Painting for peace

By Darryl Holliday

Without a rain cloud in sight, painted umbrellas could be seen high along the Chicago River. The symbolically decorated.umbrellas were part of a global movement in support of worldwide peace through creative means.

The Umbrellas for Peace march on May 3, in which more than 200 people gathered, was a prelude to the Museum of Private Art Collections opening on May 5 at the River East Art Center at Navy Pier. The event drew a diverse crowd of grade school students, developmentally disabled residents, supporters and a coalition of the blind from the Friedman Place, 5527 N. Maplewood Ave., a supportive living community.

Originally created by Matt Lamb, a wealthy artist, philosopher and self-described “unstoppable globe-trotting dynamo,” the Umbrellas for Peace rally began in 2001 in response to a request from the U.S. Pentagon. The initial event was aimed at helping survivors of those who died in the 9/11 attacks work through their grief.

“Matt came up with the analogy of an umbrella to use as a symbol of protection,” said Rose Gabler, Lamb’s granddaughter and event organizer. “[People] painted their hopes and dreams on the outside, so then it was another symbolic way of showing that your loved ones were still there to support you in your hopes, dreams and desires.”

A 79-year-old Chicago native, Lamb was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia more than 30 years ago but later re-diagnosed with mononucleosis, more commonly known as mono, according to Gabler. During the initial diagnosis, he was given six months to live but has since created a worldwide peace movement.

Lamb is described by many, including rally attendees, as an inspiration to millions. In fact, according to Gabler, more than 2 million people around the world have participated in past rallies, which have been held in more than 25 countries.

“It’s fabulous,” said Nancy Wildt at the rally. “I love that all the kids and everyone here are getting involved for peace.”

According to Gabler, the Chicago rally brought more people than expected—a pleasant surprise for organizers.

“[The rally] made a really big impact on all of us [who] have been working with this project for years,” Gabler said. “It was a great sight to have all of these different groups and schools come together for this cause.”

The umbrella’s symbolic meaning has transformed to include a broader goal. Along with participants representing their dreams and desires, they also paint their fears on the underside and values of world peace on the outside.

“He is the most incredible human being,” said Roz Katz, events and volunteer coordinator for the Friedman Place. “It was so motivational for Matt to speak with [Friedman Place residents].”

Katz also noted Lamb’s umbrella art project is tactile in an inclusive way for blind and visually impaired people.

The new museum at Navy Pier will feature art from renowned painter Salvador Dali and is part of a network of similar museums around the world.

The museum will also feature a portion of the painted umbrellas, and, according to the organization’s website, later involve plans for workshops and conferences.

Lamb’s organization has a 20-year lease on the River East Art Center space, which will be reviewed every five years, according to Gabler.

Though plans for the duration of the lease haven’t yet been solidified, she said the group will attempt to feature new works at the museum on a continual basis.