Since her first year of teaching at UCC, Susan Rochester, chair of the Fine Art department, wanted to do something to cover the plain 50-by-5 foot wall behind the Fine Arts building. She had pondered various options, but when her student Kindra Neely wanted to do a more permanent art project before she graduates, the two decided on covering the walls with beautiful glass tiles in many different shapes and patterns. Originally,  the idea was to create abstract circles and swirls in tile, but the horror of Oct. 1 led them to something more memorable, a mosaic.

One of the primary reasons they chose dragonflies is because assistant professor Larry Levine, who died during the shooting, mentioned on the morning of Oct. 1 that he had recently seen a red dragonfly for the first time. He knew they existed, but had never seen one before, Neely explained. “I think tragedy has a way of bringing out the most ugly and [the most]  beautiful things in people,” Neely said. “ Having this happen to a place I love and have experienced so much growth in forced me to appreciate it. It’s a lot about the details in life. I don’t want to miss them.”

While facing the restriction of reduced funds, Rochester and Neely spend about 15 to 20 hours a week on this project, and will eventually use approximately 750,000 tiles. The cost to purchase nearly a million tiles was a daunting obstacle; however, ASUCC provided approximately two-thirds of the funding while donations through the art gallery covered the rest. The Mosaic Art Supply company also gave a one-third discount off all of their materials.

Rochester and Neely decided on glass tiles instead of ceramic for the primary reason that ceramic is unpredictable with weather changes. It is more porous and absorbs water, causing cracking while glass tiles will last a lifetime. They both spent many hours trying to draw out their plans for where the dragonflies will be placed as well as more intricate details such as picking out the symbolic colors of various shades of green and blue representing river water.

They both wanted to not only create lifelong memories but also to tribute those who tragically lost their lives on Oct. 1. Although both repeatedly emphasized that this is not an official memorial, they still plan to dedicate the wall to UCC victims and their families. Rochester and Neely say the art project has been helping them heal and process what they’ve been through. Eventually the names of the UCC nine will be connected to the specific dragonflies.

This daedal work is symbolic. Rochester explained that dragonflies in Native American culture represent transformation; they can also represent souls leaving the body. The mosaic will display eight blue dragonflies as well as one fire-colored, red dragonfly that the artists explain will effectively bring out the colors of the others.

Neely has spent over 15 hours on Larry’s red dragonfly alone and over 100 hours on the project. Neely and Rochester expect the project will collectively take about 300 hours if not more to finish. The final design will show water swirls encompassing the dragonflies, bringing life to the symbolism behind the ethereal creatures.

Art can be healing, providing one with the ability to better communicate their feelings. Kneely describes her art following Oct. 1 as “Venomous and full of anxiety, selfishness, confusion, guilt, and the feeling of insanity. It’s dark, it’s ugly, and it’s secret. My work at home reflects it, and the art tends to be abstract, bold, and messy. The beautiful side is very tedious and representational. I tend to get very physically into it, because I find it difficult to communicate. The mosaic is a good representation of it.”

Revised April 21, 2016 -spelling error