Who doesn’t love sunflowers? From Georgia O’Keeffe, to the huge fields that draw visitors searching for the next Christmas photo, sunflowers have been a staple of the garden.
Ray of Light
In 2016, Buffalo’s Masten Park on the East side became ground zero for an extraordinary convergence of events where tragedy and despair have been converted into beauty, light, and hope.
An Ominous Space
The park’s once elegant concrete walls and stairwells had disintegrated into a dark, fearful place riddled with weeds. Then in October, 2014, the brutally murdered body of a beloved East side woman was found on the stairwell. The homicide remains unsolved but many believe she was a victim of domestic violence. The family members took their anger and channeled their energy into creating an artistic symbol of hope for their park, their neighborhood, and for those whose lives are touched by domestic violence.
Embraced by Artists
The family went to Buffalo Arts Studio (BAS), which put out a call for art submissions. The winning entry was a design by Augustina Droze, a Buffalo-based, internationally-acclaimed muralist. Droze recruited one of the country’s top stained-glass artists, Megan McElf, also from Buffalo, who happens to be an East side resident. Moreover, with a forensic scientist as a father, McElf had grown up hearing about issues of domestic violence. Fueled with a passion for the cause, love for her neighborhood, and devotion to her craft, she created a transformative stained-glass component to the mural.
“The mosaic portion needs to be timeless because it will never be done again,” says McElf. “I’m really doing two designs at once. One that works with the painting and on its own after the paint fades in 20 to 30 years.”
McElf, a technician and craftsperson, created a three-dimensional mosaic that reaches out to people physically and spiritually employing spirals and doves, international symbols of peace. McElf merged angel, butterfly, and bird’s wings into a single entity that wraps around the stairwell columns. “The feathers come out to the edge. You want to touch it,” she says. A quieting palette of blues, whites, and grays with opaque, metallic, opalescent, and iridescent glass shimmer and reflect light.
The final mural is beyond anyone’s expectations. But McElf’s work often elicits that response because she seeks all possibilities, not just what is envisioned.
“This artwork does more than heal a wound,” says McElf. “I was given a mission with this project, which is why I went above and beyond.”
Jump Start to Art
The Buffalo Arts Studio (BAS) worked with the victim’s family to bring the Ray of Light mural to life. Yet, before the mural was even conceived, the Buffalo Arts Studio (BAS) has been a source of hope-filled opportunities to inner city kids through its Jump Start program. This program empowers kids who have an interest in a creative field but lack resources and support to nurture that interest.
When Megan McElf, the Buffalo-based stained glass artist who created the spectacular mosaic portion of the mural, was challenged with near-impossible deadlines, the BAS Jump Start program came to her aid. Two 17-year-old Jump Start members were assigned to McElf. “They were awesome.” she says. McElf worked seven days per week with some 48 hour periods. She exclaims, “These girls learned a lot and ended up being tremendous contributors!”
More information on BAS’s Jump Start program can be found at www.buffaloartsstudio.org/education/jump-start-mentorship-program/