The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


July 3, 2011

Enduring art: Projects survive, created from tornado debris

JOPLIN, Mo. — When Rachel Wilson first heard a tornado was headed to Joplin the evening of May 22, her first thought was to call her brother, a nurse at St. John’s Regional Medical Center.

She reached him just as he began moving patients into a hallway. Five harrowing minutes later, she learned that he survived the EF-5 tornado that bore down on southern Joplin.

A day later, she started to find medical billings, chest X-rays and brain scans from St. John’s scattered in her Avilla yard -- some 25 miles away as the crow flies -- along with debris from peoples’ homes.

There were pieces of siding. Particle board fragments. Shirts. Pages from children’s books.

“Anything you can imagine as part of someone’s home or life,” Wilson said.

Her husband, a volunteer firefighter with Avilla, responded to the call for help in Joplin and spent long hours over the next week in relief efforts. She stayed home with their four young children, knowing she was needed there.

“I lost friends, I knew family members’ homes were damaged, and I was very emotional,” she said.

Having grown up and gone through school in Webb City, she has been a professional artist for several years. She is best known for her horse sculptures created from found wood now on display at the Titanic Museum in Branson and at Silver Dollar City.

In the days following the tornado, Wilson turned her emotions and her talent into art. She and her 8-year-old daughter sat in front of big sheets of newspaper, unfolding water-soaked items carefully.

“I started putting together into some form of sculpture the really interesting pieces I found, and it put my mind at ease,” Wilson said. “I found a lot of things that were from children, and I cried when I was doing it. But at the same time, I felt like I was taking these objects that had belonged to someone and instead of heaping them into my trash can, I was trying to give them some new purpose.”

It took Wilson three days to collect the tornado debris in her yard and another week to complete the art piece.

Using old plywood scraps and pieces of shingles, she created a large tree standing in a foreground of emptiness. Behind it is a large, horizontal board containing a collage of paper remnants from the storm.

She titled it “After,” and it is a featured work in the artCentral member exhibit on display through July 10 at the Hyde House in Carthage.

“I’m not sure what should be done with it after the show, but I think it should maybe go in a place where many can view it.”

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