Illinois artist creates 9/11 tribute using salvaged World Trade Center beams

Friday, September 2, 2011 | 7:37 p.m. CDT; updated 7:28 p.m. CDT, Saturday, September 3, 2011
On Wednesday, artist Eric Blome from Crystal Lake, Ill., puts the finishing touches on his Sept. 11 tribute sculpture. Blome's 22-foot-tall 2 ton sculpture incorporates four, twisted, 8 foot beams from the World Trade Center into the piece which is adorned with sculptures that capture the emotion of the day and remember the people involved. The sculpture was commissioned by the city of Oak Lawn for its 9-11 memorial.

OAK LAWN, Ill. — He's sculpted Wayne Gretzky and Rosa Parks, elephants and globes.

Yet, the massive new Sept. 11 tribute sculpture by renowned Crystal Lake, Ill., artist Erik Blome proved to be one of his most challenging.

The sculpture will be mounted in Oak Lawn in anticipation of the village's ceremony commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. There's also buzz that Blome's 22-foot-tall, 2-ton sculpture will be taken to Soldier Field for a Sept. 11 tribute during the Chicago Bears season opener, though Blome said Wednesday nothing has been confirmed.

Blome's challenge with this sculpture was to incorporate four twisted, 8-foot-tall "tortured-looking" beams from the World Trade Center into the piece, and also capture the emotion of that fateful day with an appropriate tone.

"It's a hard subject, because you don't want to be too gory or offensive or depressing. I didn't want to commemorate the tragedy of 9/11; I wanted to commemorate the people of that day," Blome said. "That's what 9/11 does to you. You reinterpret and re-evaluate everything."

Blome ultimately designed two, 14-foot-tall bronze spires, with 30 separate sections, or stelae, on each one. The spires will be mounted on top of the 8-foot-tall World Trade Center beams.

The stelae feature different textures, imprints of World Trade Center architecture, or three-dimensional faces or objects. Each spire is topped with a set of wings that could belong to an eagle or an angel.

One panel shows two hands holding each other, because Blome said "a lot of people held hands that day, sometimes with people they didn't even know." Another part shows two hands reaching for each other but not quite touching — representing either loss or help, depending on how you interpret it.

A lone firefighter's hat sits on one stela; another stela shows a man covering his face with a cloth to convey the dust that swirled around ground zero.

"The more you look at it, the more things you see," said Blome's wife, Charlotte. "Everyone's going to find something in it that has meaning to them, and I think it's a very moving piece of artwork for that reason."

Blome did the work — normally a 1½-year project — in just six months with help from his assistant, Phil Bassak, a Harper College graduate and Iraq War veteran.

The $100,000 project was commissioned by the Oak Lawn Rotary, which decided it wanted to create a public art display at its Metra station to honor its police and firefighters. The group held fundraisers big and small to privately fund the project.

Lt. Art Clark, a local Marine, worked tirelessly to help the village obtain the four World Trade Center beams but has since been redeployed to Afghanistan and won't be at the Sept. 11 dedication ceremony.

Sandra Bury, an optometrist who's the Oak Lawn Rotary's fundraising chairwoman, said they chose Blome for the project because he'd received a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship and they were impressed with his work.

"When you look at Erik and the type of work he's done, there's no one better," she said.

After the sculpture's dedication in Oak Lawn on Sept. 11, Blome, 43, is headed for Haiti where he'll donate a copy of his Jean Baptiste Point DuSable bust that's on Michigan Avenue in Chicago to a Haitian high school.

Then, since he just received a Fulbright scholarship, he's headed to Egypt for a semester to study sculpture and art.

Blome's Sept. 11 sculpture has some personal meaning for his family. His brother was in the State Department building in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001, and Charlotte's sister watched the terrorist attacks from her living room window in Manhattan. Then, six months ago, the Blomes' house in California suffered a devastating fire.

"Our house literally would have burned all the way to the ground if the firefighters didn't stop it," Charlotte Blome said. "The job these men and women do is really amazing."

The sculpture's progress is being blogged about daily.

"The first responders don't always get the respect they deserve," Bury said. "I really do think this is something that's going to be timeless, and that the whole community can be proud of for generations."

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