By Nicole C. Wong
San Jose Mercury News, Posted on Sunday, April 20, 2003

Even as the war with Iraq winds down, some people along the Peninsula still feel anxious and uncertain about what comes next. Dozens of the distressed gathered in Mountain View on Saturday to create artwork and – along the way – find inner peace.

The 30 or so impromptu artists picked up paintbrushes, scallop-edged scissors and hot-glue guns. They created montages out of clay and magazine clippings as well as life-size sculptures made of paper.

The event, organized by the Living Arts Center in Mountain View, offered a way for people to explore their emotions and form a community.

Carla Bagneschi, of Burlingame, said the war has overwhelmed her with, "a sense of helplessness.''

"I've been very sensitive to the aggression, so sad for the people who have died,'' said Bagneschi, a 29-year-old urban planner who has cried on her way to work but felt she had to put a lid on it in the office. "All this stuff was buried in here, and I didn't have an outlet for it.''

In the morning, Bagneschi and the other participants created individual expressions of their confusion, fear or anger.

In the afternoon, they collaborated in small groups to produce displays of hope, safety or peace.

And in the end, they shared a sense of community and high spirits.

Christine Evans, co-founder of the Living Arts Center, began planning the artistic event two weeks ago, at the height of the war. Day after day, bombs were dropped, and lives were lost.

"The grief was palpable for so many people,'' said Denise Roy, an author who attended Saturday's workshop. But she noted the swell of mixed emotions hasn't necessarily stopped simply because the war is at "an in-between place right now.''

Nick Ross, a Palo Alto psychologist, noted that people struggle with moving on with life while memorializing the devastation.

"Now that the majority of the fighting is done, there's a part of me that's afraid the nation – or the world – will go back to business as usual while there are thousands of people who are still suffering,'' said Ross, who showed up Saturday to explore his emotions and support Evans, his wife.

His group kicked off the afternoon art project by meditating on times and places that made them feel safe and peaceful. Each person then scoured the eight tables of art supplies for three items that evoked those feelings.

Bagneschi chose fluffy cotton that reminded her of clouds; baby blue felt that looked like patches of clear, blue sky; and breezy white cloth that reminded her of an angel-adorned church banner she once saw.

Ross picked a magazine photo of a little boy squealing in a homespun Superman outfit because he liked the child's "wild abandonment, his happiness. All kids should be this free.''

"All adults,'' Bagneschi chimed in.

Then they paired up with two others to create a celestial cradle for the little superhero.

"All our little pieces of hope came together and made a bigger vision of hope,'' Ross said.

At 3 p.m., the artists wrapped their arms around each others' waists, giving a big group hug and swaying to a closing song based on a Buddhist blessing.

"May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. Peace. Peace. Peace,'' they sang three times.

Then they picked apart their art projects, which were only meant to last one day. But they left with a peaceful feeling that would last longer.
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