9/11 sculpture: A place of sorrow but also of healing
Piece dedicated in solemn ceremony in Saratoga Springs
SARATOGA SPRINGS Judy Hefter was close to tears as she gazed up at the “Tempered by Memory” sculpture in High Rock Park on Sunday. “Just to see it, I don’t know what to say,” the Saratoga Springs resident sighed, a hand to her lips, her eyes on the 25-foot-tall twisted mass of tarnished steel that was culled from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
Hefter was one of about 200 people who came to the park Sunday for the sculpture’s dedication ceremony. Some sat in chairs facing the rusted relics from the Twin Towers, while others stood solemnly in the shade of the park’s trees. Many aimed cameras at the abstract creation, which is ringed with yellow day lilies, small shrubs and rough boulders.
Gansevoort artists John Van Alstine and Noah Savett turned the mangled beams into a sculpture that recalls the devastation caused by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and is also meant to convey how the country came together following the horrific events.
For Hefter, the sculpture brought to mind her brother, who worked in the north tower of the World Trade Center. “But he’s fine,” she said gratefully.
A Saratoga Springs-based memorial made from the remains of the World Trade Center was proposed more than two years ago when the local Naval Support Unit offered Saratoga Arts the opportunity to acquire the steel girders from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The nonprofit arts organization took on the endeavor, the plans for which began in the spring of 2010.
Elizabeth Dubben, director of exhibitions at Saratoga Arts, managed the project.
“I’m just happy it’s in its resting place,” she said, admiring the sculpture Sunday. “There’s just a lot of emotions because of the steel and its history and its origin. I’m happy to see it in its home.”
“Tempered by Memory” was first slated to be displayed on Broadway in front of the City Center, but it turned out to be too large for that location. Instead, it was placed in High Rock Park on an expanse of lawn flanked by two mineral springs and backed by a rugged rock ledge. The City Council approved the location last December.
“The natural beauty of this site calms the terrible emotion caught in the steel,” said Savett.
A healing place
High Rock Park is the ideal location for the sculpture not only because of its beauty, but because it has been known as place of solace and healing for hundreds of years, said Dee Sarno, coordinator of the dedication ceremony and former executive director of Saratoga Arts.
The waters from the springs in High Rock Park are said to have healed Sir William Johnson who, while suffering from a nagging wound received at the Battle of Lake George, was brought to the springs in the late 1700s by Native Americans, Sarno recounted.
During Sunday’s ceremony, music was interspersed with speeches. A viola, a violin, a cello and a guitar played classical melodies, which, like the sculpture, seemed to express a mixture of sorrow and hope.
Van Alstine attempted to described the sentiment the sculpture is meant to convey: “If you’re familiar with the Roman god Janus — it’s the god that looked forward and backward at the same time — I sort of see this sculpture doing exactly that. We’re looking back, and honoring and remembering, but we’re also looking forward and looking up, and so in a way, we hope that it’s a healing experience when people come and view it and spend time with it.”
“The steel is tortured, there’s no doubt about,” he commented following the ceremony, appraising the twisted metal that he and many other volunteers worked on for about six weeks. “It conveys events and the whole collapse, but [we tried] to assemble it in a way that was uplifting. … It’s a bit like a phoenix. I know that’s sort of a worn-out analogy, but that’s really what we were aiming for,” he explained.
Looking at the sculpture from a certain angle, the shape of a bird might be envisioned, and from another angle, perhaps the grace of uplifted wings.
“That’s the wonderful thing about abstract work, is people bring their own backgrounds and feelings and it mixes with what we have here and they come up with something personal,” Van Alstine said.
When Don Killoran of Guilderland looked at the sculpture Sunday, he said it made him feel strength. He was in Greece at the time of the terrorist attacks and remembers being able to at first only get scraps of news about the attacks, and the fear he felt.
Art Cossart, retired foreman from the Iron Workers Local 12 in Albany worked with four other volunteer iron workers on the sculpture. When he looked at it Sunday, he saw afresh the destruction that occurred on 9/11.
“Those pieces, when you look at it, it used to be I-beams and H-beams. They look like bent plates now, from the impact,” he said, eyeing the heat-damaged girders. “When the people look at it, whether they can see the beauty in it, they can see the devastation that did happen and that’s our main thing, is let’s not forget that. And let’s honor the memory of those people that gave their lives in that incident too,” he said.
There were opponents to the “Tempered by Memory” project who said that a memorial made from remnants of the World Trade Center would conjure up nothing but bad memories, Sarno said.
“It’s true, it is a memory of something horrific that happened, but it also shows the power of the people to cope and move forward,” she pointed out. “I think it reaches up to the stars, and that’s what I see when I look at it. … It is beautiful.”