GAIL WHITE Artist pours her heart into tribute to son in Kosovo
In the spring of 1999, Dean Conaster, the only child of Carol and Ken Conaster of Boardman, was sent to serve in Kosovo.
"I knew he needed to be there," Carol said somberly. "We could not let the genocide continue. But I was angry and fearful. Why does he have to go -- our only son. My heart was torn."
An accomplished ceramic sculptor, Carol turned to her clay.
The first piece that came from her anguish was "Overinformed."
Shaped like an abstract heart, nearly 3 feet around, the sculpture speaks a mother's heart.
"The clay kept silent as I gouged, sliced, dug into it and broke it apart," Carol writes in her artist's statement. "The clay accepted my tears as I reattached the pieces forming fractured hearts."
The heart is set in a deep red background, symbolizing the blood shed by the victims of Kosovo.
Images of war: Scattered across her torn heart are abstract images of war: destroyed farmlands and homes, broken pieces of rubble, remnants of artillery fire.
Sporadically, throughout the sculpture, are splotches of white, some small, some quite large, representing bomb sites. Through each of these areas, Carol has etched deeply into the clay a cross.
"As I worked, bomb sites through viewfinders with cross hairs amid rubble became Christian crosses and eternity circles," her statement continues.
Toward the bottom of the heart, symbolic of the feelings she was experiencing deep in her own heart, she placed aircraft shapes.
Her son was in Kosovo as a pilot for the Marines, transporting troops from Macedonia to Kosovo.
"The clay forgave my anger. The words quelled my fears. Hold on my heart. Hold on to my faith," the statement concludes.
A journey: Without realizing it, Carol was on a journey, working through her fear and anger.
Next, she turned to her clay to make an angel.
"I was mad and angry," she said, remembering. "I was pulling and ripping at the clay." With a figure intact, she quit for the day.
When she returned the following day, the angel lay in a pile on the work table. "It fell apart," she said, still confounded.
She picked up the pieces and began to work again.
"Angel Of Ruin and Rubble" is what her hands created.
It is a bombed-out shell of an angel. Carol gave it a faux bronze treatment and added metallic resins to give it a corroded look.
Though not the pure, unblemished looking angels we typically envision, this angel has a strength behind her torn wings and tarnished gown.
"Oh, Angel of the Rubble, place your mantel of comfort and peace over all mothers who fear for and mourn their children," Carol writes of this piece.
Feelings changed: Her fear and anger had turned to deep compassion and yearning.
Next, Carol set out to create another angel.
Again the clay had other plans.
"It was going to be an angel," Carol explained, "but it looked more like a vessel."
"On a dig through my mind brimming with images of death and destruction, my heart unearths a sacred vessel holding the Spirit River through which my faith flows," Carols writes of her sculpture, "Spirit River Vessel."
Her journey had come full circle. The healing had begun.
Yet, Carol had one more piece to complete. "My War Torn Heart" is the final sculpture in her Kosovo series.
Another torn heart, this one with one large bomb site in the center, sits in front of a large, jagged-edged steel shape of a cross.
The clay, a reminder of her fragile, breakable heart.
The steel, symbolic of the firm, unyielding base of her faith.
As she finished the piece, she knew all would be well.
After six months in Kosovo, Dean returned home.
Waiting for him was a mother's tribute to her son.
A journey born of anguish, grounded in hope and concluded in victory.