"We were all committed strongly enough, it just seemed to have a force of its own."

Stones of sorrow for the missing
Straw-bale cairns create sacred 'Circle of Memory'

San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, November 9, 2003
By Stephanie Salter, Chronicle staff writer

You don't survive in me
because of memories;
nor are you mine because
of a lovely longing's strength.
What does make you present
is the ardent detour
that a slow tenderness
traces in my blood.
I do not need
to see you appear;
being born sufficed for me
to lose you a little less.
–Rainer Maria Rilke

The children's voices seem to come from everywhere: outside the walls of slowly drying straw bales, from deep within them, up from the straw-covered floor, even in a narrow stream of salt that falls- sparkling and white, like the natural crystal we forget that it is- from the ceiling.

The six artists who created this simple but extraordinary installation at the down-town Oakland Art Gallery call it a "Circle of Memory."

Its genesis could not be sadder: the unspeakable hole that is left in the human heart when a child dies or disappears. But the purpose of the work could not be more compassionate or positive: to provide a communal space and time for reflection on the magnitude – and commonality – of such a loss.

"Even if you haven't personally lost a child, you know someone who has, or you've read in the paper about a child or children dying," said Eleanor Coppola. "It's something we all universally have to deal with. Right now, a lot of people are losing children in Iraq. There was Columbine, and Oakland has had such a siege of violence that has taken children. It's not 10 steps removed."

Coppola, the artist, filmmaker and wife of director Francis Ford Coppola, was the primary force behind "Circle of Memory." During a trip to Ireland several years ago with her friend, UC Berkeley historian and artist Jean McMann, the two women took part in a small but powerful ritual inside an ancient stone cairn.

A group of artists are installing a Circle of Memory in the Oakland Art Gallery for exhibition through Dec. 20. Made of straw bales, flowing white fabric and salt, this is a commmemorative space for people who have lost a child to death or disappearance.

Thousands of years old, cairns were built of specially selected boulders and rocks and generally consist of a linear passageway that empties into a small, circular and domed area. According to McMann, who edited "Altars and Icons: Sacred Spaces in Everyday Life," cairns appear to have played a role in rituals around death and renewal.

In candlelight, Coppola, McMann and two others remembered aloud the names of people who had been pivotal in their lives and had died. Coppola's recollection of her son, Gian Carlo, was "deeply emotional" and "seemed to connect me to the cycle of life and death down through the ages."

"Gio" to his family and friends, Gian Carlo was killed in a boating accident on Chesapeake Bay in 1986. He was 23 years old.

The experience in the cairn was "archetypal," said Eleanor Coppola. "It just didn't go away." Nor did the desire disappear to re-create such an experience for others who could not travel to a similar site.

Slowly, four more artists were drawn to the idea and joined Coppola and McMann. They include Robilee Frederick, Elizabeth Macdonald, Alex Nichols and Oscar-winning sound designer Richard Beggs, who lost a 2-year-old daughter in 1988.

The project has taken them three years. "We were all committed strongly enough, it seemed to have a force of its own," said Coppola.

The two main materials for the "Circle of Memory" are primitive and accessible: about 225 bales of fragrant straw from the Willits are and 90-some segments of bay tree saplings cut from the Coppolas' ranch in Napa.

"We'd built a building out of straw on the ranch, and it looked so great before they plastered it over, it sort of stuck with me," said Coppola.

All of the artists liked the idea of using straw. As a description from the gallery puts it, the bales are "brittle elements bound into a cohesive whole, (which) symbolize both the strength of a community and the fragility of individual life."

"It's transportable, cheap, easy material, but it has such evocative qualities," said Coppola. "This (installation) doesn't take any precious stone or marble. It could be done in any country."

Robilee Frederick and Jean McMann walk alongside the installation.

Architect Macdonald turned Coppola's and McMann's vision of a straw cairn into drawings, and Nichols turned the drawings into three-dimensional reality. Beggs, a San Franciscan who currently is in London working on the latest Harry Potter film, subtly and ingeniously insinuated a haunting, sweet sound element into the structure.

"The idea of using children's voices was a dangerous area, I thought. It could become maudlin very easily," said Beggs in a telephone interview.

So he chose to use children reciting ordinary words. With help from the San Francisco Arts Education Project, Beggs recorded kids, mostly ages 8 to 15, speaking in more than a dozen languages. His own little girl's voice is part of the track.

"I wanted it to have a universality," he said, "This transcends ethnic or national boundaries."

