A mosaic that’s remniscent of Van Gogh’s Starry Night hangs in the lobby of Mariners Inn, the Cass Corridor shelter and treatment center for homeless men. The blues and golds look like that famous painting, but instead of a night sky spanning across this triptych, there’s a bridge that spans from dark to light as the mosaic tiles move toward the door.
“It’s transformation,” says Maxine Gardner a volunteering art therapist at Mariners Inn.
Seeing this piece was Gardner’s introduction to Mariners Inn. It might have been in a low resolution picture online, but it was enough. “The moment I saw the picture, I was a goner. I knew I had to be down here,” she explains. So the very next day, Gardner packed up her car with mosaic supplies. Later came boxes of art books, paint, shelving units and more, but that didn’t take too long. “The first week, I was down there three times,” she explains, and her passion has only grown since that first week.
She mainly works with the men in the extended residency program. It isn’t always easy to walk in a room and convince people they should pick up a paintbrush or, in her case, pieces of glass for mosaics. “You see the fear in their eyes when they walk into the room,” she says. “They’re thinking ‘I don’t want to do this, I can’t do this…’ But with patience you see there’s some relaxation and freedom. Then it expands from there.”
When Maurice “Moe” Hunter first came to Mariners Inn his therapist suggested he take an art class. “I didn’t come here for an art class. I don’t want anything to do with an art class,” he says. With time, he eventually agreed to take one of Gardner’s classes. That was enough for him.
“I started making a mosaic for my mother,” he says. “I fell in love with it and I’ve been doing it ever since. I went my entire life and didn’t do art. Never took an art class. But at 51 years old I found it was my gift. Now every day I have to do something. I can’t go a day without art.”
Mosaics have become an extraordinary part of Hunter’s healing process. When he graduates from the Mariner’s Inn program, he plans on turning it into a business.
It’s often making things for others that helps men at the center come to enjoy making art. It becomes a source of connection that they often lost in cycles of addiction and homelessness. “Someone helped me, so I’m helping someone today,” Hunter says. He’s become a kind of mentor to other men new to Mosaics and has even helped out with the programs for families.
Between coordinator Doreen Mannino and several Wayne State art therapy students and dedication from Hunter and Gardner, the program grew. These new artists were creating at such a volume that Mariner’s Inn held a gallery opening for them. At the Johanson Charles gallery in Eastern Market, residents sang in choirs and displayed the art they created during the course of the program. Every artist sold a piece.
“It was phenomenal!” Gardner gushes. “People come up and tell these guys ‘Wow, I didn’t know you were an artist!’ It makes them stop and think… It helps them see themselves differently.”
That’s the big goal at Mariner’s Inn … to help residents expand their notions of who they are and what they’re capable of.
When Gardner first started doing Mosaics at 41, she surprised herself, too. In a way, the Mariner’s experience for her has been just as personally healing as it has been for the program participants. “I remember being astounded that I could look at a plate and see the pieces within it, break it up and use that. That’s the way I would describe the men. We’re all looking to be whole. Mosaics are a way to put together the pieces.”
The Mariner’s Inn is currently trying to raise funds for a proper art room—one with amenities as simple as a sink to wash out paint brushes. “It’s an important part of how to expand the program,” Gardner insists. If you’re interested in volunteering, donating, or just curious to find out more, visit http://www.marinersinn.org/
Photo credit: Karpov the Wrecked Train