When Hasbro sold the first Lite Brite in 1967, it was unlikely they could have known what their light box and colored pegs would inspire in Birmingham in 2013.
If you’ve been to art festivals in the Magic City this year, you may have noticed an extra large version of the beloved toy. Aptly called Lite Brite Jumbo, the giant novelty owes its existence to a group of artists known as MESH Collective, who have a passion for metal, interactive art and creating art as a community.
The group — consisting of Liesa Cole, Heather Spencer Holmes, Forrest Millsap, Joe McCreary, Sarah Heath, Lindsay Mouyal, Liz Wuestefeld, Kim McKenzie and Max Cook, among others — bonded over their common fondness for metalworking, specifically the iron pours at Sloss Furnaces. New opportunities and changing life schedules intervened over the years, but eventually, they decided to form MESH Collective. They wanted MESH to serve as an umbrella under which they could continue making things together, and they have been working in that capacity since last February.
“I was contacted by Liesa Cole about being a part of the creative team for Light Dreams,” said MESH artist Heather Spencer Holmes, referring the Alys Stephens Center’s annual light and digital projection art festival. “So we brainstormed creating a jumbo Lite Brite.”
“Having an interactive component to art is really important to me,” added Holmes. “It’s nice to have art that’s pretty to look at, but I value group participation. And we wanted to build something that’s fun.”
Their mission, apparently, was accomplished. The collective reports that kids and adults have enjoyed Lite Brite Jumbo side by side. The Lite Brite Jumbo’s interactive space is roughly five-by-five feet with approximately 3,000 holes on each side, and because the Lite Brite is two-sided, there’s plenty of room for multiple people to play with it at the same time.
Since Light Dreams, the Lite Brite Jumbo has made appearances at Magic City Art Connection’s Imagination Festival, Digital Graffiti at Florida’s Alys Beach and, most recently, Artwalk. Prior to creating Lite Brite Jumbo, The MESH artists said they were no strangers to the local and regional art festivals. Holmes has participating in festivals including Kentuck and Artwalk, in various ways for more than 20 years.
“Heather has worked for Artwalk for the past two years as a street captain and this year as food vendor coordinator. She approached us about bringing the Lite Brite, and we were excited about it,” said Artwalk President Wade Smith. “Artwalk is always looking for unusual installations and street performance artists to make the event more interactive. I thought the Lite Brite really fit in well with that goal.”
“People know they can come to me for this kind of stuff, so being a part of MESH allows me to formulate the best people for the job. I can take this person and that person to work on this or use totally different people to work on something else, depending on what it is. The roster of the collective will rotate, but once a member, always a member,” said Holmes. “I’d like to see MESH become an entity people go to when they want something cool that’s never really been done before.”
Holmes and Millsap are quick to note that larger-than-life Lite Brites have been made before. “But we tried to perfect it,” Holmes explained. “Ours is double-sided, and we knew that kids would push the pegs too far into the box, so Forrest designed it where the pegs could be pushed all the way in, and they’d fall out at the bottom.”
With items like a giant kaleidoscope and interactive musical instruments that double as public art sculptures on their to-do list, MESH is already at work planning their next piece for Light Dreams.
“We’re proposing to do a fire machine smoke screen. It’d be like a wood stove with steam and smoke that we’d project things onto,” Millsap explained. “We’re even toying with the idea of having a video game kind of activity where people can use water guns to shoot the images in the smoke.”
At present, MESH is not a business, though they have been able to pay for the cost of materials through stipends and donations, like the lights from Meyer Electric. “Moving forward, we’ll work toward a business where we’ll be able to pay for both materials and time,” Holmes said. MESH is currently trying to sell the Lite Brite Jumbo so they can use that money toward new creations.
Next up on the MESH Collective agenda is a group show at Light Up the Arts in Orange Beach on December 7, where they’ll be showcasing a jellyfish installation made of umbrellas and lights.
“Instead of doing a solo show, we chose to do a group show. You have to have a good sense of community. So many art forms are solo endeavors. But [metal] casting, what brought us all together, is a group effort. You have to get people together to help,” said Holmes. “That sense of teamwork and community are important, so we try to bring it into everything we do.”
For more information on MESH Collective, visit their Facebook page.