Sunday, July 11, 2004

Cold Storage fire painting unveiled

Milton J. Valencia

WORCESTER- Fire Capt. Ron Armstrong waited behind a massive American flag hanging from ladder trucks as his department's bagpipe and drum brigade led a crowd into the Worcester Public Library to see the first viewing of a painting in honor of the six Worcester firefighters who died in the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. building fire on Dec. 3, 1999.

Capt. Armstrong, a second-generation firefighter whose son will join the department after finishing active duty in the Air Force, thought the painting was an appropriate way for one to try to connect with what he called firefighters' everyday work

"It's people taking an art form and drawing from their emotions in a way to connect with their personal lives and experience," he said. He hadn't seen the painting yet and waited to make his own judgment on the work.

This was the first showing of Waltham artist John Paul Marmonti's depiction of the fire. The 32-inch-by-48-inch oil painting, titled "Worcester Brothers 6 - On Eagles' Wings," is part of a 911/31 Tribute Art Tour depicting the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In the tour, Mr. Marmonti has six paintings illustrating the attacks, the heroism of firefighters and the patriotism that followed. While working on the initial Sept. 11 project, Mr. Marmonti met with Worcester firefighters and chose to add a painting depicting the tragic fire here, which occurred two years before the attacks. The Sept. 11 paintings impressed the crowd yesterday, but most were fascinated with the "Worcester Brothers 6 - On Eagles' Wings" painting as emotions hit a local level.

There was a brief ceremony, with the Worcester Firefighter Brigade Pipe & Drum Band playing "Amazing Grace," and Krista Ernewein, from New Orleans, singing "On Eagles' Wings."

Six pupils from St. Louis School in Webster were honored for essays they wrote in a competition on "What Is a Hero?"

Brianna McInnes, 13, one of the contest winners, said she was touched while doing research on the essay, saying she learned of the "brotherhood" of firefighters. She said the painting properly depicted what she learned about the tragic blaze.

"It was the most touching thing I've ever seen," she said.

Capt. Armstrong said he was impressed with the Sept. 11 paintings, showing firefighters rushing to the World Trade Center in New York and the subsequent displays of patriotism. Still, he said, he would have liked to have seen the personal, heroic side of the response to the terrorist attacks more than the patriotic aftermath. He was still looking forward to seeing the Worcester painting, though.

Capt. Armstrong said, "Art reflects life." He added he appreciates people trying to pay tribute to firefighters so others can learn from their work, such as with paintings.

Mr. Marmonti said he met with local firefighters to hear their stories of what happened that tragic night in 1999. He spoke to outsiders to hear about the community's support. He even spent a day with firefighters from Rescue 1, watching them work. More than a month later, he started sketching images of the painting from what he learned in his interviews.

"Meeting and talking to guys who were there helped put feeling into the painting," he said.

Capt. Armstrong watched as the painting was unveiled, his arms folded in front, his captain's hat in one hand. As the American flag covering dropped, he saw the red picture, his six fellow firefighters walking away from the fire scene toward a light in the sky while others continued to fight, and two eagles soared above.

"It's simplistic greatness," Capt. Armstrong said, explaining it showed how six firefighters died doing their job trying to rescue others and save their neighbors' property.

"First of all, it's a painting that's trying to capture something that's almost uncapturable. But the best tribute is one that is having firefighters continue to do their jobs."

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"Worcester Brothers 6 - On Eagles' Wings" by John Paul Marmonti of Waltham is unveiled at Worcester Public Library's main branch at Salem Square by pupils from St. Louis School in Webster who won an essay contest "What is a Hero?" (T&G Staff / BETTY JENEWIN)
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