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  • Gumball Portrait of Barack Obama
  • Spencer Williams
Gumball Portrait of Barack Obama

By Diane Smith
Record-Courier staff writer

“Yes we can!” shouted the large group assembled at the King Kennedy Center in Ravenna on Monday.
And later, yes, they did.

On the eve of the presidential inauguration, more than 100 children and adults came together to craft a mural of President-elect Barack Obama made up of nearly 13,000 gumballs. The event was part of events at the center to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and pay tribute to Obama.

Two by two, participants fed 136 gumballs into plastic tubes, which were then assembled on the large loom to form an image of Obama’s face. Each tube had a “map” instructing the mural makers on the order the gumballs were to be put into the tube. Participants could take the map home as a souvenir so they could later identify their part in the project.

The mural, sponsored by Ripley’s Believe it or Not, will be framed and then sent to one of Ripley’s museums. Ripley’s sponsored the piece, and funds over and above the expenses of the piece will be donated to the King Kennedy Center for its building fund.

Artist Franz Spohn said he thought it was a fitting metaphor for the president-elect’s call for public service.
“If you do something as a community, you’ll be amazed at the results,” he said.

Spohn has created two previous murals with children from King Kennedy. The first one, which depicts King and Rosa Parks, hangs in the Kent State University library but is owned by the center. The second, which hangs at the community center, depicts King with his wife, Coretta Scott King.

He said he enjoys the energy of the Ravenna group.

“This is what I love, utter chaos,” he said as he watched the activity. Before they began the project, Spohn addressed his “participating artists.” “I do not chew or eat your crayons,” he said. “Please do not chew or eat my gumballs.” Tubes were distributed to children, and a few were carried by surprised adults, who looked like kids at Christmas. “You never saw gumballs create so much excitement, did you?” said Ann Gosky as she placed bowls of gumballs on the tables.

The most prevalent color in the mural is purple ” 6,801 gumballs of that color were used to create contrast in the image and to depict Obama’s dark hair, suit and the blue in the American Flag. The image also contained 2,411 orange gumballs, 1,240 blue, 225 green, 801 red, 191 pink, 756 yellow and 349 white.

Spohn buys the gumballs by the case and sorts them by color. Before purple gumballs existed, he would go through the painstaking process of spray painting the gumballs black.

The event also included songs, poems and speeches in honor of King and Obama. The Rev. Eddie Harris, pastor of Upper Room Ministries in Ravenna, led the packed crowd in shouting, “Yes we can.” “One person can make a difference,” he said. “We have a splendid example in our president-elect.”

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    Spencer Williams

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