The making of ‘Remember 9-11 Tenth Year,’ FGCU’s newest public artwork (03-11-14)

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On February 19, Florida Gulf Coast University added a new painting to its public art collection. Titled Remember 9-11 Tenth Year, the work was rendered by Matlacha Island expressionist/impressionist artist Leoma Lovegrove in a live performance in front of a Standing Room Only crowd at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre on September 11, 2011.

The making of Remember 9-11 Tenth Year actually dates back to September 11, 2009. That’s when Lovegrove painted a 10-by-18-foot rendering of the American flag during a live performance at theBroadway Palm Dinner Theatre to honor those who died on the day that changed America forever. The flag was then displayed in Concourse D at Southwest Florida International Airport pursuant to a partnership betweenSouthwest Florida International Airport and the Lee County Alliance for the Arts, which sponsors Art in Flight, a public art program designed not only to create a positive first impression on visitors, but to underscore the community’s commitment to art and culture.

Covering nearly the entire wall at the top of Concourse D, it served as a somber reminder of the reason for the heightened security measures that inconvenience all and affront some outbound air passengers. Surrounding Lovegrove’s work were smaller canvases painted by audience members who seized the opportunity to express their own feelings about that tragic day.

Based on those experiences, the artist perceived that members of the community needed a way to personally express their pent-up and as yet unresolved emotions regarding the losses all Americans suffered that fateful day. So during a ceremony held on June 17, 2011 at the jetport, she extended an invitation to area residents and visitors to paint the names of the more than 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks on a 10 by 18 foot canvas that she would turn into a commemorative artwork during a ceremony taking place at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre on the tenth anniversary of the attacks.

To give as many people as possible a chance to participate in the community-wide and community-based art project, Lovegrove launched an ambitious 12-week tour during which she escorted the canvas to events at the Franklin Shops on First (during July’s Art Walk), the Red, White and Boom in Cape Coral on July 4th, Naples’ Dennison-Moran Gallery (August 7), Fox 4 Morning Blend (August 12), Iberia Bank in Cape Coral (August 12), Sam Galloway Ford in Fort Myers (August 13), The Shell Factory (August 14), Fort Myers Fire Station No. 6 on Veronica Shoemaker (August 18), Hotel Indigo in the River District (August 20), Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens in Sanibel (August 21), Sip and Send in Cape Coral (August 25 and 26), Bubba’s Roadhouse in Cape Coral and the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre on September 11th.

Each event turned out to be highly cathartic, as people shared stories and reflected on where they were that day ten years ago. “Many, many tears,” Lovegrove recalled with a hitch in her voice. “I have never seen so many.” A surprisingly large number of those who turned out lost a friend or family member in the attacks.

“Some people came with a list of names of people they’d lost,” Lovegrove related. “So the names of some of the victims have been painted on twice, but we don’t care.” And those who selected names at random from a glass bowl often forged bonds with the person whose name they chose. “They’d go home and Google the person’s name to learn more about him or her,” observed Kirsten Troyer, a friend of Lovegrove’s who volunteered to photograph many of the events.

Lovegrove had planned for the victims’ painted names to serve as backdrop for an American eagle that she would engraft over them during a Paint Out Loud performance at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatreon September 11. “[But] the names became so sacred that Leoma decided she couldn’t paint over them,” Fox 4 Morning Blend’s Carley Wegner reported to the Standing Room Only crowd who attended the emotionally-charged program. “So she started a separate painting of an American eagle that’s she going to finish today.”

Thus, one flag became two, and while both paintings now stand in tribute to those who died on 9/11, the soaring eagle against a bright orange background hangs now in the library at Florida Gulf Coast University, where it will serve as a reminder of the fragility of life, heroism of those who took action that day in history, and that in spite of our too-often polarized politics, all Americans are bound together by love of flag, country and our fellow countrymen and women.

From its new home perched high above the floor of the library at FGCU, Remember 9-11 Tenth Year will inspire students for years to come to dedicate themselves to compassion, community and country.

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