The Healing Wings Project in Las Cruces is the proud recipient of this year’s Armstrong Grant. This public art sculpture is a creative remembrance to all that has been lost to Covid 19. Nestled in the peaceful courtyard of Josephina’s Old Gate in Mesilla, New Mexico, the art piece is composed of two metal sculptures: a metal tree with barren branches that is quickly filling with ceramic wings and a collection of metal boxes where notes can be left to lost loved ones.
When the idea of the project was born in March of 2021, our communities had been rocked with the traumatic losses of the pandemic. It became evident that few of us had escaped the innumerable losses of Covid.
Every community has its stories. In Las Cruces, families gathered outside throughout the long days and nights keeping watch through the hospital windows as loved ones remained in the isolation of the Covid Unit. Just down the road in El Paso, unable to honor traditional rituals of grief, family members huddled in the stair wells, across from refrigerated trucks serving as temporary morgues, to mourn.
Nine months later, we continue to hear stories of complicated and often isolated bereavement in our communities. Several weeks ago, a teacher visited the sculpture, sharing that the students and faculty had lost a beloved teacher to the virus. The school struggles with the loss, having created a mural in honor of their lost faculty member. The teacher expressed a hope that engagement with the Healing Wings Project might provide another outlet to heal.
The Healing Wings Project is a collaborative venture between the Potters’ Guild of Las Cruces and The Agave Art Coop, to provide a venue and opportunities to groups and individuals to acknowledge their losses by painting individual angel wings and leave messages about their experiences. The Potters’ Guild of Las Cruces has taken on this project as a tribute to its forty-year anniversary.
The idea for the tree and the memory boxes came from a conversation between myself, the owner of the Agave Art Gallery Wendy Weir, and fellow Potter's Guild member and Agave Artist, Vickie Morrow. The concept was presented to metal artist Josh Switzer, who came up with the designs.
Free workshops are offered to community organizations and individuals where they are supported in their bereavement and healing process through artistic expression. Members of the Potters Guild hand make bisque wings which are then fired, and hung on the tree as a memorial. Interestingly, people are much more willing to jump in and paint wings as a group activity. Writing notes for the memory boxes almost always happens privately. Notes have only been placed in the locked boxes while the open boxes remain empty.
The Project’s Dedication on August 26th of 2021 featured traditional prayers and blessings by the Tortugas Pueblo. Pueblo members, like many in New Mexico, have been hard hit by the pandemic. In the ceremony the journey of those who have been lost as well as the paths of those of us left behind were honored. At the Dedication, members of the Pueblo, civic leaders, health care providers, and residents took part in the first of many wings painting workshops.
Through the generosity of New Mexico Potters and Clay Artists’ Armstrong Grant, we will be able to expand our community outreach. Free community workshops are scheduled twice a month. Beginning in January we are resuming on-site workshops with activities scheduled at area healthcare facilities, and senior programs. We are committed to a year of programming that would bring us to September 1, 2022. At that time, we will reevaluate the project.
Individuals frequently visit the courtyard looking for “the tree.” This provides an opportunity to provide a brief education on the healing nature of ceramics and encouragement to attend a workshop to create a wing of their own. Education about the project and use of ceramics as emotional expression has been one-on-one conversations initiated by the brochure and word of mouth in the community. The brochures are distributed by Potters Guild members at art shows and in the gallery. We have also had articles in many local media.
We are working on the design for tiles for those donating $200 or above. We hope to have a dedication of the tiles in the Spring, if Covid cooperates. Other projects that are being discussed are a writing workshop in the courtyard in the spring, a photo book, and a public exhibit in July of 2022 in collaboration with the Potters' Guild Fire and Fiber Show.
As the public art piece evolves with the addition of new wings, in a parallel process our project also expands. We have wings representing participants from Las Cruces, El Paso, Juarez (Mexico), Miami and Albuquerque, including NMPCA. We look forward to providing members of NMPCA future updates as your support has enabled
this to happen.
“To hold you must first open your hand to let go.” -Tao
The Healing Wings Project
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Agave Artists Cooperative Gallery is located at 2250 Calle de San Albino, in Mesilla, New Mexico.