What is this?

Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

Map of Southeaster United States

This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

Background on the towns and this project is available under the about tab above.

Click here for bios of the reporters and media producers who have worked on the series.

How you can help

RSS 

Get the latest stories, journal entries and images via RSS subscription.

Click "Play" above to see and hear artist Lori Gordon forage through piles of debris in the woods where her home and studio once stood, seeking bits and pieces to use for her post-Katrina works of art.

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- At first, artist Lori Gordon combed through the wreckage of her neighborhood with trepidation, fearing that she would come across her husband’s cat or, worse, a human body. But that didn’t happen, and over time she came to find comfort and sanity in the activity — salvaging bits and pieces from the mountains of rubble in the woods after Katrina swept away the home, studio and treehouse retreat she shared with her husband, David Wheeler, a wood worker.

Replacing the body of artwork she lost in the storm is impossible, and replacing their home and studio is out of reach for now. But Gordon’s peregrinations have given her a toehold in the future, as she creates new mixed media pieces from the mud-caked fragments she has salvaged from the rubble.

“These collages — they’re not to everybody’s taste,” Gordon says. But she finds these works at very least generate conversation, and have largely received a positive reception in this arts-rich community.

The series is both literally and metaphorically composed of pieces of the storm, she says. "It is my way of trying to make sense of a senseless situation, and to find some peace in the middle of grief and loss."

At first, she was merely focused on finding things she and her husband had lost. She salvaged pieces of paintings and prints that she found wedged in trees or buried in the mud. Some turned up several blocks from where the house had stood. She picked up pieces of hardware from furniture that was otherwise destroyed. She came across the small stained-glass piece that had been in her front door. It was intact, sitting on the bare foundation, even though the door and the house were nowhere in sight.

She has run across fragments of art supplies she had accumulated over the past four decades, but the most valuable among them have eluded her.

“This is what kills me,” Gordon says, as she stops and picks up a plastic bag full of colored rubber bands. “I keep thinking I’m going to find one of these zip-lock bags that had all my turquoise in it or my amber — I had this beautiful Baltic amber — and instead I find my bag of rubber bands!”

“The other funny thing is that I have found so many paintings that were really shit paintings that I was going to paint over because I didn’t like them. What I really wanted to find was the painting I did of my dad who died 15 years ago.”


Click "Play" to hear Lori Gordon talk about the inspiration behind her artwork.

Nearly four dozen new works

Nonetheless, she has accumulated many treasures, and created nearly four dozen new works, some of them already sold through one of the few galleries to reopen in Bay St. Louis.’

Friends have opened up their own ruined shops and properties to her search for useful debris. She also peruses the wreckage that has been bulldozed into piles alongside the roads in the Bay St. Louis, Waveland area. Bits of dolls, picture frames, book covers and old photos all find their way into her work.

She gets excited about scraps that would be bypassed as more junk by most people. “Now this, this is a great piece of tin,” she says, picking a rusty relic out of the ditch. “The texture is good. … Look at all that different tonal stuff there.”

Some of the pieces are suggestive of the storm itself, including pieces of draped pieces of tattered fabric, like the remnants of clothes and bedding seen hanging in trees throughout the storm-stricken area. Others works include powerful symbols, such as photographs or images of eyes, angels and crucifixes that tend to elicit emotional responses and religious reflection. Some, says Gordon, simply mingle visual elements that work together, drawn from the detritus of the Katrina.

Aside from creating art, there’s little else normal about Gordon’s daily existence. She lives in a small trailer she bought on a parcel of land in outlying Bay St. Louis that owned by friends who also lost their home and business and uses what was their garage — a building with a gaping hole in the roof — for her studio. With the friends, a couple living at the same site in another trailer, they cook together outside.

Like many others, she spends a good deal of her time sorting through FEMA requirements and insurance settlements. Like other artists who remain in the community, she has applied for grants to continue her work.

Gordon and Wheeler’s home and studio were badly underinsured for Katrina. They had about $70,000 in flood insurance. That doesn't begin to replace the house, studio and treehouse, and their contents. Gordon's art supplies alone were worth $30,000, she estimates.

Insurers don't value unsold art

And there is essentially no insurance compensation for the lost artworks. Insurance companies cover only the cost of materials, Gordon says, so works that she can sell for hundreds of dollars are worth only a few dollars in insurance terms.

To save money, they aren’t planning to sign up for their property to be cleared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, because they hope to salvage lumber for rebuilding.

Wheeler has been working for friends in Minnesota since a few weeks after the storm. He needed to get out of the disaster zone, and they needed the money, Gordon says.