"I wanted the sound element to flicker on the edge of perception, but that is a very delicate line. It would be very easy to intrude and overpower the piece, but, at the same time, I don't want people to strain."

Frederick, another Napa Valley-based artist who works in a variety of mediums, guided all but Beggs (who had to leave for London) in making a stunning translucent panel of pig gut that serves as a kind of partition between the passageway and circular remembrance room. Eight feet tall and nearly 6 feet wide, the panel is quietly beautiful, at once earthy and ethereal- and it smells just fine.

"It's veiled, like memories and loss. It's translucent, and life goes through it," said Frederick. "It has a very visceral feel to it. I wanted it to have the feel of the earth and be as organic as possible."

The flow of salt, said Coppola, represents several things: "Salty tears. And it is one of those elements of life we can't live without. In the light, it sparkles, like hope. At first we thought we'd have it flow into a bowl, but then we decided-no, it should just build up on the floor over the two months the exhibition will be here. To me, that represents the passage of time. You wouldn't want to artificially wipe it away by sweeping it up every night."

Working in collaboration with five other artists was "just wonderful," said Frederick. "It allows you to learn so much from the other people. It's fun and organic, too. It keeps growing. And when it's good, you end up having so much respect for all the people involved."

McMann, who also contributed a silk screen and large black-and-white life-size photos of some of the Irish cairn boulders she has studied, joked of the group effort:

"We tend to be extremely polite and deferential to each other, but we're all very stubborn. So, there was often, "That's a really good idea-but . . .'"

To get the pictures of the ancient rocks said McMann, "I lay down in the wonderful Irish grass so I could get them exactly as they are on the ground. I was taking their portraits- they all have such different faces, you see."

Like her collaborators, Coppola said she is glad that "Circle of Memory" ended up in the East Bay, at the Oakland Art Gallery.

"I like the fact that this gallery is free and not some super-art place where people would be intimidated," she said. "And I like that it is right on the plaza (Frank Pgawa, in Oakland's Civic Center) in this urban environment.

"A lot of places said, 'It's not for us- it's not edgy.' But Chris Johnson, who is on the gallery's board and part of the (Jerry) Brown administration, listened to us and he just got it," said Coppola. "It was as if it was meant to be here."

After the official opening of "Circle of Memory" on Nov. 1, the Day of the Dead, Fredericks said its creators were more than gratified by the reactions they heard and saw.

"It was as if people didn't want to leave, that rounded space," she said. "There's something very engulfing and yet comforting and soothing about it. We wanted it to be a comforting, nurturing place where people could le their sorrow out but be filled up again with a sense of, I suppose, peace."

Said Coppola:
"We did everything we could to not legislate whatever experience people may have. It's nondenominational, nonpolitical, and nonreligious. It's not about preconceived or predictable responses, but whatever each visitor brings to it.

"Really, it's sort of a place just to be. We're so bombarded by our outside world, this is meant to be a space that speaks to your inner life and allows you to listen."

The loss of a son led to Eleanor Coppola's involvement in "Clrcle of Memory," now at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.

'Food for the Soul'
Hay bales, salt and memories are ingredients of thoughtful and thought-provoking 'Circle of Memory'

The San Diego Union-Tribune
Sunday, August 15, 2004
By Robert L. Pincus, ART CRITIC

Scent precedes any sighting of "Circle of Memory," an exhibition in the form of a towering installation at the Museum of Photographic Arts. The reason is straw-massive bales of it. Their thick aroma carries to the entrance to the galleries.

The structure itself has an elegant simplicity: bales forming walls, both straight and circular, and a passageway with a ceiling of branches that leads to enveloping space. Inside that chamber are bales serving as benches.

If "Circle of Memory" seems meditative, that is by intention. Sounds are softened by the walls of straw. Light shines on a thin stream of salt that falls from a height to the floor.

"There aren't that many quiet places in today's world," says Eleanor Coppola, artist and the catalyst for this project. And true to her claim, it establishes a tranquil aura.

The impetus for this exhibition, however, was a traumatic experience: In 1986, Coppola and her husband, film director Francis Ford, lost a 23-year-old son. Gian Carlo, called Gio by family and friends, was killed in a boating accident.

She prefers not to discuss the ordeal of surviving such an awful event. But a decade later, Coppola participated in a ritual in Ireland that eventually led her to conclude that a work of art might serve as a place to grieve or remember a loved one.

