On Display Through July 4

Peace Box project pulls people together

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Franck de Las Mercedes, an artist born in Nicaragua, paints in his New Jersey studio where he also creates the Peace Boxes he sends to those who request them.

Peace can mean many things – an absence of war, walking along the seashore, floating butterflies, the brave simplicity of a dove.

The Peace Box Project – ongoing since 2006 – has come to the local area. As it has unfolded, the local effort has involved two groups of art students, a small-town church, a department store and a renowned New Jersey artist.

Artist Franck de Las Mercedes began painting and sending the boxes from his small studio in a New York City suburb in New Jersey to anyone who asks for one more than seven years ago. The artist was born in Nicaragua and grew up in New York City.

“To date there have been 12,300 boxes sent – and counting,” said Nicola Blount, director of FdLM Studio.

Several months ago, a member at Allen-Lee United Methodist Church in Lone Oak requested one of the boxes. The box – and the concept behind it – has morphed into a much larger project. Church members Nancy Lee and Winston Skinner, who is a Times-Herald staff member, were assigned to plan a Fantastic Fifth Sunday service for June 30.

Skinner called on his longtime friend Bette Hickman, who has taught in the Young Artists Program through the Coweta County Recreation Department since 1979. Hickman said that – from the beginning of her art teaching days – “I wanted my students to concentrate on seeing the world differently, with different eyes.”

A goal, she said, was “to instill in them that they could create images that would make people think and feel.”

She added, “I wanted my students to look carefully at the natural world around them and appreciate what God had created for them to draw and paint.”

“I knew Bette could do something wonderful with this Peace Box idea, and I believe children just ‘get’ peace as a concept. They want peace in a forthright way that we sometimes lose as we grow older,” Skinner said.

Belk donated 200 shirt boxes for Hickman to use with Young Artists students and with participants in the Summer Focus program, which is sponsored by the American Union Relief Society and held each summer at the Luthersville Municipal Complex.

In the spring, Hickman and Teri Lewis, Hickman’s “partner in all things art,” led Young Artists as they created Peace Boxes. Like the box by de Las Mercedes, their boxes are empty – emphasizing the fragility of peace, hope, love and justice.

“I believe that the state of feeling peaceful comes naturally to children and to an artist,” Hickman said. “The project – it was a natural fit.”

Hickman and Lewis got students to discuss “the concept of what peace looks like,” Hickman said, and showed students how artists have interpreted peace.

On June 19, Hickman – assisted by Lee, Skinner and AURS volunteers – worked with the Summer Focus students in creating their own Peace Boxes.

The Young Artists boxes are on display at Belk through July 4. “I think people will really be amazed at what these artists – in Newnan and in Luthersville – have done with this idea,” Skinner said.

The Summer Focus boxes will be displayed at Allen-Lee this Sunday, when Chad Hill, the church’s pastor, will bring a message on the Peace Box theme at the 11 a.m. service. Ribbons for the winning boxes from both groups will be presented during the service.

A hot-dog lunch for artists and their families – as well as the congregation – will follow the service. Then a one-day Vacation Bible School, also using the Peace Box theme, will be held from 1-2:30 p.m.

The impressionistic box sent by de Las Mercedes will also be on display at Allen-Lee on Sunday.

Hickman said the Young Artists have created work for a number of community projects over the years. “Art never stops giving – and our students learn that they can make a difference using their art throughout their lives,” she said.

“My hope,” Hickman said, “is that people of all walks of life will come and enjoy the boxes – and take away a feeling of peace.”



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