“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it,” reads a quote from Hellen Keller, inscribed on one of 300 canvases currently displayed in an art project carried out by community members in remembrance of 9/11.
“Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone,” reads another.
And another, from a local resident who survived 9/11 after fleeing the 51st floor of his building: “Honor the dead, embrace the living.”
The many emotions evoked by “Community of Hearts,” an exhibit on display through September 30 at the Northport-East Northport libraries, are woven together through bright color and messages not just of hurt, but of hope. Positivity overflows in the vibrancy of the canvases, messages of strength from survivors, and reflections from local people who lost loved ones.
“We’re just so proud of the amount of people who participated,” said community services librarian Kathryn Cressy Heaviside, who originally presented the idea to administration, then helped carry out and install the exhibit. Kathryn’s sister lost her fiancé, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, on 9/11. “It’s such a hard memory for everyone,” she said. “You almost don’t capture it right away because you’re so in it.” Twenty years later, Kathryn looked at the library project as an opportunity to change the focus from devastation to unity, similar to what occurred in New York City and across the nation in the days following September 11, 2001. “I wanted to do something that was a little more after the fact, how the community came together, how there was so much spirit and love,” she said.
“We had a huge outpouring of people who wanted to participate, and people were so happy to do it,” she continued. “People wanted to do something, they just didn’t know what. So this was a little thing they could do.”
Three hundred people, ranging in age from two-and-a-half to 87 years old, responded to outreach about the exhibit, their artwork now displayed in alphabetical order on gallery walls in both the Northport and East Northport libraries (artists with last names beginning with A-K are in Northport, L-Z are in East Northport). Each participant was given a kit by the library with a 12x12 canvas, paint and paintbrushes. The only requirement was, in remembering the events of September 11, to include a heart somewhere on their artwork.
Like the tragic events that day, some of the themes are understandably heavy – a bleeding heart or smoke billowing from the towers – yet in all the artwork a connection of positivity and honor remains. “We have such a variety of art, but they all kind of work together,” said Kathryn.
One of the older participants, an 87-year-old metal detectorist, has been collecting small hearts he’s found while combing the area’s beaches with his metal detector. He wasn’t sure what to do with them all, until he heard of the exhibit. On display at the East Northport library, his canvas includes the outline of a heart and glued inside it, all of the hearts he has found over the years. “Our hearts go out to all those that lost loved ones and friends,” is written beside it.
Another canvas was made by a resident who, during the September 11 attacks, was one of 7000 passengers and crew members from 38 aircraft diverted to Gander, Newfoundland. Stranded in the small Canadian town, they were met with an outpouring of love and hospitality from locals who took them in and cared for them.
Some of the artwork is direct and obvious, focusing on the physical events, the planes, the towers. One artist chose to focus on the service dogs, and painted portraits of three canines who took part in the rescue efforts at Ground Zero. Another canvas contains a single heart, comprised of one dot – over 2000 in total – for every soul that passed in the attacks.
“And then there’s the little kids who weren’t even born yet,” said Kathryn of the many children and teens who contributed hearts to the exhibit. One of the youngest artists made a striped heart with a sad face, two teardrops falling from its left eye. In the bottom corner, a smiling angel shifts the mood.
“I’m just so proud of it all,” Kathryn emphasized while looking over the Northport gallery again. “And I’m proud of the community for expressing themselves. It’s a beautiful display.”
The “Community of Hearts” exhibit is available for viewing during regular library hours through September 30.