Over a year ago Brostrom started assembling dolls, all re-purposed by artists they have invited and anonymous folks who thought it was a worthy cause.
The cause? A statement about the the ongoing separation of children on the southern border. They come from families seeking the better life that America promises but were stopped, and, in several cases, separated from their families who were detained or even shipped back across the border.
Human life controlled by a system.
Brostrom and Cooley became deeply troubled about news reports over the last few years.
"It leaves you wondering what to do, you want to do something," Brostrom said.
"The dolls represent a ready-made symbol of the precious children separated at the border. The chain link fence seemed like a natural backdrop," she said."
It began with a few dolls and a simple request for artists within their circle to provide dolls ready to display. It has turned into a trans-America international collaboration with artists who have sent dozens of pieces of varying sizes to be part of the installment.
The pieces were put up last year and stayed through the winter. In the spring Brostrom added more dolls and the project keeps growing. They have over 150 dolls now and hope it grows into the thousands.
Last Friday Cooley and Brostrom found a code violation notice on their front door.
It read: "WE MADE THE FOLLOWING INSPECTION..." in print followed by the hand-written message "Please remove all dolls from rear fence."
According to Oil City's code enforcement officer Yvonne Greene some neighbors who walk their dogs through the W. Third Alley where the fence faces had lodged a complaint.
Greene, who said she investigates all complaints that come across her desk, determined the fence violated the code 304-1 A which pertains to clutter viewable from the roadway, so she issued the door knob notice.
Brostrom and Cooley thought there might be a misunderstanding. They immediately contacted Greene. According to Brostrom, Greene said the complaints were that the dolls were creepy and they've basically been up long enough. Brostrom explained what was going on with her artwork and the matter rested over the weekend. She said it was a good conversation with Greene.
On Monday Greene called Brostrom and said the dolls could stay up. "I apologized to her," Greene said. Though she says the code, as written, could find Cooley and Brostrom in violation, it certainly isn't a priority in the city. "I am glad [Brostrom] called and [the matter] has been resolved," Greene said.
Brostrom said she was pleased with her conversation with Greene and is happy the matter is resolved.
The dolls can stay.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the focuss of many things, but the "crisis on the border" has not disappeared. According to the El Paso Times, over 2,000 children have been sent back across the border since March when the coronvirus began to rear its ugly head in the United States.
This has not gone away simply because it isn't in the headlines.
So what is next?
Oil City says the art installation can stay, artists or anyone else from all over the world can still send a doll to be included on the fence installation.
Brostrom and Cooley said they are afraid the issue is getting lost with our attention shifted elsewhere. For them the children still need the focus of our attention.
"We had to do something and didn't know what to do?" Brostrom said. "It's become a therapeutic memorial and vehicle for others to deal with their grief and concern." Cooley said people who they have never talked with before have stopped will stop and talk to them about the dolls. This has made them happy. "We always thought of this memorial as a collective project."
"It's healing for me to do it," said Brostrom.
Want to get involved in the project?
Margaret Brostrom says people interested in creating a doll can message her through Facebook
for details and if you need a doll to work on.
Eight & 322 is an online publication focused on telling stories of the communities in the northwest region of Pennsylvania. To subscribe to the free Sunday Edition newsletter, email email@example.com.