In Circle of Memory, Eleanor Coppola has created a sanctuary for those experiencing painful grief from loosing a child. Spark checks out Coppola’s emotional and thought provoking installation at the Oakland Art Gallery.

Circle of Memory is one of Eleanor Coppola’s first major art installations. However, she is a seasoned veteran within the arts. Her books, films, and costume designs have all earned her praise. Coppola’s first book, Notes on the Making of ‘Apocalypse Now’ is a first-person narrative that describes the intense production of the movie Apocalypse Now, and was later adapted into the Emmy Award winning film called Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. Published in 2008, her second book Notes on a Life compiles 30 years of journal writing and letters with friends and also covers the death of her eldest son, Gio, which inspired the creation of Circle of Memory.

When Coppola visited a friend in Ireland, she was introduced to an ancient tomb used for rituals dealing with birth and death. This powerful experience inspired her and five other artists to reinterpret the passage tombs, and thus, Circle of Memory was created. Coppola created a structure made of straw bales based on the cairns the passage tombs formed. At the center is a circular room for reflection which provides visitors slips of paper to write on and contribute to the work. As Circle of Memory travels around the world, the space evolves with the addition of visitors’ messages left in the straw. Combined with sound and shadow interplay elements, this public space is a multi-sensory experience allowing for the loss and remembrance of children who have died or been lost. Coppola hopes the exhibit provides a universal place of remembrance, especially as the current culture often does not provide a place to reflect on one’s losses.

Upon completing her degree at UCLA in applied design, Eleanor Coppola worked as a freelance designer doing fabric-and-collage murals for architectural installations. In 1962, she was the assistant art director for Dementia 13, a low-budget independent film. There she met writer/director Francis Coppola and the two married the following year. She has designed costumes and stage d├ęcor for the ODC Dance Company San Francisco and her drawings, photos and conceptual art pieces have been exhibited in many galleries and museums.

Eleanor Coppola 19 January,2016Spark

Related Episodes


Art Frees the Soul

See how art can be the force that heals in times of trouble.


Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor