Remembering 9/11

Mike DeMinico is an artist from Tampa with a big, big idea.  He said his thoughts to pay tribute to the innocent dead from 9/11 happened at once and stayed with him until he started to do something.  He found photographs of the people.  There were pictures taken at weddings, parties, on a beach, from a work ID tag, etc. of each of the people who had died in the World Trade Center, or the Pentagon, or on the flight that crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.  They are pictures from the Book of Grief, a compilation of those people we lost that day, or from other sources.

What Mike has done with the photographs is both very amazing and very emotional.

There is a gallery in Fairhope Alabama, the town I now call home, called “Patina”.  The owners have helped Mike with this project and have begun the exhibit of his work.  As you walk into the gallery head to the back right corner.  There you will be standing between two walls; among the lively faces of our missing loved ones.  Each one happily looking on, the way they looked going about their lives; hanging out with friends, on vacation, at a wedding, a graduation, or just celebrating a day in their life that’s now gone.  The walls are white; the hundreds of 9×12 canvasses with faces painted on them line the walls like  a yearbook page or like the rows of head stones at a military cemetary.  It’s sad because these people left us behind; but its happy because they each have a wonderful story about themself and they’re waiting for a friend or loved one to see it and start talking.

Jim, one of the gallery’s owners, talked about the NYFD guys that came to visit one day and stood around talking about good times and a wife of one of the men who worked in the towers who came in to see her husband’s portrait.  She went on talking about him and their story together.  But there are a few people who still haven’t been spoken for; in time we’ll find out who they were.

As most wall type memorials list people’s names on a black marble slab, this doesn’t, which is what appeals to me so much.  Instead of looking at a name you look at the person, the way they were last remembered.  I felt in touch with each person because I saw them.  Except for the top row of NYFD portraits, they’re randomly placed on the wall.  Mike will eventually have a grid to hand out, listing their names so once the entire project is displayed it will be easier to find people and the grid system allows the gallery curators to organize the wall in different ways.  Some ideas would be alphabetize the portraits or place them among co-workers depending on the demands of the exhibit.

The project is being followed by an award-winning documentary film crew.  It is also being sought after by some well known venues for it’s permanent home.  I highly recommend you visiting Patina and plan to spend a while there.  If you know someone who died in the tragedy, call the gallery ahead of time to make sure their photo is there if that’s specifically what you want to see.  The work is not finished.  Mike still has many more portraits to paint but hopes to have it done in time for the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

I’ve seen the exhibit twice so far and will return.  The second time I went I took my art class.  I homeschool my two boys and have opened my home some other homeschooled high schoolers once a week to learn art.  We’re on portraits now, so the exhibit was fitting.  It was also, in my mind, important to see.  We spend about 2 hours there; Patina had invited Mike to come speak with us, which was a real treat (remember he’s from Tampa).  My eyes were at different times drawn to particular portraits; not, I think, because of the colors or the composition but for some unknown feeling I got, like there was something that picture needed to tell me.  One person in particular I couldn’t stop staring at.  I’m reminded of a story from that week in 2001.  I lived in Myrtle Beach, SC at the time and someone from my church was asking friends and family members to take shifts and constantly call the cell phone of a brother or brother-in-law (I don’t remember which).  The idea was that if the phone was near that person, the NYFD or other rescuer would hear the phone and, looking for it, would find the person’s body dead or alive.  I wonder if that person I kept staring at was him.  It’ll take a while to find out.  I’ve been away from there since 2003 and will have to look up old friend’s names and email addresses to locate this person.  But it keeps me wondering.

The exhibit is emotional; take tissue.  Our class went for ice cream afterward to lighten the mind.  But on the drive home an 18-wheeler was in front of me at a traffic light.  On the back was “Let’s Roll”.  I began telling my boys about Todd Beamer who was on the flight that crashed in the field in Pennsylvania.  I reminded them of his picture we saw in the exhibit and the story of the passengers, and how Todd’s last words that his wife heard over the phone before the passengers tried to overtake the terrorists on the fight were “Let’s Roll”.  I cried the rest of the way home.

Patina Gallery is located at 19 North Church Street; phone number is 251- 928-2718.

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