When he does return, he will likely do most of the reconstruction himself, but it won’t be cheap, even so. With new flood elevations expected to be adopted in the area, the house will need to be at least six feet higher than the existing slab, they figure. But the final elevation requirements for insurance aren't expected for up to nine months.

Meantime, for Gordon, art is a source of income, a psychological lifeline and her contribution to the community as it tries to shake off the nightmare of Katrina.

“A lot of this is for me,” says Gordon. “I have to do this kind of stuff as much as I need to eat and sleep. But the other thing that I am trying to do, and that I’m very happy about is, it’s a part of the building process, and I want people to be able to look and say ‘look there’s something that’s being created out of all this rubble, out of all this destruction.’ Anything that can give us any kind of hope is well worth pursuing.”

MAIN PAGE NEXT POST You write the caption

Email this EMAIL THIS

80 COMMENTS

i think what gordon has made from katrina's path is so heart weling!!! It is hard to hold back the tears for all who were broken by katrina. I live so far away, but, so close in my heart. I can relate to painful losses. Jan. 97 leevee break took my home(houseboat that i married on) then 7months and 2 days later, burned out of the traile we finally was able to make at the same marina..

we were called the, "UNLUCKY COUPLE". Gordon, good luck to you and your passions, where home really is.
Thanks for sharing Terri

i can not understand why there is no comments....there should be plenty..my lasst comment(my first is n where to be seen!!so here is my seconed one..i think what u are doing with the past for the now is wonderful..This art is history..May the higher power stay with with you and yours,theirs, past and the present.. They are beautifulThank you for sharing here in Stockton, California.

I live in Sacramento and am blessed by no natural disasters, my heart goes out to all of you. Reach to each other, and believe in tomorrow. If you can receive care packages for the holidays, where can I send some??????????????

Use appropriate language?? This story contains a cuss word. I was going to contact the artist about aquireing a piece since my name is Lori and my husbands is Gordon but I don't want cuss art.
Lori Wampler.

I'm delighted to read Lori Gordon's story. I grew up in the area and have been shocked and hurt to see so much destroyed. I love and collect art, and this is exactly what we all need to begin to go on, a way of owning the storm and its destruction and making it a part of who we now are. Thank you!

Lori - Your new collage work is really something. I met you with my husband on one of the Friday night gallery walks you had in Bay Saint Louis at the end of last year. My husband and I fell in love with the area and purchased a home in Waveland last December. We both were anticipating our move to this area right after Labor Day. Our plans were changed just as so many of the pieces you have put together in your artwork represent a change and painful growth process.
Although none of the "found objects" you have respectfully assembled into works of art were intended to be available as a new medium for your talents...they represent the new approach we can all take toward faithful and hopeful living in the future.
I am truly touched by the strong spiritual dimension of these carefully crafted works.

We are still hoping to come back and settle in the area someday even though our little house in Waveland is gone. It is the spirit of people like you that first attracted us here and will bring us back.

God Bless you and your husband.

i think her story is very creative she really found a passion that suits her. Im proud of what shes doing its just what some people want to see in a time like this because i know how it feels to go through a storm like that because i live in Florida and i went through hurricane season.

Beautiful creations! Lori Gordon has been able to find the good in all the seemingly bad. This art work will be cherished for many years hence as a piece of history where Katrina and all the other hurricanes in the year of 2005 are concerned. BRAVO!

I cannot believe that someone would choose not to buy a piece of art because the artist used one bad word. Oh my goodness, it is the end of the world. Put yourself in her shoes. What would you do if you were put into that situation? At least this woman has not lost her spirit. I admire her for what she is doing. It takes a strong person, emotionally and physically to bounce back from a blow like Katrina. I wish Lori and her husband all the best. The Lord will smile down on them and bless them. I pray for the best for them.

In response to Ms Wampler:
I didn't hear any profanity in the interview, However, I might remind you that if you lived in this area,as I do, (Biloxi Beach) You wouldn't be so sensitive about something so frivilous as that. A true art lover looks at the art. Are you saying that none of the "Masters" ever used profanity??
Can you say this with certainty??
Mrs. Gordon is seeing possibilities out of total destruction, which of course is where the real focus should lie. Thank you for your time, and thanks for the inspiration Mrs. Gordon!! :)

Lori,
You arr truly an inspiration! Keep on the art and building a new and potentially better collection than before. Did you even find the painting of your father? I hope so and if not that maybe you can create a new one.

Bless you and thank you for sharing your story.

I too am from MS. My heart breaks for all there. I believe you are blessed in being able to see beauty and comfort in the rubble left behind. It didn't come from trash and is not trash now that you have given it new life. Your work is to be commended. I pray you will find your father's picture. May God continue to bless you and all those effected by these storms in our lives.

