Tiles Pay Tribute to Community

By Beacon Staff

After five years of hosting work for the Community Spirit Monument, Kalispell artist Kay Lynn will soon be getting full use of her studio back.

Four pillars, each standing nine feet and weighing around 350 pounds, currently dominate a large portion of Lynn’s workspace. Nearly 2,000 brightly decorated tiles adorn the pillars, forming, what organizers hope, is a varied and unique representation of the community. And with some final grout work and water-proof glazing the pillars will soon be ready to make the move to their final home in Woodland Park, where the foundation and basic structure of the gazebo-like monument are already in place.

Organizers of a group called Joining Hands Against Hate began the project in 2002 as a response to divisiveness and hate rhetoric they saw in the community. But it quickly grew from a responsive action to its own individual movement.

“We felt like the community was being polarized and wanted to respond with something that we felt actually represented this area, a positive message of who we are as a community,” Lynn said. “It’s not a political statement.”

People were asked to create tiles reflecting positive ideas about the community: Their hopes, values, and the things they think make this area remarkable. Lynn opened her studio to the public on certain weekdays and weekends, and soon Flathead residents, from young children to Kalispell Mayor Pam Kennedy, started flowing in. They were handed clay and given free reign.

“Some of the most beautiful tiles came out of people who didn’t think they had artistic talent; nobody failed,” Lynn said. “Some people came in and were like ‘Oh, the kids are going to do it. I can’t do art.’ Well, I was a teacher for 20 years. I don’t listen to that type of attitude.”

Lynn and other volunteers also took buckets of clay to community organizations and businesses interested in making tiles. Once people finished designing their tile, volunteers fired and glazed them in Lynn’s studio to make the finished piece.

Messages and designs are wide-ranging. Some are more serious: names of deceased loved ones; messages of love, peace and tolerance; and an image of the New York City landscape with the word ‘Remember’ written below it, designed by a young boy with a Pathways group who described his time in Lynn’s studio as “the best day of his life.”

Others are fun and whimsical. One outdoor enthusiast wrote: “When hell freezes over, I’ll ski there too.” And two young kids may rethink their choices in the future when they remember Lynn’s caution that what they chose “would last for 100 years” and read their messages: “I play soccer” and “I like the wold (sic).”

Hundreds of local businesses and individuals made donations of time and labor as well as money to cover the costs of clay and building materials.

The final monument, which organizers hope to have fully erected in Woodland Park near the pond area in the next two months, will include the four tiled pillars, decorative iron work, a gazebo roof and cement and rock base. Benches, also covered with tiles, will surround the structure as part of a broader landscaping plan for the area. Organizers plan on having a dedication ceremony in the spring.