by Wendy Turrell
Award-winning Bath mosaic artist Bonnie Cohen has received many accolades for her large ceramic installations in synagogues, hospitals and other public spaces nationwide, but her work, “A New Dawn Blooms,” at the Summit County Courthouse is unique in two ways. It is the first permanent installation in the Curated Courthouse project, and it incorporates artwork from Akron Public School students.
The Curated Courthouse project is a collaboration with Curated Storefront, an enterprise funded by the Knight Foundation, which installs temporary artwork in empty windows and public spaces in downtown Akron. Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer and Community Outreach Specialist Lisa Mansfield from the Probate Court spearheaded the partnership in hopes that art would relieve some of the sad, anxiety-provoking circumstances people face in the courthouse.
“A New Dawn Blooms” depicts a large trillium, the state wildflower of Ohio, in iridescent tiles. The trillium is surrounded by 100 border tiles, each one created by a student from Akron’s Buchtel, Firestone, or North high schools. The entire work measures 5-by-14-feet and was made in four separate pieces, each one weighing over 100 pounds. It hangs over the east door of the annex hallway and is best viewed from the open second floor.
According to the artwork’s plaque at the courthouse, “The mosaic was created with thousands of hand-cut pieces of luminous glass tile, recycled glass tile, handmade stained glass and handmade ceramic tile.”
Cohen said Stormer contacted her to create a permanent work after seeing two mosaics she had created at Beth El Synagogue. Mansfield, who served 14 years on the Akron Public School board, asked Cohen if she could integrate student work into her design. The dual request produced a singular collaboration.
After seeing the proposed space for the mural Cohen said, “I wanted the artwork to be beautiful and uplifting and really draw people to the end of that long dark hallway. It also needed to have a sense of place and purpose and had to be unique to that historic building, built in 1908.”
Cohen then researched subject matter. “I discovered the trillium was the perfect focal point for the project because it symbolizes rebirth and renewal,” she said. “This artwork is meant to offer solace and hope to all who view it, at a time that may be one of the most stressful moments in their lives.”
As she was working on design ideas, she heard Amanda Gorman–the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate–read her poem “A Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. “I love using words in my mosaic art, and her words really resonated with me and were perfect for the project,” said Cohen.
The quote that caught Cohen’s attention reads: “The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Because the art was created during the pandemic, Cohen couldn’t work directly with students. In response, APS Counselor Karen Stepic compiled Cohen’s short instructional videos and inspirational information into a video for teachers and students.
The artwork was dedicated last May. Cohen was surprised at how well the process worked. “I never met the students or the teachers until they came to the courthouse. It still amazes me how we did this during the pandemic,” she said.
While she was working on “A New Day Blooms,” Cohen was creating a seventh Percent for Arts commissioned piece for the state of Ohio at the Twin Valley Behavioral Health Hospital in Columbus. Percent for Arts is a program that provides funds for the acquisition, commissioning and installation of works of art for new or renovated public buildings, according to the Ohio Arts Council website. Cohen said both works had similar colors and design inspiration from nature, and similar purposes in helping people.
Cohen’s career dramatically segued from commercial to fine art. She worked for Babcock and Schmid Associates for 15 years, and then studied ceramic art at the University of Akron. She was selling ceramic pieces in galleries when a woman saw her work and asked her to create a mosaic mural in honor of her son’s Bar Mitzvah in Reston, Virginia. Another woman, with nonprofit connections, admired the mural and helped Cohen obtain donor recognition projects all over the country.
People can view Cohen’s “A New Day Blooms,” as well as paintings and works by other artists at the Summit County Courthouse at 209 High St. in downtown Akron, Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. ∞
Featured Photo: Bonnie Cohen poses with the mosaic she created for the Summit County Courthouse at the piece’s dedication last May. Photo courtesy of Randy Cohen.