Artists (left to right) Elizabeth Macdonald, Robilee Frederick and Jean McMann with rememberance cards, on display in the "Circle of Memory" exhibition.

This is the second venue for "Circle of Memory," which was on view late last year at the Oakland Art Gallery and had to be reconfigured and reconstructed from scratch in San Diego. The collaboration has cut across disciplines, involving photography, architecture and sound and lighting design.

It didn't trouble Coppola and her partners that this would inevitably be a site for intense emotional reactions from visitors and that it employed art to confront an elemental issue.

"Not to sound corny," Coppola asserts, "but art can heal. Viewing can be nourishing. It doesn't have to have a frame around it. People don't have to be concerned about whether this is art-or not."

Nor does she fear that its value is limited to reflecting on or grieving for a missing or dead child.

Arthur Ollman, the museum's director, takes a similarly broad view of "Circle of Memory." (Seeing it in Oakland convinced him to bring it here.)

"Thinking about the loss of a child, even the definition of child, is up for grabs. Everyone is someone's son or daughter. The fact is, when I saw the show (in Oakland), I focused on the loss of my father. Someone else might think about a loss of innocence, to mourn for who we are no longer.

"This is a wonderful meditatational space for reflecting on the issue of mortality. It will be on view through 9/11 and Dia de los Muertos, too. It's not put here to shed light on the fact that we are at war. But people are dying in Iraq and this can be a tool for healing. This is not an installation that is necessarily a downer. And it's not romanticizing and sensationalizing death."

Ollman also believes that the museum can enhance the social value of "Circle of Memory." MoPA has connected, with large assistance from local psychologist Ken Druck, to a host of organizations in what is called the San Diego Bereavement Consortium. A desk in the museum's foyer will have information on resources, for those who need them, as well as representatives from those agencies and groups to offer some conversation and referrals.

"My sense," adds Ollman, "is that museums that don't make themselves useful to the community have less claim on the community's support. There is a social utility in some exhibitions you do."

Ceremonies, Circles
For Coppola, the journey toward "Circle of Memory" began in Ireland, in the chamber of a cairn. (These ancient structures in stone are as much as 5,000 years old.) She was there in 1996, with her friend and scholar on the subject, Jean McMann, and Elizabeth Macdonald, a historian of urban design and a designer herself.

"It's not known exactly what they were used for," Coppola says of the cairns, "but they were clearly there for ritual purposes and perhaps ceremonies of death or renewal."

"We made a little ceremony," she continues. "We named people who died and were important to us: writers, artists, our mothers. I named several people and eventually called out the name of my son.

Jean McMann's life-size photographs of stones line the bottoms of the walls in the Museum of Photographic Arts' "Circle of Memory," continuing through Nov. 7.

"This experience lingered with me. I began to think about how we didn't have anything like that in our culture. That we didn't talk about this. We are death-phobic."

Both McMann and Macdonald became collaborators with Coppola on "Circle of Memory," whose structure is intimately tied to that of the cairns. McMann's life-size photographs of stones that encircle one cairn, now almost completely deteriorated, line the bottoms of the walls in the museum. MacDonald did the exacting drawings, which translated their concept into the actual architectural sculpture in the installation.

Others joined them. Richard Beggs has done sound for the installation, which includes a subtle mix of children's voices. He's had an illustrious career as a sound designer and editor in films, reaching back to Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" (1979), for which he shared an academy award, to daughter Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation" (2003), and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004). (Beggs, too, suffered the loss of a child.)

Napa-based artist Robilee Frederick-best known for atmospheric paintings in which she uses gunpowder as well as paint, a torch as well as a brush-created the veil for the entranceway. It's made out of pig guts, though you wouldn't know that from seeing it.

Elizabeth Macdonald, a historian of urban design, collaborated with artists including Eleanor Coppola and Jean McMann on "Circle of Memory." She created exacting drawings for the presentation.

Alexander V. Nichols contributed to the lighting and created the mechanism by which salt streams to the floor. At the present, he's the resident designer for the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company and the Hartford Ballet. But the list of others for whom he's done lighting and scenic projects includes the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Joe Good Performance Group and Kronos Quartet.

Coppola asserts that the project is a true collaboration, and the final product is true to this view. She is generous with her praise of colleagues, too, as when she says of McMann: "She takes extraordinary photographs of stones. Her photographs are like portraits of rocks. I had never looked at stones in that way, as if they were individuals."

