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North Hills Monthly

Puzzle Project to Honor Fred Rogers in a Unique Way

May 31, 2016 12:33PM ● By Shelly Tower Rushe

Gabrielle Nastuck, director of the Latrobe Art Center, was looking for a new project for her younger students when she came across the Puzzle Project. She immediately realized that the project’s concept—uniquely designed pieces that fit together to make one large display—was the perfect addition to an upcoming Bringing Fred Home event designed to honor Mister Rogers. 

The Bringing Fred Home celebration, which will begin on June 10, includes a Mister Rogers' Neighborhood gala. On June 11, a Bringing Fred Home Neighborhood Family Day will include a visit from Daniel Tiger, trolley rides, live music, food vendors, puppet show and more. This will also be the day that a life-sized bronze statue of Fred Rogers will be unveiled in his birthplace of Latrobe. Sponsored by the McFeely-Rogers Foundation, Latrobe Art Center is the host of the event.  

Throughout both days, the Puzzle Project will be installed at the Latrobe Art Center. The pre-cut 24”x24” foam core puzzle pieces can be decorated using any medium such as paint, markers or scrapbook style. “It is an easy way to express yourself,” said Kelly. “There are no rules as to how you make your puzzle piece… all we ask is that it is meaningful to you.” 

Once Nastuck discovered the Puzzle Project, she contacted creator Tim Kelly for more direction. Kelly is a New York-based artist whose Art is Good programs have grown the Puzzle Project to more than 15,000 puzzle pieces worldwide. 

“Tim wants you to create something meaningful to you; to tell your story,” Nastuck said. “We’re all blank puzzle pieces in the beginning.” 

Nastuck brought Kelly to the Latrobe Art Center in the middle of a January snowstorm to talk more about the project. “We squeezed in all we could,” laughed Nastuck.

Participants who created puzzle pieces include the Greater Latrobe School District’s third-grade art symposium; Clairview School, which is a school for special-needs students; an animal rescue group; and those participating in open studio time. 

Nastuck was astounded by the response. “In the beginning, we ordered 1,000 pieces. By midweek, we ordered 250 more. Within 48 hours, we had to order another 1,000. So we’re now over 2,000 pieces for this installation,” she said.

Kelly said that he was “super impressed” with the people of Latrobe during his visit. “Every single person I met greeted me with a smile and a kind word. I’ve read that Latrobe was a steel town and been told that Latrobe was a beer town… but if you ask me, Latrobe is an art town!” he said. 

Kelly will return to Latrobe to assist in hanging the pieces in what Nastuck describes as a “wall to wall” puzzle installation. “There will be a Mister Rogers memorabilia pop-up exhibit in the middle of the center, but the walls will be the puzzle pieces,” she said. “Even the columns in the annex will be covered!”

 One wall will be devoted to Rogers’ 143 legacy (one letter to say “I”, four to say “love” and three to say “you”) and will include pieces exclusively focused on a love theme. But the overriding theme of the project is a simple lesson that many of us learned while watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as children:  You are special. 

“We’re all unique and special and we all fit together,” said Nastuck. 

Kelly concurred. “Mr. Rogers taught us that it is okay to be different and that the differences are what make us unique,” he said. “This project contains thousands of unique puzzle pieces created by thousands of unique people.”