Until the first drops of rain plunk down on your head, it’s easy to take your trusty umbrella — you know, the one you didn’t happen to bring with you — for granted. Aside from that polka dot number you had as a kid, for the most part, umbrellas are forgettable; ask any café and they’ll tell you that dozens — if not more — are left behind by absent-minded patrons each year.
But for more than 200 school children from Naples, last week umbrellas became anything but forgettable.
As part of the Umbrellas for Peace project, elementary and middle school students from both private and public schools spent Friday morning painting the foul weather accessories in Cambier Park. In shades of red, yellow, green and blue, students painted visions of peace on what would become their own personal tokens of shelter.
Umbrellas for Peace is an international project started by the late, famous American artist and peace activist Matt Lamb. It’s an initiative that, since its inception, has been shared in more than 29 countries with more than 2 million individuals — most of them children. But to truly understand what this project is about, you have to understand its history.
In the months following September 11, 2001, as a nation geared up for war, Lamb geared up for peace. Unlike what our military was reaching for, Lamb’s weapons were simple: paint, paintbrushes, umbrellas and a message of shelter for all. Asked by Congress to create a project that would assuage the pain of children that lost parents in the attack on the Pentagon, Lamb created Umbrellas for Peace.
“You can be Christian, Jewish, Muslim or atheist; white, black or purple, the umbrella doesn’t care. The umbrella will shelter anyone who stands underneath it,” said Lamb from a video broadcast at Friday’s event. Sadly, Lamb passed away just a few weeks ago, but his voice from the DVD recording was loud and clear: peace matters, and teaching peace is important.
The event was sponsored by Jo-Gi Gallery, and gallery owner Jo-Gi was thrilled to finally have Lamb’s project here locally.
“I’ve been working on bringing the Umbrella project since last June, so I’m very excited that it’s all come together,” she said, adding, “It’s actually the first time it’s come to Florida!”
And while Jo-Gi expressed remorse that Lamb couldn’t be there in person to witness the Naples youngsters going to town with their designs, she was glad to have Lamb’s granddaughter, Rose Gabler, in attendance.
“I’ve worked with my grandpa on these events since I was 14, and it’s become my life. I want to continue spreading his message of peace,” said Gabler.
And on Friday, Gabler and her team certainly did that. Around the bandstand in the downtown Naples park, kids sat in small groups, sharing bowls of paint and creating symbols of all things peaceful on their once nondescript black umbrellas. From the minds of babes, art in the form of peace signs, doves, hearts and words like ‘hope,” “joy” and “love” emerged.
Despite the fact that a great number of the kids in attendance were young enough to only know our nation as a nation at war, many of the children in attendance had surprising insight on the importance of peace.
Sophie Hautmann, a fourth grader at Lake Park Elementary School, put it this way: “We need peace because it helps keep the world balanced so that we don’t have so many wars and the world won’t be destroyed.”
Her art teacher, Joanne Rose, added, “I don’t always know how much they take in but I do think they understand it’s about stopping war.” Rose, who has been an art teacher at the school for 16 years, stressed, “and even if you’re cynical about creating peace in the world, this seems like a pretty good way to start.”