Dirt once filled a long, thin median behind Quinlan Visual Arts Center on Green Street. It was somewhat of an eyesore because nothing would grow. So the Quinlan folks decided to do something more useful by bringing some color to the area.
“We thought we could honor veterans with it and have them get involved,” said Paula Lindner, assistant director at Quinlan.
Now, as guests walk from the parking lot to the building, they’ll see pavers, many made by veterans, with mosaic designs filling what is now a parklet. The project has been underway since 2017 but is getting closer to being complete.
One of the statements coming soon is something Jason Smith has been working on for about six months.
Smith, 36, said he’s been to every mosaic workshop Quinlan has hosted. Art has become an outlet for him, a way to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder after two tours in Iraq where he was a Navy corpsman assigned to the Marines Corps.
“I use art, personally, as a therapy tool and I believe it’s very therapeutic in that it can help men and women deal with the demons that they have and hopefully give them an outlet to express themselves,” Smith said. “It gives them a healthy outlet as opposed to doing something destructive or drinking or things like that.”
Once he figured out how to create mosaic designs on the pavers and began helping others at the workshops, Smith commited to something more. He didn’t just want to make pavers with a mosaic anchor or crow — although he did that, along with a handful of other designs, too.
He’s creating a larger mosaic for one of the benches that, when it’s completed, will show the sky depicted in Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” painting with the silhouette of a Marine on a watch tower, watching over the town.
“I’ve always been a fan of van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night,’” Smith said. “I just thought about when I was overseas and standing watch, looking up at the sky and the clouds at night, trying to find shapes and stuff like that. So I thought about incorporating that memory into the ‘Starry Night’ painting.”
His interest in art was sparked after taking an art appreciation class at Surry Community College in North Carolina. His wife, Pamela, bought him his first art set and he started drawing and painting.
“I noticed that when I was doing art I was really relaxed and not high strung and not as temperamental,” Smith said. “So I just put two and two together and started doing that.”
Smith said creating a mosaic isn’t too difficult. It just takes time. He works on the bench design on his kitchen table at his home in Gainesville. He said he has a glass cutter he uses to score each piece of glass into the shape he wants. Then he uses running pliers, which are good for breaking glass apart, to get the piece he needs.
“If I need to cut it smaller, I have a pair of glass nippers that I cut it down with,” Smith said. “Then I just arrange the pieces on what I’m working on to make it look how I want it to look.”
“It feels good to give back to veterans, especially those like him,” Lindner said. “He’s such a nice guy, such a sweet guy, and to see that it’s changed his world is why I do my job basically.”
As the parklet nears completion, Smith said he wants it to be a place veterans are proud of and a place that brings them comfort as well as pride.
“I’m hoping that it can be something to reflect the veterans in our community,” Smith said. “And it’s a way for the veterans who have attended the workshops to give back to the community and make their own mark on the community.”
Quinlan will be hosting a free mosaic workshop at its center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 10 to finish more pavers and work on the curb, which is covered with mosaic tiles, too.
Veterans Parklet Event
What: Free mosaic workshop
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10
Where: Quinlan Visual Arts Center, 514 Green St. NE, Gainesville
More info: Facebook