Connecting miles of smiles along US20
If Sal Strom and Lynn Moyers have their way, they will turn U.S. Highway 20 into a kaleidoscope of color during the month of May.
The creative King City duo are embarking on an odyssey that will connect the entire length of US20 between Boston, Mass., and Newport, Ore., using hundreds of necklaces made with colorful safety pins, and yards and yards of cheesecloth dyed every color of the rainbow.
Strom and Moyers are the perfect team for their "Connecting US20" trek: Her imagination and creativity know no bounds, while he is into planning and logistics, and their venture definitely needs a big dose of both. "Scheduling is not my thing," Strom said.
If US20 didn't exist, Strom probably would have invented it. She grew up on the Oregon Coast in Depoe Bay, a few miles north of Newport, and she earned her master's in fine art from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston.
Her late mom Gracie Strom was famous for "playing the bottles" at her Gracie's Sea Hag in Depoe Bay, and when Gracie was dying a few years ago, Strom found herself putting together chains of safety pins as if she were creating rosaries. And Strom has always been drawn to using cheesecloth in her art, manipulating colorful swaths into multiple shapes and layers.
Driving back from an art residency in Arizona, Strom had an epiphany: Combining safety-pin chains and swirls of cheesecloth to create connections among communities that lie along US20. Moyers jumped on board to work out the logistics of the trip while Strom searched for deals on safety pins, and dyed and decorated hundreds of yards of cheesecloth in their garage.
Strom also turned real maps of each state into works of art by covering them in layers of colorful cheesecloth, making a heavier "thick" and lighter "thin" version of each one, plus creating one giant map of their entire route with their journey marked on all the maps with gold nail polish, her mom's favorite.
Each state map glows with a different color, and Strom explained, "I don't choose the colors – I just do it. I use an acrylic gel and the dyed cheesecloth on the maps."
US20, at 3,365 miles, is the longest continuously numbered highway in the country and passes through 12 states. Strom's original idea was to make arrangements to stop at art centers in each state but that evolved into making libraries their base for each stop.
The pair are doing publicity ahead of their journey to hopefully attract lots of participants at every event who will each create two necklaces of safety pins, one to keep and one to pass on to someone in the next town on the trip. Then, to enhance the library theme, participants will bundle clouds of cheesecloth around books in tubs and finally toss the billowing cheesecloth into the air.
"Tossing the cheesecloth in the air always gets everyone laughing," Strom said. "I'm a strong believer in the healing effects of laughter and color. Moving with cheesecloth is like dancing with a breeze through a rainbow. What could be better than that?"
The couple made practice runs to eight Oregon libraries in February to time and fine-tune their operation, discovering that they needed such additional items as black tablecloths and a sandwich board to stand in front of the libraries to attract participants. Ironically, at the Sweet Home library they met a couple who had bicycled the length of US20.
"We want to talk about the importance of libraries and the fact that they are also community centers," Strom said. "People find jobs there by looking online. One library along the route is doing a yoga class, and one library is hosting a talent show. In one library we will hold our event when its knitting group meets, and in another one it will be during a cooking class."
According to Moyers, the focus will be on local authors at each stop, and Strom, who will bring along copies of a book about her mom's fascinating life, "Amazing Gracie and the Sea Hag" by Thorn and Ursula Bacon, added, "It's fun to see which books people choose and to see them talking about the books."
The couple reported that they had interesting encounters with the public during their stops at Oregon libraries, including people who had driven parts or all of US20.
They decided that the most economical way to make the journey with all their supplies was to drive round-trip in a rental car. They left April 22 for Boston and will stop at 14 libraries between May 1 and 31, including ones in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
Moyers has created a spread sheet for the whole trip, listing each day, the starting location, if there is an event, the mileage to be traveled and the estimated time it will take, and the end location. In general they plan to spend two days at each location, one day working on the event and another day to look around the area.
"We have find-tuned everything," Strom said. "At each stop, it will take half an hour to set up and 20 minutes to take down."
Moyers added, "We figured out the number of safety pins we will need," and Strom said, "And I ordered extra. On the drive to Boston, I will make 100 necklaces to have plenty done ahead of time."
Moyers, who is an automotive buff, has several side-trips planned that would make any auto enthusiast green with envy.
"This is my pay-off," he said. "I found a listing of every car museum in the U.S. and listed all of them within 20 miles of US20. I had to weed out a few, and a couple are 30 miles away."
Stops include the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Inc.; the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn, Ind.; the Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich, N.Y.; Elmore Brass Era Automobiles in Clyde, Ohio; Toad Hall Classic Sports Cars Museum in Hyannis Port, Mass.; and Carhendge (a replica of England's Stonehenge made out of cars) in Alliance, Neb.
When the trip ends in Newport on May 31, Strom and Moyers hope to be greeted by a large crowd to celebrate their accomplishment. An exhibit that includes the maps and other artwork and photos from the trip will go on display June 9 at the Newport Visual Arts Center.
"We want to take more trips and do this the rest of our lives," said Strom, who calls herself a multi-disciplinarian artist with a focus on social interaction. "We want to visit libraries in every state that we haven't been to. But right now we are super-excited about this trip."
Of course, no artistic project would be complete without music, and Strom found her muse in Alan Alexander III, a Portland-based composer, producer, singer, multi-instrumentalist and playwright, who composed and recorded a "Connecting US20" song for Strom to use.
Moyers will blog every day on the trip and upload videos and photos to Facebook and Instagram; people can follow their journey on connectingus20.com facebook.com/connectingUS20.