Once upon a traveling time, I took a group of Jacksonville and Triopia students to the Soviet Union. The official name back then was U.S.S.R., pre-Putin but still a scary place for country kids. But one of highlights of our trip was a morning spent at Leningrad’s Hermitage Museum. It’s one of the oldest and largest museums in the world and it contains the planet’s largest collection of paintings. After a couple of hours, my students (and their sponsor) were painting-ed out and were quite ready to move onto something that actually moved; then our guide took us into a wing of the great museum containing the mosaics. In short, we were floored.
The art of making mosaics, tens of thousands of small glass, stone and tile, forming a picture had been lost for six centuries until the Russians rediscovered the technique of achieving the various colors. When we walked into the first of the mosaic rooms our jaws dropped. To this day I’ve seen nothing manmade that can top of artistry we Morgan County kids witnessed that day. Looking back on our Soviet journey, I can barely remember the Moscow Circus, the beautiful rivers or the strange soup with fish heads floating on the top, but those mosaics have become embedded in my mind. A single piece of unremarkable glass becomes a thing of breathtaking beauty when combined with others. In a strange way it reminded me of home.
When you walk around the square, drive down State Street or circle the town on the interstate, you get a peek at the pieces, but you’ll need to draw back a bit to view the entire mosaic of humanity we’ve got going for us. In fact, you can “view” these mosaics with your eyes closed … listen for the wailing guitars of South Jacksonville’s Concert in the Cornfield and the Morgan County Fair grandstand just barely audible over the summer concerts on the square, on the lawn of the Governor Duncan Mansion, in Community Park, blending nicely with the sounds of the Jacksonville Symphony, the college and high school choirs, interrupted only slightly by the sound of the town’s various bar bands echoing back and forth across the town square. It’s mosaic, man. A friend of mine from Peoria calls Jacksonville, “Music City,” with only slight apologies to Nashville.
The Russian museum didn’t much highlight smells, but Jacksonville provides its own mosaic of aromas with the heavenly fragrances wafting daily out of SafeCo Donuts on Morton mixing freely with the diesel exhaust of our main thoroughfare’s construction equipment, the farm boy déjà vu perfumes of the fairgrounds on a hot July day and the smell of freshly cut grass on every street in town. Individually these things smell like donuts and grass, but taken together they provide a mosaic of fragrances that are truly unique to us and help define us.
And of course, a true mosaic is all about what you see, and Jacksonville provides a montage of sights equaled by few towns our size. While most major cities are cramping with angst in their desire to sacrifice high-priced real estate to create “green space,” our town is splattered with a blessing of parks stretching from Sammy Nichols’ acreage on the south end of town to a variety of green Edens throughout the city. The canopy of elm trees no longer grace our east-west thoroughfares, but visitors still marvel at the variety of stately architecture for which Jacksonville has long been known.
The early Russians used animal hides to concoct their adhesives for mosaics, but in today’s America, it’s the people themselves who form the glue of a community, and in that respect we are a mighty sticky lot. Take a quick journey around town at lunch time and listen to sound of joy rising up from the Kiwanis meetings, the Rotary lunches, the AMBUCS gatherings, the Elks, the Lions, the Moose, the American Legion, Amvets, Pilot Club and others, all raising a tide of fellowship that is matched only by their philanthropic adventures. Watch as how our plethora of arts organizations truly put the “M” in mosaic, bringing local and visiting artisans together and providing an atmosphere where young creators are given the platform to perform and the encouragement to grow. Stop and chat with Andy at the bookstore, ask Clare what’s popping this week with the Imagine Foundation, check with Chris about the next visiting artist at the library, quiz Rich on what’s coming up next at the Playhouse, pop into the Soap Company Coffee House to meet Jacksonville’s most eclectic mix of sippers, join the joggers circling the square, take Rover for a trot in the dog park, plan a day trip to lovely downtown Murrayville.