Markers of Time March 15, 2014

close up of the Cornelius Mandala--Markers of our LIves--photo David Borack

close up of the Cornelius Mandala–Markers of our LIves–photo David Borack

I have a lot of bottle caps and jar lids.  A LOT.  I stopped even attempting to keep track at around 100,000 or so.  10 or so friends and family collected them for me for about 10 years.  I stopped when I could not store any more.  Clearly I had enough to tell the story, paint the picture.

I spent last week at the Art Center in Cornelius, NC, working with the community to make a mandala out of some of them. Over the past decade, I have used and reused these caps making other mandalas.  That said, each time is a new time, each community coming together in its own unique way.

The process begins at my home where I drag out boxes and bins of caps from under tables, from my front porch and from the shed down the street, picking and sorting which colors and types of lids to bring.  When I arrived last Tuesday, Jen Crickenberger and her staff quickly and efficiently unloaded my truck. We conferred about traffic flow in the gallery and what her thoughts on the size and form might be.  Within 20 minutes of my arrival we were at work–measuring and gridding the space and just as quickly counting and stacking caps. Volunteers began dropping in to help.  One man, Shay, a scientist who had recently immigrated from Nigeria, came every afternoon like clockwork.  On Thursday we had students from 2 different elementary schools in the area working on the mandala.

These mandalas are projects of many pieces—containing from 10 to 50  thousand lids and caps.  Coke caps, pickle lids, beer caps, plastic caps in many colors from milk bottles.  Lids from juice bottles, lids from salsa, applesauce, peanut butter and jam jars.  The lids truly are markers of our lives.  They are records of consumption, this consumption necessary for our very survival.  They represent sustenance, yet sustenance processed, one step removed from the ground from which it came.  The first glass canning jars were invented in 1858, coincidentally the same year as the can opener was patented by Ezra Warner of Waterbury, Connecticut.  Both of these items marked the beginning of mass processing and storage of food and we have not looked back for a minute as the caps in my mandalas profess.  Each cap is a mark of food eaten, something packaged, purchased and then consumed.

People think that a lot of people helped me in collecting these caps, but that is not necessarily true. It was the consistency of the collection that gave me the quantity I now have. Personally I buy a glass container of milk every week. Here is the math– 52 navy blue milk lids per year which multiplies to 520 in ten years. One person, one item for ten years. Those blue caps are only the tip of my own personal iceberg of consumption. Like Friday followed Robinson Crusoe on his island my carbon footprint follows me.

5th graders working on the mandala- photo Jen Crickenberger


“Markers of Our Lives” A community Mandala will be on display at the Cornelius Art Center through April 30, 2014. Special thanks goes to Jen Crickenberger and her hard working staff–Jake, Nicole and Suzanne. Thanks also to the town of Cornelius for believing in this project and the community for helping to make it.
Click on the link below to watch the week unfold in 39 seconds in a video made by Jen Crickenberger!

Making a mandala at the Cornelius Art Center

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