And as for why each of them preserved together, when career demands would have made it easier not to, Coppola comments, "I think it was a food for the soul, perhaps, for all of us."

Eclectic Artistry
Still, Coppola herself brings a dimension of celebrity to the project, not only for the association with her husband's films and, more recently, her daughter's, but also for the couple's celebrated winery in the Napa Valley. Their son, Roman, also a film director, has his own line of wines, too: RC Reserve.

Bales of straw form circular walls, while light shines down on a falling stream of salt, in "Circle of Memory's" meditative space. The exhibition is a healing-through-art installation.

Like Francis Ford, Eleanor has pursued an eclectic array of projects: documentary filmmaking, costume design and, increasingly, the making of art. She may be best known for her documentary on the making of his epic scale film "Apocalypse Now," titled "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse" (1980). (It won an Emmy.) Her journal-style book on the same project, "Notes," published in 1979, remains in print.

"It's just come out in an Italian version," she adds, her smile widening a little.

Her pursuit of art-making reaches back to the early 1970s, when she did what she characterizes as "conceptual and performance pieces."

In fact, for all of the meticulous care and detail evident in "Circle of Memory," Coppola's philosophy of art is not clearly rooted in large ideas.

As she puts it, "For me, what connects my activities is the creative process. I apply it to the need at hand. I use the means that naturally fit a problem.

"I realize that maybe anybody could build this structure (in 'Circle') or take some of the photographs I've made, if they had thought about it. But thinking them up is what matters."

Her own art, of late, is pictorial, involving the play between "real branches and their shadows and painted shadows.' But she sees the closeness to nature, in Napa Valley, as a common denominator between her art and the project at MoPA.

A new building on their property was an inspiration.

"The smells, the aroma were so appealing," she recalls. "It looked so beautiful before we covered it with plaster. And it occurred to me that a cairn could be built of straw bale."

Having a structure that Francis Ford uses as a rehearsal hall provided collaborators with a chance to create a mock-up version of this project. It also gave her a chance to gauge his reaction to a work rooted, after all, in their mutual tragedy.

As she remembers, he was anxious to use the building for a new project and was pestering her to clear the space. Eleanor didn't resist, but she did insist that he see it first.

"He came jaunting along," she recalls, "sat down, and after a few minutes, he started to weep. He turned to me and said, 'it works'"

There isn't any doubt it did the same for some visitors in Oakland. Notes they left are poignant, heartrending. Many of the notes from the bay area showing are encased in a plastic box in the galleries and a few are visible.

"Stabbed in broad daylight as you put money in a parking meter," reads one disturbing message. "Your life was larger than your death."

"...son, brother, executive chef. Love you always," says a portion of another sheet.

In Oakland, some people left pictures.

In San Diego, people are encouraged to do either-or both.

But Coppola doesn't want anyone to feel as if these are the only reasons to visit.

"It might be enough for some viewers simply to come and experience the structure or see Jean's photographs. It's open to anyone's interpretation."

Serene Memorial to Children
Eleanor Coppola, other artists deal with death in Oakland gallery display

The Press Democrat
Sunday, November 30, 2003
By Michelle Locke, Associated Press

Oakland - It's quiet inside the small, circular chamber, just the thin whisper of a stream of salt falling from ceiling to floor and the murmur of children. But instead it's serene, a womblike space, worlds away from the shrill downtown bustle whistling past the gallery doors.

The idea, says Eleanor Coppola, who helped create the exhibit in collaboration with several other artists, was to create a neutral but evocative space, a public vessel for that loneliest of griefs, the loss of a child.

Coppola knows how important- and how hard- it can be to acknowledge that loss. Two decades ago, she and her husband, director Francis Ford Coppola, lost their son Gio, in a boating accident.

She found out then how taboo the subject of death, especially the death of a child, is. She even remembers lecturing herself to "get on with my life."

"Nobody wants to talk about it," she says. "Nobody wants to go there."

But Coppola and her fellow artists have gone there.

Inspired by Irish stone structures
Inspired by ancient stone structures in Ireland that are believed to have been used for ceremonial purposes, they created Circle of Memory, an installation at the Oakland Art Gallery they hope will provide on a personal level the kind of catharsis found at major monuments such as the Vietnam Wall.

"This isn't just meant for parents or families of children who have died, it's so much more universal," Coppola Says. Small tragedies are everywhere from horrible accounts of children dying at the hands of abusers to photographs of tiny coffins in war-torn areas.

