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It Used To Be Just A Fence. It Became A Tribute To Things Lost And Found In 2020

The Lost and Found outdoor art exhibit asks residents to consider the question: What have you lost, and what have you found in 2020?
The Lost and Found outdoor art exhibit asks residents to consider the question: What have you lost, and what have you found in 2020?

It's a regular, old, chain link fence circling a parking lot in a residential community in Maryland.

Except that attached to the fence are seven wooden boxes. They look like elaborate dioramas.

It's all part of an art exhibit called Community Lost and Found — and it asks residents to consider the question: What have you lost, and what have you found in 2020?

One box is decorated with a bird's nest and a pacifier suspended in a translucent globe — representing the baby girl that Megan Abbot and Gary Hall had in May.

A placard next to Renee Regan's piece reads, "We have said goodbye to an entire segment of our society recently. I wanted a way to grieve, honor, and memorialize them through sculpture."
/ Sarah Silbiger for NPR
A placard next to Renee Regan's piece reads, "We have said goodbye to an entire segment of our society recently. I wanted a way to grieve, honor, and memorialize them through sculpture."

Another box, designed by Renee Regan, is filled with pens in the shape of a pie, with a slice missing. A placard next to the box says, "We have said goodbye to an entire segment of our society recently. I wanted a way to grieve, honor, and memorialize them through sculpture."

Andrea Jones is the curator of this outdoor museum, located in the town of Brentwood, just outside of Washington, D.C. She also lives next door to the fence and constructed the wooden boxes. Her day job is as a museum consultant, but a few months ago she decided she wanted to do something that would help her process this year.

Andrea Jones, the curator of the Lost and Found exhibit, enjoys the art with her son.
/ Sarah Silbiger for NPR
Andrea Jones, the curator of the Lost and Found exhibit, enjoys the art with her son.

The idea, she said, was a riff on "the idea of the lost and found box that you might find at a school or grocery store."

"In my work, I do a lot of talking to museums about the potential to help people to process emotions," she says. "We have lost and found so much during this year, and it really has affected our identities."

Clarke Bedford's piece, Coronavirus Sunset
/ Sarah Silbiger for NPR
Clarke Bedford's piece, Coronavirus Sunset
Sara Prigan's piece, Lost Souls
/ Sarah Silbiger for NPR
Sara Prigan's piece, Lost Souls

The work is therapeutic, she says.

"The act of actually writing down what you think you have lost and found is — it's just a way of processing and sort of starting that ball rolling because there's so much going on in our heads right now," says Jones.

After she built the boxes, Jones asked her neighbors — some of whom are artists and some of whom aren't — to decorate them.

Cecily Habimana is among the artists whose work is featured in the Lost and Found exhibit.
/ Sarah Silbiger for NPR
Cecily Habimana is among the artists whose work is featured in the Lost and Found exhibit.

Cecily Habimana is the co-owner of Sew Creative Lounge, which operates out of the building behind the fence. She says when the pandemic started, they had to close their doors.

"Even to this day, we only have about 20% of our students back into our studio. And so what we lost was connection. Connection between our students, connection between the work that we did together."

Cecily Habimana's piece
/ Sarah Silbiger for NPR
Cecily Habimana's piece

So Habimana decorated a box with colorful swatches of fabric and strands of pearls.

"Not real pearl, but pearl beads that are suspended throughout the space. And it basically shows that, you know, each person continues to do work, continues to sew at home and by themselves. But none of them are touching. None of them are interacting with each other. And that that connection has been lost."

Alicia Tarr started sewing masks during the pandemic. She says she found a community of people who were also making masks to help those who either "couldn't get it themselves or it was not affordable."
/ Sarah Silbiger for NPR
Alicia Tarr started sewing masks during the pandemic. She says she found a community of people who were also making masks to help those who either "couldn't get it themselves or it was not affordable."

Alicia Tarr is a council member for the town of Brentwood, Md. She covered a solar-powered box with an antique gold picture frame. It has a little keyhole that you have to press your face up against to see inside.

"I really wanted to make it more interactive. So when you actually walk up to this box, there's a proximity sensor."

Alicia Tarr's piece
/ Sarah Silbiger for NPR
Alicia Tarr's piece

Inside, there's a tiny mural Tarr dedicated to the people who have died this year — like her aunt.

But it's not a box about loss - it's a box about what Tarr found during the pandemic.

"I wanted to just use it as a launching point to focus on the things I could change," she says.

"Basically, I started sewing masks like a crazy person," says Tarr.

After she started, she says, she found a community of people who were also making masks. "They did it because they wanted to donate masks to people that ... either couldn't get it themselves or it was not affordable because we live in a sort of economically depressed area. So I did a lot of children's masks."

Handwritten notes of what people feel that they have lost or found during the coronavirus pandemic.
/ Sarah Silbiger for NPR
Handwritten notes of what people feel that they have lost or found during the coronavirus pandemic.

Jones, the curator, says she wanted everyone to be able to participate in this exhibit. So she also created little wooden tags that passersby can write on and attach to the fence.

To represent their losses, people have written things like "The fun at school I had." "Fellowship." "Ruth Bader Ginsburg."

On the found side: "I found my voice to advocate for myself," read one note. And — "How to play with my brother."

Jones says the project is democratizing in a way.

"This kind of asks a lot of questions, this exhibit, about who can be an artist, who can be displayed in a museum because, you know, that's a really big honor for an artist. But there's also a lot of elitism in that."

Stephanie Vaughn participates in the Lost and Found outdoor art exhibit.
/ Sarah Silbiger for NPR
Stephanie Vaughn participates in the Lost and Found outdoor art exhibit.

Stephanie Vaughn was leaving the parking lot when she stopped in front of the fence.

She says she's had a tough year — her husband died in September and her mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor. When she was in South Carolina to help her mom, she needed a project to do with her nieces.

And so when she picked up a tag - she wrote about what she learned.

"Found: I started crocheting again. I made baby blankets and dishcloths," she reads. "I enjoy giving the gifts I made to family, friends and strangers."

After sharing her story and tying her tag to the fence, Vaughn heads to the post office to mail a package of her crotchet in time for the holidays.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: December 26, 2020 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Alicia Tarr as saying that she was "selling" masks, when in fact she said she was "sewing" masks.