Putting the Pieces Together

In my studio the other day, I caught sight of an exhibition catalogue that lay on one of my work tables. The exhibit featured a seventy year old South Carolina artist, Aldwyth, who had never before shown her art, but had an amazing store of work reminiscent of Joseph Cornell with a slightly darker flavor. The piece that I fixed on featured a collection of puzzle pieces stained shades of umber and burnt sienna with the printed word "WORK' on all of the pieces. They were glued in a seemingly random pattern inside a wooden box whose narrow lip had fragments of sentences glued to it. As I looked, I began to ruminate on "how things fit together" and decided to put that idea to work in my art therapy group at the hospital. That afternoon, I took four 9" x 12" sheets of watercolor paper and drew curving lines that divided the paper into four pieces. The volunteers and I cut up the paper and quickly realized that we wouldn't be able to put them back together unless we wrote a number on the back and noted "B" for back. Otherwise, people might end up drawing on the back! After we'd cut the pieces up, I wanted to mix them up so that people would not know which piece they had or how it fit back together.

 I could not have anticipated the reaction of both the children and the volunteers. They loved it and covered the pieces with geometric designs, stripes, mandalas, teddy bears and flowers drawn and painted with markers and watercolors. What is it about separated pieces of cardboard or paper that makes someone want to put them back together again? Before the paint was dry, the children and adults eagerly tried to glue them down. The wish to heal, to fix, to mend, to become whole again within the walls of the hospital was made manifest. That wish strikes me as the motivation of most of us; we want so much to gather the puzzle pieces of our lives and see what we can make of them.