If artist and gallery owner Amy Tingle has her way, by the end of February Montclair will have a blizzard that has nothing to do with winter. She is creating a collection of paper snowflakes aimed at raising public awareness about sexual assaults against women.       

Tingle, the co-founder and owner of The Creativity Caravan on South Fullerton Avenue, is in the middle of a campaign to use handcrafted snowflakes to tell the tales of women who have been victims of such crimes. She is also using them to spotlight statistics about rape and other types of sexual attacks.

Tingle announced her unusual initiative on social media earlier this month, asking women to provide information such as when and where they were assaulted, and how old they were when it happened.

Tingle is putting that information on individual snowflakes that she is cutting out of medical paper, the kind of thin white paper that is used in rape kits to gather evidence as well as on exam tables in doctors’ offices. She is pairing those snowflakes with others that have data about sexual assaults.

“I’ve created about 30 snowflakes with names and/or identifying details of victims and about that same number with statistics,” Tingle said, adding that she has recently received information from more women to create an additional 10 snowflakes.

So she is at roughly 70 so far, and women are still contacting her.

“The more that people hear about it the more people are reaching out to me,” she said.

Some of the 60 snowflakes that Amy Tingle has made so far for her campaign. LINDA MOSS/STAFF
Some of the 60 snowflakes that Amy Tingle has made so far for her campaign. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

Tingle’s choice of snowflakes to get her message out is the proverbial making-lemonade-out-of-lemons strategy. When she publicly blasted Dairy Air Ice Cream Co., a new Montclair shop on Bloomfield Avenue, in December for what she claimed was its sexualized and demeaning cartoon cow logo, the story went viral, drawing national and even international attention.

Some critics labeled her a “snowflake,” a derisive name for overly sensitive, too fragile and easily offended liberals. In a more sinister vein, Tingle was also the target of threatening messages and hate mail.

After remaining silent for weeks, Tingle kicked off her campaign. This week, sitting in her studio, she discussed why she used snowflakes for her public-education effort.

“It was the slur that was being tossed out at me,” she said. “And I’ve seen it before directed at other people, snowflake being used in this kind of derogatory way. So it was my way of reclaiming it and turning it into something different and creative and a way to give voice to women in this particular way.”

Tingle said that’s she’s been the victim of sexual assaults twice, so the issue strikes home for her.

“Obviously just having firsthand knowledge of it made me want to do something in the first place,” Tingle said. “But I think it also gives me an empathy - more than sympathy -  an empathy for the women who are reaching out to me. I mean it’s giving me my own voice back and empowering me.”

Montclair-based SAVE of Essex County, a sexual and family violence intervention and prevention center, reached out to Tingle, and she gave the group 40 pre-folded pieces of paper with instructions on how to make the snowflakes.

“They are going to ask some students to participate and I’ve asked them to write Essex County/New Jersey statistics on those,” Tingle said. “I didn’t realize Essex County has the highest number of reported rapes in the state. I also received a message from a woman in San Diego who would like to collect names for me on her coast. She’s going to collect them and send them to me.”

Most of the women who are contacting Tingle are giving her permission to use their names on snowflakes, but others are just providing their initials or preferring to remain anonymous.

“Some of them are telling me it’s the first time they’ve told anyone their whole story,” Tingle said. “Most of them are telling me it’s empowering them.”

Some women said they were assaulted at what Tingle called “shockingly young” ages, even three years old.

She has set what she described as a “loose” deadline of the end of February to complete collecting information for the snowflakes.

Tingle is mulling the best way to display them, perhaps not only in her Montclair studio but also as part of a traveling exhibit.

It’s not lost on Tingle that while snowflakes individually are fragile collectively they are powerful, that a big blizzard can immobilize entire regions.

“I think when all of these [paper snowflakes] are together - my eventual plan is to hang them somewhere, here or somewhere else - I think it will be the kind of thing that will stop people in their tracks, so similar to the way that a big snowstorm can sort of stop things,” she said. “Do I want to shut down rape culture and sexual violence? Absolutely. It’s my way of kind of speaking out against that.”