July 22, 2003

Exhibit puts face on 9-11 tragedy

George Barnes

GARDNER Ma. It is difficult to look at the painting of New York City Police Officer Paul Talty holding his baby without tears coming to your eyes.

Officer Talty was killed Sept. 11, 2001, along with other police officers, firefighters, rescue workers and thousands of civilians, when the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists. A painting of him is one of 57 on display at Mount Wachusett Community College in "The Faces of Courage," a commemorative art exhibition.

The likeness of Officer Talty was painted by artist Ira Peregoff. It shows him in uniform in the foreground and in civilian clothes in the background, holding his child.

"It's an extremely moving exhibit," Mayor Daniel J. Kelley after viewing all the paintings.

Mayor Kelley is a longtime firefighter who has been on leave from the department since he was elected mayor.

"It's so emotional," he added. "It's almost like walking into a chapel."

The mayor attended a grand opening of the exhibit, which is expected to be on display in the college library until Aug. 15. Gardner is the fourth stop for the exhibit and may be the only New England stop this year. The paintings could also be shown at the John J. Moakley Courthouse in Boston early next year; however, that date is still pending.

The exhibit includes paintings of firefighters, police officers and rescue workers killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The paintings run the gamut from stiff formal portraits of public safety officers in uniforms to others based on informal photographs their families felt best showed their personalities. Many are in their firefighter turnout gear; others sport their favorite baseball cap.

Attending the grand-opening ceremonies were local representatives of all aspects of public safety including state Rep. Brian Knuuttila, D-Gardner, who has worked as a firefighter and police officer and served in the Marines.

"We had police officers and firefighters in there and several of them had ribbons on from their military service," Mr. Knuuttila said. "Their public service transcends their time here in Gardner."

Mr. Knuuttila said in viewing the paintings of firefighters and police officers killed on Sept. 11, he realized that many of them, with military service under their belts as well, had spent a good part of their adult lives serving the public.

"That's pretty impressive stuff," he said.

Among those attending the grand opening of the exhibit was Boston artist Daniel Bonham, who teaches painting at Quincy College. Mr. Bonham was the only Massachusetts artist among the 36 who contributed paintings to the exhibit.

Mr. Bonham's subject was Michael Cawley, a firefighter from Ladder 136 with an engaging smile. He said he took part in the project at the request of a friend who was involved in it.

"My first response was, "No,'" he said.

The thought of trying to capture the image of a person who had become - with others who also died - a symbol of national courage, was daunting.

"Then I asked, "Why just the rescue workers?'" Mr. Bonham said, but realized that painting portraits of the thousands of civilians who died would be nearly impossible.

"I decided to do it," he said.

Mr. Bonham said he also did the painting as a way of coming to grips with Sept. 11 himself.

The artist said he was in Cambridge when the attacks occurred. His television was broken and for three weeks the only images he saw of the attacks were from newspapers.

The painting of the portrait is based on a photograph of Firefighter Cawley standing in front of his firetruck, and the letter Mr. Bonham received from the firefighter's family connected him more deeply with the event.

More than a third of the portraits were painted by artists Barbara Marcus and Michael Economous. Ms. Marcus, founder and coordinator of the exhibit for Harford Community College Foundation in Maryland, painted nine of the images and Mr. Economous painted 14.

The images are set up beginning on the wall leading into the school's library and then down two sides of the upper floor. Visitors are drawn to the powerful image of Firefighter Keithroy Maynard as they enter the room. There are others who look too young to be fighting fires, some who appear too old and others who are joyfully smiling back at the viewer.

There is also a book of letters - some from family members and others from relatives talking about the lost rescue workers and the exhibit that keeps their memory alive.

In one letter, the brother of Jerome Dominguez, a member of the elite New York Police Emergency Services Unit, wrote that his father used to say, "Jerome was like bread."

He went on to explain that their father was referring to a type of bread from a small village in Spain.

"He (Jerome) was honest and open, palpably solid and good in a fundamental way that is hard to describe," he said.

Jerome Dominguez and his rescue unit were last heard from in a stairwell in Tower 2.

Being added to the exhibit when it leaves Mount Wachusett Community College will be artwork and reflections by a group of Upward Bound students from Fitchburg State College who created their own work after viewing the paintings.

"The Faces of Courage" exhibit will be open to the public 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday until Aug. 7. From Aug. 7 until the exhibit leaves, it will be on display 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

To see some paintings click on link below