By Erika Webb
You just can't retire from creativity. And that's a good thing for DeBary residents who, courtesy of the work of fellow citizens, and the tutelage of artist Vera Rekstad, will soon get a hopscotch court, like no other.
Ten mosaic blocks and "home base" are being created at the Gateway Center for the arts in weekly workshops led by Mrs. Rekstad.
She said DeBary Assistant City Manager Kassandra Blissett contacted her to say the city was interested in "doing some colorful, creative art in public places."
Following in the footsteps of Volusia County's "Art in Public Places Program," in 2011, DeBary began featuring the works of various artists in the City Hall Council Chambers.
The well-received idea is now venturing out into the city's open spaces, and a partnership between DeBary and the Gateway Center for the Arts has formed to increase momentum.
When completed, the mosaic hopscotch court will be installed at DeBary's Community Park, with splash pad.
Mrs. Rekstad, who owned an award-winning graphic design studio - specializing in magazine design - in New York City for 35 years, may have thought she was going to wind down when she moved to Florida - first to Boynton Beach and two years ago to DeBary.
But the creative cobbler said she's never worked a day in her life because she thoroughly enjoyed her trade.
Instead of narrowing her focus in retirement, she's expanded it to include two additional dimensions.
Between Gateway in DeBary and Funky Trunk Treasures in DeLand, Mrs. Rekstad teaches six different classes: mosaics, fused glass, jewelry beading, wire wrapping, wine glass painting and calligraphy.
"Art is who you are, not just what you do," Mrs. Rekstad said. "So I decided to work in three-dimensional craft. I've always loved glass."
She started with stained glass, graduated to fused glass, embellished the fused glass, using it to create jewelry and progressed to beading and wire wrapping.
"The calligraphy came as part of my love of the typography aspect of graphic design," Mrs. Rekstad said.
The hopscotch court was her idea.
"It's not only pretty and colorful, but it's something useful for the kids," she explained. "I thought it would be a wonderful workshop to give at Gateway because the community could participate."
Each block and home base is being assembled by a different participant. Some are working in groups, making the endeavor a family or friends project.
"One is being done by three generations of a family," Mrs. Rekstad said. "And one is by the Friends of DeBary Hall; three people are working on that one block."
Others are being created by individuals or two friends working together.
The court's home base is being constructed by Gateway staff.
Using a variety of materials, each participant or group is placing personal mementos in the blocks, "to represent them, their family, their interests," Mrs. Rekstad said.
Some are adding their grandchildren's names.
Mrs. Rekstad is creating a block to commemorate her family. A button and thimble are remembrances of her late mother, who worked as a dressmaker at Bloomingdales in New York City for 25 years. Her late father was an international-award winning stamp collector. One of his medals has been placed in the block.
Both parents were Holocaust survivors, Mrs. Rekstad said.
A butterfly will represent her sister, who loves the winged creatures. A tiny hat and football will salute Mrs. Rekstad's husband, who is from Montana and loves the game.
A dragonfly replica and an apple - for the "Big Apple" - represent two of her favorite things.
"So everybody's covered," she said.
Finally, she inserted the palm-shaped amulet with the symbol of an eye in the center, which has been used in several religions for protection. It has been called "the hand of Fatima," "the hand of Mary" and "the hand of Miriam" in Islam, Christianity and Judaism, respectively.
To Mrs. Rekstad, it simply represents the hand of God.
"They all have creative freedom, with some guidance from me," she said of the artists.
Artistic media will include stained glass, tile, broken china, beads and small personal items.
On the practical side, Mrs. Rekstad said, indoor/outdoor Hardie board backing and silicone-coated grout will be weather sustainable, and a Dremel tool will soften sharp edges for safety.
She hopes to complete a comparable venture for Gateway Park next to the center, she said.
The artist teacher is looking forward to leading more artistic endeavors for public enjoyment throughout West Volusia.
"I've worked on similar projects in Delray Beach," she said. "I'm open to doing anything in Orange City, Deltona and DeLand.
Mrs. Rekstad also volunteers as the Gateway Center's gift gallery manager.
And she's only lived in DeBary for two years.
"Vera deserves all the credit," Ms. Blissett said. "I had an idea, and she made it a reality, with such enthusiasm and support; in some instances providing her own time and materials."
"I just want DeBary to be beautiful," she added.
Mrs. Rekstad has uncovered the beauty that already existed in her new hometown.
"I really feel like I found a home. My husband never sees me, and he may be happy, I don't know," she said, laughing.
Total costs associated with design, assembly and installation of the hopscotch court are estimated to be around $7,000. Funds were raised at special city events where memorial bricks were sold for $100 each.
"We did not proceed with anything (even purchase of equipment) until we had enough revenue from the sales of bricks," Ms. Blissett said, "and we had some savings from material donations from Gateway Center for the Arts and the public even..."
The project should be completed by the end of March, Mrs. Rekstad said.
A date for installation at the park has not yet been set.