By Jeff Herzog and Andrew Stonerook
On Saturday, Dec. 10, people gathered at the Chugiak- Eagle River library – the new lair for the art piece known as the “Dragon Flight Banner.” This joyous gathering, however, has a crestfallen background.
More than sixteen years ago, Jessie Withrow, a young Anchorage girl, was hit by a drunk driver. What threw a family and community into turmoil in time inspired a mother to carry her daughter’s passion on. Jessie loved dragons and her mother, Wendy Withrow knew that all too well.
She sought a way to keep her daughter’s passion for dragons alive.
In 2003, Amy Meissner, a local artist was commissioned by the Anchorage Public Library to create a piece of artwork for display in the computer lab of the Samson-Dimond Library. The donation for the artwork came from Wendy through insurance settlements and her loving desire as a mother to see her daughter’s passion carried forward. A colorful dragon reaching for the stars was born from recycled clothes. Due to limited space, only half the dragon was displayed in its old lair. Then, in 2010, the dragon took flight to its new home over the children’s area at the Chugiak-Eagle River Library. It is where a young girl’s passion for books and fantasy has watched over other children’s passion for books and stories for six years now.
In 2014, Meissner approached the library with a proposal to see the Dragon Flight Banner grow to its full length through community art events and fundraising. Three community art events were held in October 2016, to create the star-spangled back panels; in which volunteers, friends, and family paid homage to Jessie over a decade later with their efforts. After the events, Meissner, now the proud “artistic” mother of the Dragon Flight Banner reconstructed the banner at home to its full length.
Meissner has children of her own now, and they too, have taken up the art of sewing. They enjoy partaking along with their mother in the art of taking someone else’s recycled clothes and creating a beautiful sight for all to enjoy. It gives a new perspective to the adage, waste not, want not, and in the case of Dragon Flight Banner, the Chugiak-Eagle River Library will enjoy it for generations.
We – like most people who read this article – never knew Withrow. Yet there is some connection; some peace that she watches over our children from high in her star-spangled sky; spanning across the children’s area is a gift that will give forever.
What happened to Jessie is a tragedy – a tragedy that affected many and shudders one to the very core. Many lives were impacted in July of 2003 when Jessie was taken from her friends and family at such a young age. While past events can’t be undone, Wendy Withrow, her mother, took a tragedy and blessed a community – not only with the artwork, but by also showing us the love of a mother. Dragon-Flight Banner to young children may be a beautiful guardian of the library, but to others, it is a symbol of a mother’s love and a community’s resilience.
Next time you’re in the Chugiak-Eagle River Library and your searching for that next adventure for you and your little ones, or maybe you’re there to enjoy the Dragon Story Time adventures; look up to the dragon that is filled with a young girl’s spirit and a Mother’s love. Look up to an artist who uses what we no longer need or want to give us something we need and subsequently discover we need.
Editor’s Note: Jeff Herzog and Andrew Stonerook are editorial interns with The ECHO News.