‘We All Remember 911': Replica of school children’s banners on display at City LightsWritten by Colby Dunn
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After Sept. 11, the nation gave millions in donations to support recovery. America’s kids, meanwhile, gave in the way that schoolchildren do best: they made posters. In the days following the attack, posters and banners pledging moral support and offering encouragement poured into Ground Zero from schools across the country and around the world. At the time, they made their way to St. Paul’s Chapel, a tiny Episcopal church across from the World Trade Center that served as an impromptu triage and relief center in the days that followed.
Now, recreations of those same banners have found a temporary home at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, where they hang as a memorial to the tragedy of 10 years ago.
The exhibition, called “We All Remember 911,” is the brainchild of Jackson County resident Rick “Sharky” Gorton, a visual artist and photographer.
Ten years ago, Gorton was on a tour around the decimated Ground Zero was drawn to the little church that is Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use and once boasted George Washington as a member.
He was allowed to photograph the banners and signs, which hung from the balconies in the church.
When the anniversary of the attacks rolled around, Gorton thought there would be no better way to remember than to replicate the heartfelt sentiments of the nation’s children, many now adults.
Gorton, however, didn’t want to settle for just photographs, when the banners themselves were the most impactful. So he reproduced the banners from the photographs, which proved to be a complicated process.
Because Gorton was allowed to shoot only from the center of the church’s ground floor, with no strobe or flash, the perspective on the banners, hanging 20 feet aloft, was askew. The colors were off. The shadows were unclear. But with a lot of time and some technological wizardry, the photos were corrected to near-exact replicas of the banners in St. Paul’s.
They were then sent to a printing company in Durham that transferred the images to linen and sent them to City Lights, where they hang today.
But Gorton wanted Jackson County to be part of the remembrance, too. So a second set of banners was printed, and they’re being sewn into a massive remembrance quilt that will be signed by community members at a special ceremony 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.
Gorton chose a quilt as the local component because it combined the region’s culture with the nation’s sentiment.
“What better than a quilt to represent our area? We’re the craft area of North Carolina. This is our trade and our skill,” said Gorton.
He hopes that, in the future, the quilt will be able to travel as part of a broader remembrance of Sept. 11 and its impact. Its first trip, in fact, will be with the current pastor of St. Paul’s, who will take it on a fundraising tour.
Also on display in the exhibit are photos by Gorton of the many patches, badges, hats and other memorabilia sent to Ground Zero by supporters around the world and photos of peace ribbons mailed in by school children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
Gorton said he wanted to commemorate the event this way to help people remember both the terrible tragedy and the wonderful response.
He said his own mother worked in the World Trade Center, and though she survived, the memory is still powerful for Gorton.
“It just seriously affected me, watching it on TV and thinking my mother died. All I could do (now) was just thank people the only way I knew how,” said Gorton. “The uniting moment I saw in America was the day those towers came down — a horrific way to have a moment of hope and peace — but I wanted to express what I saw to everyone here.”
The banners are on permanent display at St. Paul’s Chapel in Manhattan, and the banner replicas can be seen at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva. The memorial quilt will be hung there at 2 p.m. on Sept. 11.