"It's just present in our life experience and nobody seems to want to acknowledge it," she says. "And yet we're all part of it."

Coppola, director of filmography for the documentary "Hearts of Darkness: a Filmmakers Apocalypse," and author of the book "Notes," recounting the making of her husband's film, "Apocalypse Now," worked with a number of artists on the circle.

Her collaborators were Academy Award-winning sound designer Richard Beggs, lighting and structural designer Alex Nichols, artist Robilee Frederick, architect Elizabeth Macdonald and Jean McMann, who has a doctorate in the history of architecture and is the person who introduced Coppola to the Irish cairns.

Project two years in the making
The group worked for about two years on the project, meetings at cafes and at Coppola's house to map things out.

"We'd all have an idea and everybody would chew on it and then they'd day, 'No that's not right,'" Frederick says with a laugh.

The mantra: Simplify, simplify, simplify, simplify.

They used bales of straw (simple and cheap) and other natural materials to recreate the form of the ancient cairns.

"Any community can do this," says Coppola, who hopes to see more Circles of Memory installed at other locations. "Everything we did, we did with ladders or using a dolly, something like that. There's nothing high-tech about it."

The exhibit begins with a sloping passageway leading to a small, round room. Soft lighting and a semitransparent curtain at the entrance to the room add to the aura of sanctuary. Inside the chamber, a row of bales makes a convenient seat on which to sit and watch a thin stream of salt fall from the ceiling to an ever-increasing mound on the floor.The artists thought about using sand but finally settled on salt as more visceral, evoking tears and the essentials of life.

Display to run through Dec. 20
The salt sparkles as it falls; in the background children's voices can be heard reciting letters and numbers in several languages. The voices blend in a sibilant murmur; occasionally, an individual voice breaks through with piercing sweetness.

Underpinning the exhibit is the warm summer smell of straw, all the more striking in an urban gallery, a few steps from the wedding cake splendor of Oakland's Beaux Arts City Hall.

A few galleries turned down the concept when the artists were looking for a venue. Not edgy enough, they said. But the Oakland Art Gallery was delighted with the exhibit, scheduled to run through Dec. 20.

Visitors to the circle "just embrace it completely and they get it," says Emily Anderson, gallery co-executive director. "I was afraid it might be a little too heavy, but it hits this soft place where people open instead of close."

Visitors can share their thoughts
People like Melissa Kellogg who smiled as she walked out of the exhibit a few days after it opened this fall. "I found it comforting," she said, a hint of surprise in her voice.

"Wonderful!" was Andrea Turner's reaction. "To walk through it for a moment of silence and to center oneself."

Part of the exhibit is a stack of blank cards on which visitors may write down their thoughts, then fold the cards and poke them into a straw bale wall. A number of the folded white cards already dot the wall. One man wrote down just a name, Amber Swartz Garcia, a little girl who vanished 15 years ago after going to skip rope in the front yard of her home in Pinole.

For Coppola, the Circle of Memory is public and personal, a project that's taken a lot of work but also a place of reflection.

Here, she's thought about Gio, remembering him as the gangly 22-year-old he was when he died, and imagining what he'd think of her efforts.

"I feel," she says, "like I can sort of hear him saying, 'Yeah, Mom, that's cool.'"

Use of simplicity gives creative work its power

Sunday, December 14, 2003

I'm sure I'm not the only one who approached the Oakland Art Gallery's current exhibit with some anxiety. It's a tribute to dead and missing children in a city that has been agonizing over its murder victims, many of them teenagers.

Would it be a grim, overpowering reminder of urban violence? A wall filled with victims' photographs? A collection of mementos, like the flowers, balloons and stuffed toys that appear on the sidewalk when a child has been run down?

The exhibit, "Circle of Memory," was none of these things. Because it was simple and subdued, it was more awesome, powerful and memorable than even those heartfelt displays.

The installation was inspired by a trip artist Eleanor Coppola and photographer Jean McMann made to Ireland, where they explored ancient stone structures that may have been used for rituals marking death and renewal. These "cairns" had narrow passages leading to templelike rooms.

The gallery's version is built of bales of straw, with a small central room for meditation. In that area, a thin ribbon of salt falls from the ceiling and mounds into a cone on the floor. It's a brilliant concept, depicting nothing in particular and everything in general.

The mood among visitors has been quiet and somber. Some have returned again and again, according to gallery staff. It's not just an Oakland thing -- the exhibit, which runs through Saturday, has drawn people from throughout the Bay Area.

