Sunday, September 11, 2011

Out of the Ashes

"Out of the Ashes," by Ken Turner
It has been a decade already. I expect you also remember where you were when you heard. I was at a homeschool family camp, about five hours from home, in an idyllic setting along the Frio River in central Texas. In that little valley we had no television or radio. Some people drove to the top of the hill (this required driving out through a river and up a mile of steep dirt road) to get cell phone reception or listen to the news on a car radio. 

Mr. Spherical Model and our oldest, Political Sphere, were planning to join us the next day. Mr. Spherical Model got sent home from work, and they checked in with us later in the day. And they and other latecomers brought newspapers with them when they arrived. 

So I had the rare experience of being shocked slowly by that event. I couldn’t sit glued to the television and fret, which I’m sure I would have done at home. News filtered in piecemeal. There were newspaper photos of bodies falling from the towers, which have stayed burned into memory. But by the time I got home most of a week later, television news was no longer repeating the footage of the buildings falling, or the second plane hitting its target. Today I would simply get online and look up the info and video, but that wasn’t something I was in the habit of doing a decade ago. It wasn’t until the summer of 2004, at a state GOP convention, when they did a montage of the tragedy and what had happened since, that I actually saw the footage. It was stunning even then. I don’t expect to ever not have this event in memory in my lifetime. 

I have a couple of favorite images following 9/11. One is of the flag rescuers mounted on the rubble, looking a bit like the Iwo Jima moment. The other is the painting above, by Ken Turner, “Out of the Ashes.” It was begun in November 2001. There are several versions, hanging in the George H. Bush Presidential Library in Texas, the NY Governor’s Office, NYPD, FDNY, and Port Authority Police Department New York and New Jersey Headquarters. In each version, there are real portraits of the heroes in the painting. Additionally, there are “ghost” portraits, faintly visible people in the painting, of real persons lost in the tragedy. I love how the image makes me feel—that there is still light, and we are walking strong out of the darkness of that rubble into the light—surviving together. I very much remember how we all felt our lives touch one another during that time. 

Ken Turner is a Texas artist, born on the 4th of July, 1948. My daughter-in-law grew up going to the same church he attended. So a few years ago I took a group of homeschool teens on a field trip to his studio. It was in a historic old building in Columbus, about an hour toward San Antonio from Houston. He is known for historic paintings, from both US and Texas history, and also religious works. He was working on one at that time of the Last Supper. I was interested in how he went about the painting. The first layer or two was fairly plain, just color blocks. Then he added detailed layers over time. He said he kept at it until he couldn’t make it any better. By then it would be lifelike and rich in detail. 

He had postcard sized prints of “Out of the Ashes” that he gave to each of us. I have carried it with me ever since.  

If you’re interested in Ken Turner art, I suggest you contact him online at the Turner/Chapman Gallery. I believe he has moved his studio to his home, in even more rural Texas, so don’t run out there for a field trip without contacting him. I saw this video of him recently, explaining the giclee reproduction process of “Out of the Ashes.” 

I don’t normally post on Sunday. I’m actually writing this on Saturday, setting it to post automatically Sunday morning, and plan to keep it up in place of Monday’s post. The moment of realizing we would survive after 9/11 was worth remembering on the tenth anniversary; and this image of that moment was worth seeing for an extra day.

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