Valley artist shares message of hope through mosaic project
When Diane Orlov dreamed about an angel, she had no idea what it would end up meaning to her and hundreds of others.
Her Angel of Hope Mosaic Project and the death of her daughter in 2014 are connected in ways that have helped her overcome her grief and spread a message of hope.
Several years before her daughter died at age 24, Orlov had a dream about a guardian angel painting that had hung over her daughter’s bed when she was a child.
“It came to me in my dream as a mosaic. I struggled to find out what it meant, and finally I realized it was a way to break things down into smaller pieces,” she said.
In what she now calls destiny, she organized and completed a large-scale mosaic project called the Angel of Hope at the Children’s Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida.
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She is pursuing a similar project on the grounds of St. Stephen Catholic Church in Glenwood Springs, though the 9-foot-by-13-foot mosaic has no religious affiliation.
“I’ll personally be making angels for the rest of my life. It’s my destiny and my calling,” she said.
The mosaic art form itself has meaning for Orlov.
“I never could’ve imagined how the ‘brokenness’ represented by mosaic art would come to foreshadow the shattering of my own soul,” according to her bio on the Angel of Hope Mosaic Project website.
But she realized in Florida that those small pieces were a way for anyone to participate in a community art project.
“To be able to make this angel with children and the fact that these children were sick with very life-threatening diseases, techniques had to be made very easy and accessible for children of all ages and abilities,” she said.
Orlov and her helpers are putting the pieces together, though in different ways.
Not just art
The magic happens when people make their small contribution to the mosaic and start to think about the angels in their life.
“[She’s] having people make small mosaics and having them think about what is motivating them, think about angels and other familial relationships,” said Allyn Harvey of Carbondale, a friend of Orlov’s and treasurer of the Angel of Hope Mosaic Project board.
“I’ve had people step into my life at times when it sucked and pull me out,” he said.
Heather Hicks of Carbondale is a former board member who is now the project’s fundraising director through her company, Calluna Strategies.
“It feels good to be able to tell your own personal story,” she said. “I always feel the presence of my grandparents. … That’s how I related to it.”
Along with their piece, people write down a note about who the piece is made for or what it means to them. This is where it becomes more than a community art project.
“It’s our way of artistically connecting the community and tying together our stories of hope through art,” Orlov said.
Orlov will be compiling a book with photos of each piece of the mosaic and the notes that go with them.
Hope, healing, connection
Harvey has enjoyed not only what the project has meant to him but what it’s done for Orlov.
“Seeing Diane heal herself and her life come together and her ability to move this project forward has been really rewarding as a friend,” he said.
Orlov found that helping others helped herself.
“Sitting next to those kids with cancer changed my perspective on everything and put my own problems in perspective. Creating an angel for parents and children and siblings that gave them a symbol of comfort and protection and joy became the most meaningful thing in my life that I could think of doing,” Orlov said.
In this year of the pandemic, the angel’s message is even more poignant, Orlov said.
“Especially right now with COVID a lot of people are feeling isolated and really cut off and alone. The angel is a way for people to feel they don’t have to fight their battles alone, that they are never alone as long as they’re surrounded by community and people,” she said.
Hicks said the message is something we need right now.
“[There is] timeliness in terms of providing hope and a unifying message around a piece of public art,” Hicks said.
Despite death and loss being integral to the project, the feeling Hicks comes away with is positive.
“It’s really not about loss. It’s about hope, and it’s about life, and it’s about connection. It’s unique that that’s what you feel from her. It’s not so much the heaviness or loss. It’s really an uplifting kind of hopeful message,” she said.
The connection extends even outside the community. Orlov said that some of the pieces made in the Roaring Fork Valley will be used in the next angel.
“The idea is to link one community to the next,” she said.
Angels come in different forms
Orlov doesn’t know where the next angel may be, but she has some idea of how it will look.
“Some of the pieces that are ‘leftover,’ so to speak, are already being designated for another native American Indian angel,” she said.
The Roaring Fork angel Orlov describes as multicultural.
“This one is a Latina angel, but it’s actually a more multicultural kind of look. Anybody who might be from Polynesia or South America or be Mayan would potentially see their own features. We really make it in the spirit of the Latino population here, but it’s quite indigenous looking,” she said.
So far the angels have been women, but Orlov has a plan for a male angel.
“I also have one concept that’s going to be a Joseph and the Dreamcoat mosaic around the theme of the joy of forgiveness,” she said.
In the Roaring Fork Valley, she has held workshops with numerous groups, including WindWalkers, Jaywalker Lodge, Calaway-Young Cancer Center, Aspen Jewish Congregation, the Lake Christine firefighters, Pathfinders, Way of Dharma Compassion Foundation, Two Rivers Unitarian Universalists and Shining Stars Foundation.
Participants make small designs through a method Orlov designed to protect the children.
“Because I was working with children who couldn’t touch adhesives or sharp objects I created a technique where they could create a piece on a paper plate with drywall paint,” she said.
She said there have been about 500 participants so far in the Roaring Fork Valley project.
Orlov said her goal is to finish the mosaic by the end of next summer. She started five years ago.
“It took a very long time for people to understand what I was trying to do. I didn’t have a studio or any funding, didn’t have a team or a staff. But I had plates and beads and stones and kept asking people to contribute small items that I could use in my workshops,” she said.
Jim Calaway and Mason Ingraham from her church chipped in to help.
Now she has a studio at the Third Street Center and a studio assistant, Gabriela Mejia.
Together Orlov and Mejia do the painstaking work of handcutting glass and assembling the mosaic.
“When they created their own individual personal piece I was able to lift it onto substrate, and have volunteers and artists help to apply it with mortar, stained glass and grout,” Orlov said.
The flowers and butterflies made at the workshops are laid next to each other and filled in with the cut pieces.
“As much support as we do have people perhaps don’t understand what a huge endeavor this is,” Orlov said.
The estimated cost of the project is $258,000, she said.
“It sounds high, but it’s extremely important to put the proper building and support structure around the mosaic, especially in this climate,” she said.
Architect Michael Fuller of Basalt, a board member, is designing the sanctuary that will house the mosaic. He convinced Orlov to put bulletproof glass over the mosaic to protect it from the elements and prying fingers.
The project has raised about $60,000 so far, Orlov said.
Through the end of the year all gifts up to a total of $21,000 will be matched by an anonymous donor, Hicks said.
Those wishing to donate can do so at the project website or by mailing a check to Compassion Aspen/Angel of Hope Mosaic Project, PO Box 3973, Basalt, CO 81621.
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