One of the four mosaics making up the Harmony Bell project, with Jeannine and Bob Nishiguchi standing beside portraits of themselves in the finished work. Photo: Barbara Roden.

One of the four mosaics making up the Harmony Bell project, with Jeannine and Bob Nishiguchi standing beside portraits of themselves in the finished work. Photo: Barbara Roden.

Harmony Bell is waiting to ring for world peace

Ashcroft’s newest artwork sprang from the community.

It began with the gift of a bell, given by Ashcroft residents Kevin and Muriel Scallon to artist Marina Papais and her husband Daniel Collett.

The bell was intended as a personal gift, but Papais says that she had a dream that made her realize the bell was destined for something else.

“Within one week I woke up and had had a dream that there was a sign on the highway saying ‘Come to Ashcroft to ring the Harmony Bell for world peace.’ And I realized that the bell was not for us; it was for the project.”

Papais is referring to what has become known as the Harmony Bell project. After several years of planning, preparation, and work, the project—located at the south end of the Heritage Park on Railway Avenue in Ashcroft—will be unveiled at a ceremony on Saturday, June 23 to which all members of the community and surrounding area are invited.

“We can’t ripple the whole world, but we can start with our tiny community, begin the ripple here, and start something big,” says Papais.

“I told Daniel that we couldn’t keep the bell; that it was meant for the community.”

She began considering what form the project would take, and eventually decided on four large glass mosaics, each one depicting a different group of people who had been instrumental in building the town: First Nations, settlers, Chinese, and Japanese.

“It was super easy. Harmony means community, and I spent a lot of time reading about the history of Ashcroft and who built it.

“But the whole project grew out of the community. I didn’t shape it; the community did.”

Papais asked local residents for assistance in developing each of the mosaics, and received an overwhelming response, with people only too happy to send in photographs and tell stories. She lived on-reserve for several years, and understood the importance of the sacred circle, so used used the four colours of the sacred circle in the artwork, with red for First Nations, white for European settlers, yellow for Chinese, and black for Japanese.

People came to realize what Papais was doing and why, and worked with her to shape the mosaics. “Once they educated me, I understood what they wanted. It needed to be their voice. Japanese-Canadians brought me a picture of cherry blossoms and said ‘This is what we want.’ First Nations people said that the coyote was an important figure for them.

“I was in touch with [long-time Hat Creek area ranchers] the Parke family, and Brian Parke said he’d like to see a wagon wheel in the middle [of the settlers mosaic] because ‘That’s how we got here.’ And there are hard-working hands in the piece.

‘The community led the project; I followed where they led me.”

It has been nearly three years since Papais and Collett received the bell, and Papais says that the project has changed and evolved a lot during that time.

“We went to the Village of Ashcroft and said we wanted to do this. Initially we wanted it near the bridge, but that didn’t work.” A site near the gazebo at the Heritage Park was settled on, with plans for paving stones, benches, and landscaping around the finished project.

It was not until the Ashcroft HUB opened in the fall of 2015 that Papais and Collett had the space to open a large mosaic studio and invite community members in to work on mosaics. Collett worked on the design of the structure that would house the mosaics and the bell, while Papais—an architectural glass artist whose works can be seen all around Ashcroft—worked on the mosaics.

“We’ve had lots of support from our church, St. Alban’s. They really believe in what we’re doing,” says Papais, adding that there has also been a lot of support from the New Pathways to Gold Society, which has helped fund this and other projects in Ashcroft.

“The society is very much about multiculturism. Lily Chow of the society has told us ‘You are the poster children for Canada for what reconciliation should look like. You’re white, you’re doing this for free, but we are all Canadians doing things together.’

“No one has been paid any money, and we’ve been working our butts off. Daniel and I asked ourselves what we wanted to do when we retired, and the answer was ‘give back to the community’.”

Papais says that when the mosaics are unveiled, people will want to get close and spend time examining them, to pick out the many familiar faces worked into the designs.

“Lots of members of the community are in there, but it’s not about individuals: it’s about community. This is what we’re like, what we believe in: cherry blossoms, hard-working hands, wagon wheels.”

The Harmony Bell will be unveiled at a ceremony beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 23 which is free, and open to all. There will be a First Nations blessing and drumming, guest speakers, the first ringing of the Harmony Bell, and refreshments provided by the Ashcroft and District Lions Club and the Rotary Club of Ashcroft-Cache Creek.

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