CASA GRANDE — In an art-meets-storytelling mosaic project, artist Lisa Swanson aims to tell the story of Casa Grande, Maricopa and Arizona City.
And with the first three segments of the project nearing completion, Swanson said she’s excited by how impactful the artwork has been on all involved.
“It’s been very meaningful for the participants,” she said. “Everyone has been so excited to share their stories.”
The Silhouette Stories Project is a creative-aging, oral-history, collaborative-ceramic-mosaic project.
The first three groups to take part in the project have been elderly residents of Arizona City, Casa Grande and Maricopa, and Swanson said participating has given seniors and those with Alzheimer’s disease an opportunity to engage creatively and interact with one another.
“This is a legacy project,” Swanson said. “By telling their stories, people are building relationships and getting a better understanding of each other. For older adults, it’s important for them to share their story. They have so many experiences and richness in their lives.”
For Yvonne John and Sue Stair, two participants in Maricopa, the project was the start of a new friendship.
The two didn’t know each other when the program started but became friends while working on the project together and sharing stories from their lives.
“They were having so much fun,” Swanson said. “They’ve become good friends during the project.”
The project is being carried out in three sections with people taking part at the Arizona City Fire Station, the Maricopa Senior Center and the Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens Memory Cafe.
While all elements will eventually come together in three separate mosaics, it began months ago with participants answering questions and talking about their lives.
For the second session, they made memory stones that included an image or word based on their answers in the first session.
Some stones featured a sun, a cross, paw prints, cactus or other images. Others had words such as “love,” “2 sons,” “sweet,” and one memory stone said “pizza.”
Swanson later held a photo session, taking photos of each person’s silhouette either holding an item that was significant to them or gesturing in a way that reflected their lives, such as reaching out, hugging or holding hands.
“I asked them to bring in props to be photographed with, something that was meaningful in their lives,” Swanson said. “One lady showed up with a wooden duck. Some chose to gesture instead. We had some participants who were nurses and caregivers who gestured in a meaningful way.”
The shape of each participant’s photograph was used to create the centerpiece of the project, a black clay silhouette of each person. The silhouettes are flat black and were glaze fired, with some including carved lines for facial features.
They will be assembled in three separate mosaics, based on location, with the story stones around them.
In Arizona City, the mosaic will be displayed at the Arizona City Fire Station, where Swanson’s monthly Art and Meals events take place. The monthly sessions combine socializing with a meal and an art project for elderly residents.
“In Arizona City, we had close to 30 participants and the fire station wants to keep the mosaic. It will go in front of the fire station,” Swanson said. “They are so supportive of their elderly residents. We plan to hold a dedication of the mosaic in August.”
In Maricopa, the mosaic is expected to be assembled inside the Maricopa Senior Center. In Casa Grande, the Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens and Swanson will decide where to place the mosaic.
With the first set of mosaics nearly complete, Swanson next hopes to work with Hispanic seniors at the Seeds of Hope organization as well as veterans, firefighters and police officers with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It would be good for veterans and first responders with PTSD to tell their stories also,” Swanson said.
With a master’s degree in art and medicine, Swanson has made it her life’s work to teach people new art techniques and engage them in creativity as a way of improving quality of life, especially for aging adults.
In 2019, she opened ArtMobile Creative Center in downtown Casa Grande as a place where people could visit and socialize while learning to create art. It’s located at 422 N. Florence St., Suite 1.
She is also the artist who designed and created the overpass mural on Gila Bend Highway.
The Silhouette Stories Project is funded through a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts.