Sofie Ross, the youngest artist at Washington Park on Sunday, had two tiny pigtails and wore a bright yellow T-shirt. It was a perfect contrast to the geranium-red paint she was dabbing on the backside of a star-shaped cake pan.
But the 3-year-old hesitated in the final execution of her painting, waiting for her mom, Alex Ross, to give permission.
Alex nodded, telling her to go wild.
, Sofie flung the pan onto the bare canvas.
“All right!” cheered Alex.
And there bearing witness was one red, slightly smeared star print, the beginning of another masterpiece picnic blanket for the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Dubbed The Picnic Project, it is the idea of fiber artist Alison Heryer, a teacher at the Kansas City Art Institute. Since May, Heryer, 34, has visited different areas of Kansas City each week encouraging the public to print, paint, splatter, write and express themselves on a 5-by-5 canvas blanket she supplies.
On July 15, 200 of the painted “blankets” will be displayed en masse in a checker-print design along with solid red canvases — a 10,000-square-foot patch of gingham tiles — on the lawn of the Nelson for a picnic celebration.
“So far, we’ve got 140 blankets,” Heryer said, “but we’re on track.”
Heryer and two art institute interns were at Washington Park on Sunday afternoon. The shady spot was popular, especially with live rock music drifting over from a Kansas City Parks and Recreation mobile stage and volunteers grilling chicken and veggies. They were joined by hundreds of bicyclists from the Kansas City Metro Bicycle Club who rolled in after riding routes from 10 to 46 miles long as a fundraiser for the city’s fountains.
Two cyclists, Holly Giammanco, 32, and Rachel Stephens, 30, painted their canvas blanket in the shape of a bicycle wheel to commemorate their ride. They watched Sofie and Alex Ross paint a galaxy of stars on their canvas.
But even in the serenity of this moment, Alex told how she and her family survived a terrifying moment — last year’s Joplin tornado, which destroyed their home. Huddling in their closet until the winds died away, everyone was safe but shaken. Even now, though, they all suffer nightmares.
But “days like this make it seem far away,” Alex said, smiling at her daughter, who now had red paint on her hands, shins and nose. Mom and daughter were giving Daddy a day of rest.
And eventually a picnic blanket, too, because after the July 15 event, every public artist will get their creation back, a souvenir from a summer day.