"Circle of Memory" reaffirmed for me the wide-reaching power of simplicity in a work of art. Sometimes an artist's most creative act is not "building" something, but stripping away everything extraneous. And the simplest works, like prehistoric sculpture, have a power to get to the root of our experiences.

The exhibit also revealed something unexpected. In an interview just after the opening, Coppola said she didn't know what effect "Circle of Memory" would have, but she thought it could "honor our truth" and begin the process of healing.

"We have so much hype surrounding us that it is difficult to have an authentic experience," she said. "Art tells the truth about us. We can recognize common experiences."

Such a thought-provoking idea, that art offered truth in a sea of untruth -- the reverse of some thinking. At some point in our lives, a dreary apartment is the "authentic experience." A Chagall or Matisse poster provides the escape from reality.

How easy it is to drift into thinking of art as mere decor, something to brighten a guest room filled with castoff furniture. Or, in one apartment I remember, to cover holes smashed in the plaster by previous tenants hanging their own pictures.

All artists probably believe they're telling the truth, at least getting at the truth in their work, not just decorating homes and offices. Sometimes their truth matches ours. Sometimes we connect with paintings and photographs in unexpected ways.

The photographs of Diane Arbus have been controversial for decades, but the truth of her images can't be denied. More than 200 of her photos are currently on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. If you explore just a portion of the show, you'll be convinced that Arbus wasn't exploiting freakish people, but conveying their unique qualities and compelling us to enter their world.

I found myself drawn to simple, timeless Arbus images that nobody would consider shocking: the luminous face of a crying baby -- the essence of crying babies -- and a teenage couple standing arm in arm in their winter coats, looking uncannily like the old people they will become.

An artist who gets to the truth in a very different way is Mark Rothko. By now, on repeated visits, I've probably stared for hours at one of his paintings in particular, a piece that is part of the museum's permanent collection.

The wall-size painting is from 1960, with orange and blue fields of color that seem to pulsate over a maroon background. It's easy to become hypnotized by this work; sitting on a bench in front of it, your field of vision becomes almost filled.

Rothko declared that his aim was to remove all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the viewer. He does for me, and the search for truth in his work feels almost like a religious experience. (Maybe I need to visit the Rothko Chapel in Houston.)

Sometimes the truth blasts out at you from unexpected places. Fred Wilson's exhibit early this year at the UC Berkeley Art Museum looked at history from an African-American perspective. One installation was made up of objects he found at the Maryland Historical Society: four elaborate 19th century chairs and, placed like a crucifix in front of them, a whipping post.

Just after the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek presented an exhibit filled with images of loss and hope. There were plenty of heartfelt, handcrafted twin towers and patriotic symbols.

But the image that still haunts me came from Oakland artist Raymond Saunders. It was a simple, black and white painting of what looked like an ancient urn, just unearthed. At the same time it resembled the objects photographed near ground zero, covered with a layer of dust and ash.

Saunders found the heart of the story in a single object, and, as Eleanor Coppola might suggest, he found a way to honor our truth.

Culture: Circle of Memory

By Elizabeth Bruckner

Five thousand years have come and gone since the Irish cairns- Neolithic burial structures – were assembled, yet Eleanor Coppola, wife of film director Francis Ford Coppola, has found them relevant. Through collaboration with five other contemporary artists (Richard Beggs, Robilee Frederick, Elizabeth MacDonald, Dr. Jean McMann and Alexander V. Nichols), Coppola created Circle of Memory, a multimedia/sensory installation inspired by the legends of rituals that might have taken place inside these ancient crypts.

Now on view at the Museum of Photographic Arts, Circle of Memory underscores the universality of humanity's need for a healing and meditative space by creating a place that commemorates the loss of friends and loved ones.

Straw bales placed in circular formation create a more transportable version of the traditional boulder-constructed cairn, and invite visitors into the tower's interior space with its sweet, comforting aroma. Inside, a steady stream of salt cascades gently from an opening in the roof and collects in an every-enlarging conical mound on the floor amid the sound of children's voices. Volunteers from local bereavement organizations, including the Jenna Druck Foundation, are available to help visitors with the myriad emotions the installation evokes.

Circle of Memory has received tremendous response from visitors. "People are coming who haven't ever been to a museum before," said Courtney Blackwell, communications director at the museum. "It's a different kind of space: It serves a purpose."