October third marks the first anniversary since the unveiling of “Wings of Tyler.” Many call it a public art project, but in fact it is an art project for the benefit of the public, totally financed by private donors. Not one taxpayer dollar was spent by the City of Tyler on its creation and installation. The project came about through the efforts of two local artists.
Cassie Edmonds grew up in Kilgore. She graduated from high school and then attended Kilgore Junior College. At the age of thirty-one, Cassie enlisted in the army, where she spent five years serving her country. In 1996, she moved to Tyler and has lived here ever since. Cassie earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Tyler. She worked in sales and sometime between 1999 and 2000, her mom mentioned a mosaic class was beginning at the Tyler Museum of Art. “I had hobbies all my life, making jewelry, cross-stitch … always doing something with my hands,” Cassie says. “This class was teaching a simple procedure: gluing broken pieces of pottery or china onto a board. Within six months, I saw a true mosaic, an image made out of pieces of cut glass. I read about the history of mosaics and went to a local stained-glass store looking for scraps. I slowly picked up some tools and began creating mosaics of my own. I am primarily self-taught, learning more techniques as I went along. Now I have a passion. I never knew what that meant until I discovered my passion.” Cassie quit her job six years ago. Now, she works as a full-time, professional artist. One of her works, an angel entitled “Touch of Grace,” is just inside the entrance of Bethesda Health Clinic.
Dace Lucia Kidd is from Latvia, one of the three Baltic states in the northeastern part of Europe. When she was very young, she suffered with asthma, which kept her from getting involved in sports. Recognizing she had a talent, Dace’s parents enrolled her in art school at the age of five. They thought learning art would keep her busy and out of trouble. “Going to school is different in Latvia than it is here. There, if you have a particular talent, you can apply to study at an upper secondary school. These are designed more for art and theatre: actors, dancers, musicians and artists. My grade school teachers told me the competition was fierce and that I would never get in. I decided to prove them wrong,” says Dace. “Although I thought I would study science, when I graduated, I got a scholarship to the Art Academy of Latvia and earned a bachelor’s degree in painting. From there, I studied in Palermo, Sicily, at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Palermo, a very prestigious school. There, I had advanced training for two years.”
By happenstance, and through a group of online friends, Dace’s work was reviewed by an art critic from the U.S., who wrote what Dace considered an insightful critique of her work. “Throughout the critique, he used male pronouns. He did not know I was a girl and I did not know he was an arrogant Texan!”
To make a long story short, Dace used her commission money to take a trip to Texas. She wrote the critic and asked if he would show her places she wanted to see in Texas. James Kidd from Tyler agreed to show her around. They had a wonderful time, and when she returned to Europe briefly, they maintained a long-distance relationship. Eventually, they agreed she should move to Texas. They were married on December 13, 2012, and she became a U.S. citizen in 2017.
By the time Dace arrived in Tyler, Cassie was well established, her work being represented by a prestigious Dallas gallery and people regularly commissioning her to create mosaics. “A new artist in town piqued my interest,” Cassie recalls. “I saw her as a go-getter, always putting on shows and marketing herself in the community.” At the same time, Dace kept hearing about Cassie. “Everybody I met would ask if I had met Cassie. When I was about to produce my first local show, I went to Cassie’s studio and introduced myself. I met her cat, and we all became instant good friends!”
“One of the problems being a professional artist in a place like Tyler, is that everybody is always asking you to do something. Always for free,” Cassie laments. “This is something I had discussed several times with Dace. We both wanted to see if we could come up with a project, something we could do together, that would be sellable. We tossed ideas back and forth for three years before we struck on the wings idea.”
“We both share a vision about public art, something that can enhance our city that the public can take pride in and embrace,” says Dace. “We also both have a passion about downtown. I grew up in a place where the downtown was the heart of the city. When I moved to Tyler, I saw a downtown that was struggling and neglected.”
In a short time after her arrival, Dace got involved with the group that has been working to develop and revitalize downtown. She was commissioned to paint a mural called “The Eyes of Tyler” on the outside façade of a building. When it was completed, and people started making comments about it, Cassie and Dace both realized their dream of working together could be realized with a work of art that combined both of their skills, could also be interactive, and would serve as a drawing card to bring more people downtown.
From the beginning, the two artists planned for the project to be privately funded: an art project the public can enjoy but for which no tax dollars would be required. Once they determined what it would cost, they set about soliciting donors to fund the project. According to Cassie, they expected it would take several months to get the funding. “It actually only took ten days,” she says.
The idea of wings is not new. It has been done elsewhere. What made the “Wings of Tyler” different is how it was created. Instead of a flat painting on a wall, Dace and Cassie decided to create a three-dimensional sculpture, decorated with cut glass. “At first we thought just one set of wings, but where to put it was the problem,” says Dace. The answer came when Cassie mentioned the idea to her landlord. “John O’Sullivan and his son, John Jr., own the downtown building where I’ve lived for years. They also own a building at the corner of Erwin and Broadway. When I told them our idea, they immediately suggested the large wall that takes up half a block facing Broadway. That’s when we thought about making it a bigger project.”
Visitors to Tyler, and even people who live in Tyler, interact with the wings by taking pictures of their loved ones or pets, posing in front of the wings. In all, there are five sets of wings: two that are adult sized, one that is built for couples, one that is sized for preteens or can be used with someone in a wheelchair, and the fifth is for a pet or toddler. The largest set is at the top of the hill, and the smallest is down the hill.
Work began in January 2019 to design and then build the five individual sets of wings. Dace designed each set of wings and
“What was really remarkable was the number of people who called and volunteered to help us.”
Cassie applied the mosaic aspects. The wings are made of a water-resistant product called Wediboard. It is similar to the HardiBoard product used in home construction, but it is much lighter in weight. Dace cut out the wings and drew the lines for Cassie to use as a guide for applying the cut glass pieces. They are bolted to the wall with heavy bolts that can withstand high winds and kids tugging on them. “What was really remarkable was the number of people who called and volunteered to help us. At one point, we had quite an assembly line going. I had a difficult time cutting the individual pieces of glass fast enough to keep up with the crew that was gluing them onto the wings,” Cassie says.
The goal was to have the display completed in time for the CityFest celebration that was scheduled for the first weekend in October 2019. In addition to the large sets of wings that were bolted to the wall, each sponsor received a miniature replica as a “thank you” gift. The display was completed about a week before the deadline. The unveiling was held on October 3, 2019. “One of the greatest satisfactions is watching people come and take pictures in front of the wings. Tourists are there almost every week. Brides have their pictures made wearing their wedding dresses. School kids line up in groups,” reports Dace. “What I am most proud of,” says Cassie, “is that two working artists have created a piece of art that an entire community has embraced. People take their pictures and post them on Facebook or Instagram. There are people who are coming to visit Tyler with the sole purpose of coming to take their pictures in front of the wings. Nothing brings as much joy to artists as seeing their work appreciated by so many people.”