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E Pluribus Unum

Collage project takes community conversations to unifying level

by Michelle Fleming

What does it take to unite a community? Can something as simple as a collage cross boundaries of age, race, socioeconomics, and geography? What about more than 150 collages, created by people from every corner of Polk County and Landrum?

For the past year, The UNITY Project has worked to bring the Foothills together with scissors, magazine clippings, photographs, and glue. The project originated with John Wilkins, a Tryon native and art collector with a passion for the area’s sense of community.

“We wanted to bring individuals together from all different aspects of the community, and let them discuss what unity means to them,” said Wilkins. With Wilkins’ passion for art and the well-known talent in the region, using visual arts as a medium for the conversation was a natural fit.

Wilkins pulled together a team of community members to help the project take shape, including Francis McCain, Julia Calhoun, Tara Brannon, Tim Brannon, and Marianne Carruth. With support from a Community Events Grant from Polk County Community Foundation, The UNITY Project began offering the residents of Polk County and Landrum a unique chance to express themselves throughout the spring of this year.

“We worked with Tryon Fine Arts Center, Isothermal Community College, Landrum Library, local schools, and a number of other venues throughout the surrounding area to hold more than a dozen collage workshops over the course of a couple months,” explained Wilson. Each workshop was led by a professional artist, including Eric McRay, an internationally sought collage artist based in Raleigh.

“We provided the framework, the basic materials, and some guidance on technique, but it was up to the individual to determine how they wanted to create their piece,” said Wilkins.

At the same time that community members were creating their collages on 12 by 12 inch canvas squares, a small band of professional artists were also lending their voices to the project. Grace Lertora, Estell Osten, Pat Ferullo, Janet Orselli, Annette Wells, David Edgar, Douglas Chamberlain, and Carol Beth Icard collaborated on three large collage panels.

Whether amateur or professional, each participant’s individual artwork contributed to the single voice of The UNITY Project. The end result was a stunning display in TFAC’s Gallery I. Over 150 collage panels and the three large panels filled every wall of the gallery.

“One thing binds us together, and that is the fact that we all love our community. We’re all able to celebrate our difference and identify the common thread that we all share,” said Wilkins. •

For more information on The UNITY Project, email theunityproject@tryonarts.org or call 828-859-8322.