News / USA

An Artist at Ground Zero

A watercolor by Aggie Kenny of workers at ground zero
A watercolor by Aggie Kenny of workers at ground zero

Multimedia

Following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, New York courtroom artist Aggie Kenny visited the site many times to sketch and paint the men and women working to recover the remains of the dead and clear away the debris. Then, unsure what to do with it, she put the work away - where it remained until Julie Bose, director of the New York Police Museum, happened to hear of it. Kenny's art is now the subject of a solo show at the museum, "Artist as Witness: The 9-11 Responders."

Some of New York's best-known political figures attended the opening, where Kenny's delicate sketches and watercolors of the workers at what is known as Ground Zero in the months after the attacks are on display alongside a few artifacts from the cleanup: a rake, a yellow suit.

"I actually lived just a block from the location," said Raymond Kelly, New York's police commissioner. "I think the artist has done a remarkable job of capturing the feeling of those terrible days after 9/11."

Artist Aggie Kenny
Artist Aggie Kenny

Kenny is reserved about her work. She calls herself a "reportorial" artist and says she was drawn as a witness to the former World Trade Center site.

"I think it was my way of trying to come to terms with this horrible tragedy," she said. "Like everyone else, I was just totally distraught and had no idea how things would be right again."

She needed to see it being made right, and to draw what she saw. Armed with a credential from the Salvation Army charity organization, identifying her as a "historical artist," Kenny visited Ground Zero every few days from early March to late May 2002. Images of unlikely gentleness are the result. She returned often to a huge tent that the responders called the "Taj Mahal," where they went to rest and have a meal.

"It struck me as being almost cathedral-like," Kenny said. "There were just hundreds of people bustling about, but they were basically very quiet. It was so unusual to see so many people from so many walks of life, so many backgrounds, working just beautifully together. There was a pervasive atmosphere of love, I would say."

A visitor to Kenny's show at the New York Police Museum,
A visitor to Kenny's show at the New York Police Museum, "Artist as Witness: The 9-11 Responders"

In many of the watercolors, responders, who included police, firefighters, ironworkers, carpenters and others, appear to be physically and emotionally exhausted. One painting shows the sleep tent, where workers went to have a rest.

"Often there were men in each and every cot, with teddy bears beside them, with their boots by the cot, just totally, totally exhausted," Kenny said. "I think they fell asleep seconds after they hit the cot."

A painting from late March shows firefighters waiting for stretchers bearing the remains of two firemen who died in the attacks. Another shows a weary policeman and workers behind him with rakes.

"And of course the rakers are looking for human remains," said Kenny, "and late in the game, too, because this was the fifth of May, 2002."

When the cleanup ended that month, Kenny put the paintings and sketches away. They remained unseen until a friend told Julie Bose of their existence.

"I didn't forget about them," Kenny said. "The whole subject of 9/11 to me is sacrosanct. You don't want to take these sketches and go out to a street corner and sell them. I really didn't know for eight and a half years what I would do with these boxes of sketchbooks."

At the show's opening, police and other responders said they are glad the work is on public view. As for Kenny, she has returned to her job as a courtroom artist. She says she doesn't know if she will ever again witness scenes like those she saw at Ground Zero.

You May Like

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs