Madona Cole-Lacy is taking her "Coat of Many Cultures" -
and its message - on the road.
More than a fabric design, it's a celebration of cultural diversity, she
says of the oversized, 76-inch-tall garment, which is displayed in the Glen
Cove Public Library. Next month it moves to the North Bellmore library, and in
February to the East Meadow library.
Cole-Lacy, a Wantagh-based textile artist and fashion designer, got help
with her "coat" from members of the Salvation Army Freeport Senior Center, who
contributed a panel each depicting his or her cultural heritage.
Although the title suggests the biblical Joseph's Coat of Many Colors,
Cole-Lacy's idea was to weave together "the richness of many different
traditions and customs so you could read the coat like a book," she said. The
coat consists of 16 different panels.
The seniors were encouraged to let their imaginations roam free and to
express their memories, often with nontraditional material.
Lovetta Edwards, 81, who grew up on a peanut farm in South Carolina,
festooned her panel with peanuts. Jamaican-born Zelline Lowe, 72, created a
colorful collage of the greens, blues and gold of the native fruit, limbo
dancers, a Jamaican flag, sugar cane and a coconut tree. Add more Jamaican and
religious symbols by Francina Hundley, 68, an Italian scene by Ann Hetzel, 80,
King Tut and other Egyptian images by Mary Yacoub, 81, and an African-West
Indian jungle fantasy by Juanita Dash Kaimakides, 83, whose father was West
Indian-Portuguese and her mother, African-American-Native American.
Many of the seniors didn't know they could draw, much less paint, on
textiles, said Cole-Lacy, who taught five art workshops at the senior center,
operated in cooperation with the Nassau County Department of Senior Citizen
Affairs. Fabrics and materials were provided by Cole-Lacy with a $2,500 grant
from a JPMorgan Chase program administered by the Huntington Arts Council.
"Most didn't know they were artistic," Cole-Lacy said. The work, she said,
raised the seniors' self esteem as well as awakening pride in their heritage.
After completing a panel, one woman told her, "Now I feel like an artist."
Everyone seemed to feel like an artist at a reception for 150 seniors at
the Freeport Recreation Center this fall, where the Coat of Many Cultures was
unveiled. "Madona energized them," said Fran Petrone, the senior program
director. "People started talking about their ethnic backgrounds and we saw
what a very diverse community we are."
"Many of us never have the opportunity to talk about our backgrounds," said
Capt. Amanda Lumbila, corps officer with her husband, Capt. Campbell Lumbila,
of the Salvation Army Community Center in Freeport. Inspired by the project,
she said, the seniors "talked about how their grandparents came to the United
States and what life was like for them."
For Cole-Lacy, perhaps the most poignant contributors were her parents,
Cole, 83, who founded a pre-primary school in her native village of Waterloo,
incorporated a photo of her students in uniform that her daughter scanned onto
Christian Cole, 86, is a retired director of extramural studies at the
University of Sierra Leone.
Cole-Lacy came to the United States in 1979, after completing high school
in Sierra Leone. She got her master's in art education from Brooklyn College
and quickly found her niche as a designer of Madona Cole Originals,
one-of-a-kind wearable art, hand-painted, dyed or silk-screened scarfs,
dresses, skirts, coats, headpieces, neckties, pillows and wall art.
The Wantagh artist, who reared her children, Samuel, 14, and Madona, 12, as
a single mother, was married in 2004 to singer-guitarist James Lacy, who works
with her on educational programs.
A passion for education
Her passion, she said, has always been educating through art and motivating
others to be creative. Her Web site,
mytimehascome.org, promotes "tolerance to racial, ethnic and generational
"Art breaks down barriers," she said.
So does food. The reception at the Freeport Recreation Center ended with
food of many cultures. Although she didn't create an art panel, Izetta Gayle,
58, of Freeport was one of the biggest contributors to the reception feast,
providing dishes such as jerk chicken and saltfish and ackee, a fruit from her
native Jamaica. Local restaurants also contributed their ethnic specialties.
Cole-Lacy is now seeking other grants and other community groups interested
in creating Coats of Many Cultures. The art project is also an effective tool
for teaching children an appreciation of diversity, she says.
"It fosters a sense of belonging and accomplishment. They love it," says
Cole-Lacy, who will teach "Creating Art With African Textiles" in a children's
program celebrating Black History Month in February at the Glen Cove Library.
A busy month, which also includes an art exhibit in the Freeport Recreation
Center, climaxes with "A Gala Celebration of the Creative Spirit" on Feb. 7 at
the Swan Club in Roslyn Harbor.
[CORRECTION: The exhibit of Madona Cole-Lacy's "Coat of Many Cultures" at the
Glen Cove Library will move next month to the East Meadow Library. A reception
to meet the artist will be at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Glen Cove Library. The
information was incorrect in Sunday's LI Life. Pg. A15 ALL 12/13/06]
Cole-Lacy also will appear with her Coat of Many Cultures at a "Meet the
Artist" reception at 3 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Glen Cove Library. For more
information, contact Cole-Lacy at 516-783-9178 or e-mail her at