50 Lips – Michael Reed, artist
Inspired by Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones.
Music is a big part of Michael’s life, and his first ever concert was that of The Rolling Stones. So when considering which work he would create for the Hope for Habitat: Katrina X event, his mind raced with thoughts of the Stones and front man Mick Jagger. What resulted is 50 Lips.
In the aftermath of the storm, the arts provided catharsis throughout the recovery process, as Michael worked to put his life and the pieces of his art back together again.
In the artist’s words:
My Katrina story begins a couple of days before the storm. I was living with my parents at the time, and they had decided to leave town. However, I had decided to stay. My grandparents were being stubborn and they also decided to stay, so as a result my cousin who lived with them stayed as well.
At the time I had been working on my Trojan War Ilium series of sculptures. The completed works were stored at my parents’ home and the works in progress were at my grandparents’ home, where I had a studio in the barn attic.
I had decided to move my work to the house garage, thinking that the worst case scenario would be damage from falling trees. At the suggestion of a relative, I also put four life jackets in the garage.
My cousin and I spent the afternoon boarding up windows and picking up objects that potentially could become projectiles in the hurricane’s wind. I recalled the floods of May, 1995, and figured if it flooded, the water levels couldn’t possibly be worse than that.
On August 29, around 12:30 am, my cousin left my house and around 1:00 am, right about the time I decided to go to bed, the electricity went out. I have sometimes wondered if, in times such as this, power is cut off as a precautionary measure. Outside, the weather was calm.
Around 4:30 am, I was awakened by the howling winds and what sounded like buckets of water being thrown at my window. About a half hour later, the notion that the wind might shatter my window led me to reconsider my sleeping arrangements. I moved a blanket and some pillows into the bathroom and lay down under the counter. The power was out but the phones still worked, and I remained in contact with friends and family who were updating me as to the status of the storm. My cousin informed me that at my grandparents’ home, there was some water in the yard and some of the trees had fallen.
By 9:00 am, I could feel the house being shaken by the strong winds. I peered out of a window and noticed that a tree had fallen next to the home. The phone lines went out after that.
I later learned the eye had made landfall right about this time. It felt to me like a bomb had been dropped, and I began to think that staying home and riding out the storm was a mistake.
Around 10:00 am, I found a radio and listened to the news as reporters talked about the eye of the storm and about windows being blown out of buildings in New Orleans.
Around 11:00 a.m., I sat in the kitchen and ate lunch. Outside, the wind was still blowing hard but had calmed down enough for me to venture outside. My biggest fear was potential, serious injury by projectile stop signs. As soon as I stepped out the door, I could see the extent of the destruction. Huge pine trees had fallen in the neighbor’s yard, which evidently was what had caused the rattling I had felt earlier. I felt fortunate that the wind had blown it in the opposite direction, or it likely would have destroyed my home while I was still inside. Some of the telephone poles were leaning, and others had toppled to the ground, their lines stretched in the streets. I encountered a neighbor who also had stayed home to ride out the storm and he told me he had witnessed a tornado bouncing down the street and over neighbors’ homes.
The den of my home had taken in some water, so around 1:00 p.m. I began sweeping the floors, trying to push the water back outside. Then I decided to check on my cousin and grandparents. The storm winds were still blowing but had calmed a bit. I grabbed my camera and a raincoat, and proceeded to walk the mile down toward their home. Along the way, I saw houses that had been cut in half by fallen trees.
Every power line was down and pipes were sticking out of the ground. All of this destruction made me realize just how fortunate I had been. So many had lost so much and they didn’t even know it yet.
When I got close to my grandparents’ street, I started to see the depth of the water. As I continued to walk, it progressed from ankle deep to much deeper, and fear set in. I knew I had to get to my grandparents and cousin, and hoped that they had moved to a safer place.
My walk soon turned to a swim for the last quarter of a mile toward their home. I navigated over and under fallen trees, past many empty houses, through so much debris in that cold water. When I got close enough to see the house, the scene was complete destruction. Oak trees had fallen on vehicles, and in the yard there was close to five feet of water. The only way into the house was to use one of the fallen oaks as a bridge.
Sitting on the oak was a scared, little hound dog and in one of the trucks under the tree was a terrified little cat. I made my way to the barn with the hopes that I would find my family members there, but was devastated to learn they were not. So I grabbed the hound dog and put him in the barn, then went back to rescue the cat.
At this time, I made my way to the house and tried to get in through the garage. There was so much floating debris that I was unable to open the door. I was able to reach inside and grab a life jacket and spotted one of the dogs trying to get to me. I reached out to grab him, dragging him toward me, then carrying him to the barn to join the other dog and cat.
I made my way back to the house and tried to get inside through the back door, but had no success with that effort either. I then made my way to the front door, which I had avoided earlier because usually it is locked. However, I found it wide open, and upon entering, found my grandma standing at the edge of the attic stairs. She told me that my grandpa had gone downstairs, through the water, to find something dry. My cousin had climbed into the attic and had been lying down when my grandpa had made the decision to go back downstairs. I found him, standing in his underwear, by the front door.
Taking off my life jacket, I strapped it onto my grandpa and brought him back to the attic, insisting that he stay put while I went to grab a dry blanket.
After that, my cousin and I went searching for a boat so we could get my grandparents out of the flooded home. Our first stop was the garage, where we grabbed more life preservers and found another one of the dogs. I carried him to the attic, then we swam to the home of a neighbor whom I knew had a canoe. The neighbors were home, already preparing to leave in one of their boats, and graciously offered use of their canoe. We paddled around the neighborhood, trying to find the best path by which we could rescue my grandparents.
When we returned to the home, I put a ladder in the water, leaning it against the canoe so my grandpa could climb in. I didn’t want my grandma to touch the cold water, so I lifted her above the water onto my shoulders, then helped her into the boat. We paddled to my aunt’s two-story home, a few blocks away, and it was there that we spent the night.
The next day we started cleaning up, grateful to have survived the ordeal. Everyone was so nice and helpful.
It was beautiful.
As to my artwork, somehow the completed works escaped damage. One of the works in progress, A Call to Arms, which was stored in my grandparents’ garage, was destroyed. Ironically, I had moved it from the attic so as to prevent possibly damage by a falling tree. I never expected the water to rise so high.
After we started cleaning up the debris, I dug through the mess and found every shattered piece of that shattered statue, and later rebuilt it like a puzzle.
In my mind, that work was reconstructed in the same way we rebuilt our homes.
After completing that, I created a horse and chariot sculpture, symbolic of claiming victory after defeat and moving on.
See more of Michael’s work at www.MHReed.com.
50 Lips artwork is available for purchase. $500.
For additional information, please email Kim@RightBrainDiaries.com.