Collaborative creation remembers painful day in U.S.

Alyssa Stencavage, L&A&E Editor

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Hanging on the wall in the Student Union Building is a painting that would capture anyone’s attention. No matter what angle it’s seen from, whether it be through the front doors of the SUB, the back doors or simply sitting at a table at Rifkin, it’s hard to miss.
What people may not know is that this painting is not new. It wasn’t created yesterday or even the day, week or month before. For all who remember the September 11th attacks, this work of art will certainly resonate with them.
Immediately after the tragedy, one that many remember very vividly, Associate Professor of Art Sharon Cosgrove took a canvas, easel and other supplies from her home studio to the corner of River Street, and so began the construction of the painting.
“I wanted to give both Wilkes and the nearby community something constructive to focus on in the aftermath of such a tragedy that would lead to a healing process,” Cosgrove said. “It was a horrible blow.”
It was an impulsive decision on her part, but it turned out to be a great thing. Cosgrove said, as an artist, she was pulling Wilkes students together to give them something to focus on.
Although the atmosphere of the day was nice, the attacks had a chilling effect on everyone in the country, or at least those who were old enough to understand it. Cosgrove said on that day weather was also chilly, but she made a day-long activity out of it beside the canvas as people came and went.
Her efforts were definitely well received and appreciated. Random people, students, people in the military or those who had people in the military; everyone and anyone came to show they cared. People pulled over in cars, stopped, honked or waved. A lot of people stopped in on and off all day.
Those who stopped either watched or took part in the process. Cosgrove said she sketched in the framework as simple template for others and encouraged them to add their own creative ideas and colors, and many did just that, reinforcing freedom as a core American value and a part of the American way of life.
Some cried, while others prayed and yet others delivered flowers. By the end of the day about 100 different people created the painting over gradually over the course of the day.
“Everyone knew what it was,” she said. “Some people just wanted to connect, so they would come, paint shapes and leave, some would come on and off for an hour, some had class, but would come back to see how it looked as it was evolving. There was a steady stream all day.”
“People wanted to do it even though they didn’t know how to paint,” she said. “Some got really creative.”
Perhaps what would tug most at the heart strings would be the three-year old boy without any real knowledge of why he was there or what it all meant. Cosgrove said this little boy had no clue about the meaning or significance of what had just happened, but he decided to paint a bee and a beehive in blue.
“He was really proud,” Cosgrove said. “It was a group thing he wanted to connect to.”
No matter what age, shape or size, taking part in this “gave people some structure at a time of horrible shock, sadness and grief. Sometimes when people are grieving or afraid, they want to contribute but they’re not sure what to do,” Cosgrove said. “We need to be with people in sad times, this was an opportunity for everyone to come together.”
“The energy was really good that day- good, but not happy,” Cosgrove said. “It was mournful. It was a place for people to come and pay tribute.”
All of this heartfelt artwork deserved to be seen. The first call to hang up the painting came in 2002, with the help of the maintenance crew, whose job it was to examine the site over the wall and gather the hardware to put it up.
In October of the same year the painting was constructed, greeting cards featuring the image of the painting on the front were printed and sold from then on. These cards were sold out by the end of the year and had brought in $2,500. There was no set price on how much they were to be sold for; people gave what they wished. The proceeds went to the United Way to help victim’s families.
It hung there for about a year before being taken down. Since then, the painting has been used at memorials on campus for the Sept. 11th attacks and taken out of storage for moments of silence. It had been a while since she had seen it, a few years in fact, but a collaborative decision between individuals on Student Government and Student Development was made to recover it from storage and put it back in place for the anniversary this past September.
“It happened to be approaching the anniversary of the 9/11 event, the painting was found in storage due to renovations,” Student Development Coordinator Melissa Howells said. “Because of the magnitude of the event, the way it changed history, we felt it appropriate to display the artwork at that time.  It is an event that will never be forgotten.”
To keep its meaning special, Cosgrove said her suggestion would be to take the painting down at the end of September every year. However, she also said it would be interesting to see if people thought it should stay up.
“While I would like to see it stay as it is a memorable event and a wonderful piece of art, I would like to see other student work displayed in the student center in addition,” Howells said.
Many people gathered on the day after a tragedy that really struck the nation. But this painting holds meaning on a more personal level for Cosgrove.
Feeling compelled to take constructive action for the student body at Wilkes and give them an opportunity to respond to the tragedy, she “thought it was important to do something immediately.”
Although it was nearly impossible to get into New York in the days following the attacks, Cosgrove said she volunteered in the city and worked with bereaved families who had lost loved ones in the tragedy.
“For me, it was quite a scary thing because I spent a lot of time in New York,” Cosgrove said. “I got married there, my father worked at the Pentagon. I couldn’t just sit still and do nothing. I guess as an artist, that was my response. I was compelled, there was nothing that was going to stop me from doing it.”  To Cosgrove, the healing power of art is unbelievable.
“People need art,” she said. “Working together on a collaborative, cohesive experience, it’s a very positive thing.”
So on that day Cosgrove picked a spot to initiate this project and not a single person stopped or questioned her. “The act of painting a public memorial mural could have occurred anywhere on American soil that day,” Cosgrove said. “At that moment its relevance was deeply felt. I took the liberty of using my artistic license.”
Even if one didn’t take part in the making of it, all it takes is a look to see the significance of the artifact that sits on the wall of the SUB. Despite the horror felt by all of America in September of 2011, Cosgrove said the painting was and still remains a symbol of hope.