When asked if I would be interested in painting one of the 9/11 artifacts from the World Trade Center, emotions that I didn't even realize I still had, resurfaced. This was a commission involving subject matter that still touches the hearts of our nation with pain and anguish. My mind was filled with the visual images of that September 11, morning nearly 10 years ago.
As I accepted the job, my heart started beating faster with excitement and anticipation. I felt honored and privileged to be invited to work on this piece of steel that now represents a life changing part of our country's history. It will be displayed as an outdoor memorial at NORAD (Northern American Aerospace Defense Command).
The goal of this project was to preserve this steel beam artifact so that it will always look as it did when it was pulled from the rubble at Ground Zero: ripped, twisted, rusted and with the original markings of numbers and letters. In order to achieve that goal, it was first photographed with accurate photos that captured the details and coloring. If left untouched out in the elements, it will continue to corrode and rust and lose its original markings.
My challenge was to paint the steel artifact with a faux finish that captures the likeness of how it looked when it was taken from that rubble. Since this job would be impossible to do in my studio, I worked each day at a local paint shop (Taint Paint) that specializes in electro-static applied custom powder coating. It almost felt like I was working with ground pastels or chalk.
When I started painting, it seemed so quiet. Even though there were others working in other areas of the paint shop, I felt alone with my thoughts. As I touched the rough piece of steel and began applying the paints, I could not help but think of the lives lost on that beautiful September morning. Sadness. Horror. Tears. I felt like I was surrounded by it. It was sobering. I have been to Ground Zero and when I was there, looking at the devastation, I never imagined that one day I would be touching a piece of it. That it would follow me home.
After each layer of carefully laid paint was placed on the beam, it was then baked in a large, walk-in oven. The beam weighed 850 pounds. Moving it was not easy. The workers at the paint shop were so helpful and ready to assist. I stood clear and let them do the heavy work. Once cooled, I would start on the next layer.
A little over a week later, my job with the artifact was done. As I watched them load it back on to the flatbed to be transported back to the construction company, I felt the same way I always feel when a commissioned painting is completed and taken away. A part of me is going with it.