I am from Gulfport, Miss. just a few miles east of Bay St. Louis. Art is an extention of the artist, hopefully to be enjoyed by others. If the only benefit Lori receives from her collages is to help her put her shattered life back together, this is the best therapy for her. The hope of an artist is to draw people to their work, to get a different take on life, this lady has certainly done that.

Dear Ms. Wampler.

Have you never, ever cussed yourself? Expressed frustration over something trivial? What the victims of Katrina are dealing with is the farthest from trivial that I can imagine.

For Lori Gordon to express her loss (and I imagine a large amount of frustration) so beautifully through her art, wrought from pieces born of such devastation is a powerful, positive testament to survival.

I'd LOVE to aquire one of her collages, and my name is not Lori, nor do I know anyone named Gordon... (what a ridiculous reason to purchase any piece of artwork) Art is about expression, and the fact that you've dubbed the collages 'Cuss' art has made Lori Gordon's creations even more valuable!

Speaking as an outsider in which Thank God we were not in this terrible trajedy but we were affected by the stories and the pictures, it gives a feeling of warmth in my heart, what you have done with your is so overwhelming I pray every day for us all to look beyond the trajedy and come together as a nation God Bless You All.

I am from Maryland and my heart goes out to each and everyone that was affected by this, as for Lori you go and keep your art alive, and really the cuss word was not bad, my goodness have you ever heard bad language in your life.

Dearest Lori, I am so touched by your ability to press forward and use the yin-yang to ballance destruction and creativity. You will succeed at rebuilding twice the art gallery of your dreams. It would be the easy way to bunker down and not participate in life. You have a God given passion to help others heal dementionally. The best of luck...

to Lori & Gordon may god bless you and give you both strength in whatever you do to show hope amid devastation. I was at the WTC and rebuilding will come and yet through your art you save what was all in one picture and maybe a memorial museum for those who perish can be done there to always remember and honor and move on with hope that things will get a little better a day at a time. god bless

Lori, your art is very moving. To be able to find scraps from debris and create art with meaning is simply amazing. I wish you and your family all the best. I pray for everyone that were touched by Katrina & Rita.

p.s. Mrs. Wampler, All I can say to you is, SHAME ON YOU!!! Evidently you have never suffered through a disaster or you have led such a sheltered life that it has made you an absolute idiot.
AGAIN, SHAME ON YOU!!! Why would you even say something to someone who has been through such a devastating experience? You are just the type of close minded people that judge books by their covers. If you can even understand the meaning of that.... I am outraged at your comment to say the least. From now on if you do not have anything nice to say, Keep your mouth shut!!!

I give my prayers n thoughts to all who lost homes and jobs and fmaily. i hope everyone takes care and if ya need help ask dont hold bk
remember Sorrow looks down, worry looks around, and faith looks up!

lori..i was wondering about a purchase $. I am wanting to invest in your disasters of the past and the arts from your heart. So?? How am i to go about this...If you could email me?? This would keep our business private. I've read the "send a Comment(s): Please Read!!!??? well, iam apaulled by one in peticular!! these responses are meant to be ," for the good of all. And harm no one. Some need to," Read," up on the, "Please Read!", & take it to heart. Not rip it out!!!.(AGAIN!)
PS Lori, just ignore you know who, i did not see any curse words either..No one now and here are not perfect..world does not revolve around the oh so perfect.. Thanks Please email me. The source is at your finger tips...:)

lori,
I can understand your energy behind what you are doing, good luck!

Lori, your artwork is simply beautiful.What an incredible talent GOD has given you.And as for the term "cuss art"...Im sure I'd have said several choice words had I surveyed the devastation as you did. Maybe the title isn't so far off afterall!!
God Bless you and everyone else affected.

gimme ome of that gosh-darned cuss art! I have a pet possum called Gordon!

Lori, when our house burned two years ago I asked anyone searching through the ashes with us to please put aside any item that they found so I could hold it one more time. As I searched I found more and more things that had such meaning not only from the past but represented how quickly things could be lost or changed. We carefully boxed these items and put in my husbands work shop. Well, you can guess what happened to them, what wasn't covered in mud was broken when a refrigerator fell on top of boxes. I spent hours today going through the workshop and pulling out everything, broken or not. Lori, I don't have your artistic talents but I am going to display what I can and put the rest in a very safe, heavy box (in the attic of the house we will continue to rebuild). We have attended the 2nd Saturday Art Walks since the storm and are so proud of our "other home" in BSL. Hope to meet you one day soon.

Comments for this post have been closed.

TRACKBACKS

Trackbacks are links to weblogs that reference this post. Like comments, trackbacks do no appear until approved by us. The trackback URL for this post is: http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451b0aa69e200d8349e610f69e2

More Rising from Ruin

Story tips?