in her art. Before Katrina, she painted mostly landscapes. After Katrina, she lived in a tent, then a FEMA trailer. She found some relief from the chaos by gathering remnants of her former life.

"I was able to pick up a lot of different things of mine from the woods behind where my home had been," she said. "And that is primarily where the first few pieces originated was from broken furniture and pottery from my home."

Gordon was one of many artists without a place to work after the storm. Some of them gathered in a studio at 220 Main Street in Bay St. Louis. Soon they formed a cooperative gallery.

"Five weeks after the storm we had our grand opening here at Gallery 220 and that first weekend I sold three pieces. And all of a sudden it occurred to me, maybe this is how I’m going to be able to have a home again. And I started making mixed media pieces with a vengeance after that," Gordon said.

Working 14 hours a day, seven days a week, for three years, Gordon began creating The Katrina Collection. The artwork paid for Gordon’s new home, with a barn she uses as a studio. 

Jenise McCardell owns the Gallery 220 building and works in her clay studio there. She believes Gordon’s art had a healing effect because it reminded people of times when life was more normal.

"It was so wonderful to see people go 'Oh, I had one of those.' Their hearts just sang. They saw common every day things, but they were found,"  McCardell said.

Waveland resident JoAnn George agrees. The storm left her home under five feet of water. George bought one of Gordon’s pieces.

"Well, I picked this particular Katrina piece because the large part of the backdrop is a wrinkly piece of metal like a tin roof and she had salvaged a duck, I guess it was a duck’s head, from some other shop that went under," George said. "Since we lost so many of our antiques and little personal things, this was very personal, in that we knew where the pieces came from."

At Behavioral Memorial Health in Gulfport, music therapist Charles Crowley says art and music can evoke memories and feelings. He says that can make it easier to have peace with the past, and make the most of the present. Crowley is from Long Beach and lived through Hurricanes Camille and Katrina.

"As we see the coast rebuilt, I think what should do, and probably do anyway, is create new memories in the new places, without forgetting the old places," Crowley said.

Even with the monumental scope of Katrina’s destruction, Crowley says mental health requires the ability to deal with change.

"The therapy comes in with the people who are stuck, and say, 'Oh, it’ll never be the same. Well, it won’t ever be the same, in the physical sense. But if you look at it as a rebuilding, a re-creation, then you’re able to let go of that and re-create your environment according to the new," Crowley said.

Despite all the family photographs, landmarks and homes destroyed by the storm, Gulf Coast residents are building new lives. As these new lives take shape, art and music, and community, can ease the way. 






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