DES MOINES, Iowa – Her disappearance captured the attention of the nation last summer. Mollie Tibbetts was just 20–years old when she vanished while on her evening jog in her hometown of Brooklyn. It was 34 days later when police were lead to her body in a cornfield in rural Poweshiek County and charged the man they say was responsible for killing her.
In Tibbetts' death, the community continues to find ways to honor her contagious spirit and positive outlook on life. This time, through art.
“The thing that I love about art is that it's not a linear process of communication,” says Tilly Woodward, the curator of community outreach at Grinnell College’s Faulconer Gallery. All summer long, she’s helped young artists create and find the meaning behind their art.
“The love, energy, beauty, kindness, and joy plays forward. It’s really remarkable to see,” she says.
Woodward’s latest piece “Everyday Joy” is inspired by Tibbetts. She’s helping dozens of kids from community day camps to create the artwork. Many of the children were taught by Tibbetts last summer, before her disappearance. Some of the students' work is already hung, though not in the gallery but instead in the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinic’s psychiatry wing.
"I really notice what doctors' offices look like and I really notice what therapists' offices look like. So this room became incredibly important", says Dr. Peter Daniolos.
The windowless therapy room now houses the artwork creating what Daniolos calls “windows of opportunity.” He adds the inviting artwork makes it easier for children to open up during difficult conversations.
“My hope is that the kids when they first walk in here, sit with peers and admit that they`ve had some challenges and that they`ll be able to look at the art and find some happiness and joy in that and make them feel comfortable,” says Dr. Patrica Espe–Pfiefer, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at UIHC.
That would have been exactly what Tibbetts would have wanted. She was studying to be a child psychiatrist at the University of Iowa. Although, she never got to help these patients in person, in a way she is still helping them heal. Not only is the artwork designed to help others heal but it is also cathartic for her family. Tibbetts' mother, Laura Calderwood, used money from the Mollie Tibbetts foundation to support the art projects. Aside from being on display at the hospital, the other pieces will hang at the center of the Grinnell Art Museum, the perfect place to put Tibbetts spirit on display forever.
“Mollie, I don`t know if you know, was an actress. She was in six plays. She loved to be on stage and now she`s still on stage,” giggles Calderwood.
The finished artwork will be installed at the Grinnell Art Museum on July 25th. The event is open to the public.