Remembering 9/11…Tile by Tile

What’s in a number? Sometimes it tells a story. 1800 is the number of tiles in the original 9/11 People’s Memorial Wall constructed in 2001 on Central Avenue in Richard Presser Park in Greenburgh. 1711 is the number of tiles salvaged, repaired, cleaned and reassembled tile by tile by Sarah Bracey White and 41 volunteers who spent hundreds of hours at the task so that the mural can be reinstalled and rededicated on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. Herself, White has spent 105 hours.  The original mural was a project of Westchester Arts Council (now ArtsWestchester) in which arts workshops were held throughout the county, encouraging both young and old to express their feelings on the design of a tile. After all, the arts can be a comfort in troubled times.

2500 tiles were decorated and curated by roster artist Ron Mineo into a ceramic “quilt.”  When town and village officials were asked to provide a home for the mural, Supervisor Paul Feiner was the first to raise his hand.  The wall was constructed; the tiles were installed; Rotary International’s Lou Del Rosario commissioned an artist to create a mural for the other side of the wall; Congresswoman Nita Lowey secured funds for landscaping; Parks Commissioner Gerry Byrne and his staff nurtured the project; and Rotary’s David White came from Bermuda to unveil it. Then the tiles began to fall, many breaking.  To prevent further deterioration, the tiles were removed and Feiner, with Town Clerk Judy Beville, began to seek a way to restore the artwork. With funding not readily available, Sarah Bracey White was asked to organize a cadre of volunteers recruited by Feiner to put the puzzle back together. “Paul makes people feel like they matter,” says Sarah. Four crates of broken tiles seemed unsalvageable.  But the group was undaunted, taking the broken pieces home to repair with epoxy.

Says Sarah: “The project began to take on mythic proportions. We knew we couldn’t put the World Trade Center back together, but we could rebuild the People’s 9/11 mural.”  Tile by tile, the pieces were laid out on an 80-foot tennis court in Anthony Veteran Park and numbered for the reinstallation, which was assisted a contribution from Sam’s Club to pay a mason who, as we speak, is now “buttering” the tiles with cement.

Some folks say that you have to know where you came from to know who you are.  Sarah Bracey White came from the segregated South where Jim Crow laws ruled the lives of her community.  She was determined to find her own voice, make her own way and leave her mark in the community.  She has done that for 18 years as Executive Director of Arts and Culture for the Town of Greenburgh. And now, there is a mural that tells the story of what Sarah Bracey White means to Greenburgh and to the arts.

If you were one of the tile artists, please share the thoughts behind your design by commenting below.

Read about the tile project on LoHud.com.

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