A local artist hopes his mosaic sculpture can help an American town find healing after a terrible mass shooting.
Morinville-based artist Wayne Ashley told the Gazette this week that he had donated three large mosaic murals to Newtown, Conn., to honour the victims of the Dec. 14 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Twenty children and six adults died at the school after a gunman entered and opened fire. It was the second-largest school shooting in U.S. history.
Ashley said he read of the shooting the next day while he was in New York City. He was there to donate a large work of mosaic art entitled Humanity to the city to commemorate victims of hurricane Sandy – a work that included the handprint of his daughter, Ariel.
"I thought about my daughter's handprint in the monument, and I thought of mine," he said. "I thought of the parents and what they went through, and the terror the children went through."
He decided that the monument needed to go to Newtown.
"I just broke down and realized God always has a plan for me," he said.
John Scalia, the owner of the building that was to host the monument (and which currently houses one of Ashley's other works), agreed, and Ashley headed to Newtown, which is about 130 kilometres north of New York.
The town was packed with police from every state when he arrived on Dec. 17, Ashley said.
"I've never seen so much police in my life," he said.
There were long lines of people in town bearing donations to support local authorities, as well as cards and teddy bears to pay respect to the dead.
"I saw the world come together and the community come together at a time of sorrow," he said.
Ashley said he met Lt. Chris Vanghele of the Newtown police and gave him a letter from Scalia explaining the monument's intent.
Vanghele said he was initially suspicious of Ashley, as he thought he was a salesman. He said he was "shocked" when he learned that Ashley had trucked the work all the way from Canada, and agreed to host it.
"He said he needed to finish the piece with the names of the victims," Vanghele said.
Vanghele gave Ashley a list and the artist later carved the names into large slabs of tile to go with the monument.
The first part of the monument, Humanity, is now in the care of the Newtown police, Ashley said. A door-sized, two-panel piece made of different shades of stone tile, it features two large eagles flying in opposite directions and is meant to depict humanity's relationship with the Creator.
Ashley plans to combine that work with the slabs with the names on them and two other door-sized mosaic panels that depict women on horseback. The Newtown fire department is holding onto these for him.
The women on horses are part of a three-part work called The Guardians, which is meant to evoke the fierce determination of those who work to protect humanity the face of disaster. The third part, which depicts a large six-winged lion, has been donated to New York to replace the works he sent to Newtown.
Ashley plans to return to Newtown later this month to assemble the pieces into a finished monument – the shape and location of which will be up to the town. (The town is planning a permanent memorial to the victims.)
"What I want them to know is that Canada cares," he said.
The Newtown Police will hold onto the monument until a permanent home can be found for it, Vanghele said.
"For my part, I'd just like to see it here in the police department," he said.
The town appreciates the support it has received from Canada and Ashley, Vanghele said.
“It was nice to have somebody come all that way.”
When it comes to incidents like the school school shooting, many people ask themselves why God would permit such a tragedy, Ashley said. His answer to that is “free will.”
"God gave us the greatest gift of all, which is free will," he said. "Whether we do evil or good is entirely up to us."
Members of the Newtown police and fire department were not available for comment as of press time.
Anyone wishing to support the monument's construction can contact Reverend James Holland of the Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton.