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“Lynn Takata came on a hike that I led a couple of years ago and presented the idea to me of creating a mosaic along this bare concrete wall,” says Robin Jensen, board member of Friends of Marquam Nature Park. Marquam Nature Park is located 5 minutes from downtown Portland in the southwest hills. “The idea was very exciting because it was going to be native plants and animals of the park,” adds Jensen.
This early conversation led to a nine-month-long project involving participatory public artist Takata, poet Edna Kovacs and more than 400 volunteers from the community who ultimately transformed the 100-foot-long amphitheater steps into a beautiful mosaic. The project was funded in part by the Regional Arts & Culture Council and the Bill Connor Memorial Fund through Friends of Marquam Nature Park.
Throughout the course of the project, Takata offered a variety of workshops during which community members sculpted clay into the shapes of trillium, squirrels, butterflies, slugs and many other varieties of fauna and flora to create the ceramic relief tiles and fused glass art for the amphitheater steps. Kovacs led poetry workshops so members of the public could write about nature and the spirit of place. Their works have been collected in a chapbook of poetry, and a fragment from a linked verse written during one of the workshops adorns the mosaic. Takata and members of the community began placing the tiles on the wall this past summer, and the mosaic was completed in early fall.
So how was Takata able to coordinate the talents of so many volunteers to produce this community-created work of art?
She describes her work style as improvisational, explaining that she sees herself as the choreographer of the project.
“I am always being asked, ‘Did it turn out the way you expected?’” says Takata. “But the reality is I never know how it’s going to turn out, because we are taking ideas from many people and I don’t know till the very, very end.”
Though Takata began with some basic ideas about color and tone, she remained flexible throughout the project, incorporating different ideas and making adjustments to bring out the best results.
“People are nervous sometimes because they don’t know exactly what the project is going to look like,” explains Takata. “But I really do trust in the process and intuition and [the projects] always turn out. So what I would like people to know is that it is a valid way to work and it creates wonderful, strong results working with many people.”
In addition to the fauna and flora of the park, Takata incorporated part of a verse from one of the poems created in Kovacs’ workshops into the mosaic. She wanted to find a phrase that evoked the significance of the connection between people and their environment as an inspirational message to the people who come to the park: “Tranquility reminds us that we are a small part of nature in a place where listening and looking inspire us.”
In the end, Board Member Jensen was quite pleased by the public’s engagement in the project. “I had no idea that we would attract the number of people we attracted. It was a joy to be here and have people just hiking by … get excited and stay and work on the project with us,” she says.
“It’s always hard for me to end the project because it’s the end of the process of getting to know people,” says Takata. “… There is some sense of sadness and some loss because I move on to the next project.”
Though Takata is moving on to new projects, the sense of community she helped build at Marquam Nature Park will remain.
“It’s gonna be fun in the future … to be part of a permanent installation like this,” says Nancy Seton, one of the community volunteers who participated in the project. “I can go back and point …. I did this little piece of sky and there is a piece of river I did. And there is a shrub I did … It was a wonderful community-building project.”