ArtsCape: Teacher and students bring Diwali light festival to arts center

FALMOUTH – “Those are all great questions.”

That’s the answer Lawrence School art teacher Tiffany Van Mooy gave earlier this month when asked how and where she planned to light 1,000 diyas made by her seventh grade art students.

Diyas are tiny clay votive candles traditionally used in the celebration of Diwali, the annual Hindu festival of light. As part of learning about other cultures, Van Mooy set up a project in which the students, like an assembly line, formed the 1,000 clay diyas. After the clay lanterns were fired in a kiln, the students, still in assembly line, painted them with brightly colored acrylic paints.

Van Mooy planned to install the candles at the Falmouth Art Center, but there were many unknowns about how the final stages of the project would unfold.

It turned out that everything went without a hitch.

Lawrence School seventh grade art teacher Tiffany Van Mooy talks to her students at the Falmouth Art Center before they install the lotus flower made up of 1,000 divas.

Last week, Van Mooy brought the candles to the Falmouth Art Center where she had designed an eight-foot square lotus flower, outlined with tape in the Falmouth Art Center’s outdoor classroom.

In three groups, about 65 seventh graders walked from school to the art center – about a quarter of a mile – last Thursday morning, arriving about 20 to 25 in a group, at 8:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

Each group filled a third of the diyas with coconut oil and inserted a wick with lamp oil into the diyas and installed a part of the lotus flower designed by Van Mooy.

Students were also treated to a lecture on Diwali customs by Dr Olivia White, a member of the Falmouth Art Center who grew up in India.

White explained that she grew up as a Christian in India, so her family did not officially celebrate Diwali. But her family had many Hindu friends, so she knew the customs well.

Dr Olivia White from India explains the Hindu tradition of Diwali to seventh graders gathered at the Falmouth Art Centre.

She said Diwali comes after the monsoon season in India every year and part of the tradition of the holiday is for families to clean their homes from top to bottom, removing the mud from the rainy season.

They light diya candles using coconut oil because the fragrant smoke of coconut oil is believed to purify the air, much like cleansing rituals purify the home. Custom follows that family and friends are invited to visit. Candies and toys are exchanged.

By late morning, as the last group of seventh graders walked back to school, the giant colorful lotus flower made of 1,000 diya candles was almost complete. Van Mooy returned later that day to finish it off.

She invited all the students to return with their parents later that night for the enlightenment of the 1,000 Lotus Flower Divas.

At 6 p.m. that evening, students and their families began arriving at the Falmouth Art Center with Van Mooy handing out elongated electric lighters to several adults to help him light the 1,000 candles.

Lighting the diyas was slow, but after about 25 minutes and with last minute help from Van Mooy’s husband, Ben, using a small blowtorch, the candles were lit.

The students put coconut oil in the diyas.

About 30 people stood and sat on the outdoor terrace watching the flickering flames that made up the giant lotus flower. Occasionally a light would go out and a small plume of fragrant coconut oil would rise from the old flame.

Students were talking and joking about the making of diyas, pointing out which ones they thought they had a hand in. Parents encouraged speculation.

“Which one did you do,” a mother asked, pointing to the 1,000 candle chart. “That one,” his son replied, spying on a certain design on a candle he thought he had painted.

Another student commented on how great the 1,000 diyas project was. Van Mooy, hearing the comment, put her hand over her heart – a moment of joy for a teacher.

The students work to install the lotus flower made up of 1,000 divas.

The group watched the flames flicker for about 45 minutes before it was time to end the event.

Van Mooy planned to extinguish the flames in the traditional Hindu method, using flowers. She brought a dozen long-stemmed carnations and distributed them to several of the adults who extinguished the tiny diya flames with the large flowers.

The lotus flower made up of 1000 diyas remains on public view in the outdoor classroom at the Falmouth Art Center for a limited time, in conjunction with an exhibition of artwork at the Art Center’s Hermann Gallery titled Festivals of Light. Hundreds of diyas will then be available for sale to the public for a donation of $1 each to benefit the programs of the Falmouth Art Center, a local non-profit organization.

ArtsCape is a Cape Cod Wave column about the arts on Cape Cod written by Laura M. Reckford, co-founder of Cape Cod Wave and executive director of the Falmouth Art Center.

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