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9/11/01-Remembrance Series, (relief) by Richard Helzer

  • Title: 9/11/01-Remembrance Series, (relief)
  • Artist: Richard Helzer
  • Medium: Stoneware
  • Size: 30"h x 22"w
  • Creation date: 2003
  • Added to collection: 2019
  • Donor: Gift of Michael Robinson
  • Campus: Rock Creek
  • Location: B2/2 Hallway gallery

This bas-relief by Richard Helzer (1940-2006), of four jagged, interlocking clay slabs on which appear several incised or sculpted figures in gestures of grief, resignation, defiance, or exhaustion was made in 2003 as a response to the events of September 11, 2001. The slabs have a rugged, organic quality suggestive of tectonic plates; the clay has cracked in the firing and been repaired, giving the work a ruined, battered look. The unglazed stoneware has been bisque fired and then put in a Raku kiln using the Saggar-fire technique, where the porous clay surface absorbs trace discolorations from adjacent materials such as newspaper ink, metal, or moss, creating an unpredictable, ashy gray or black stain against the natural warm tones of the clay. The figures are generalized, made anonymous by ash, their clothing turned into ancient cloaks – a haunting detail captured in journalistic photos of victims fleeing the collapse of the Twin Towers. But Helzer's treatment evokes a timeless realm of suffering, as if the events depicted here have been going on for centuries. Indeed, the work may have been inspired by Lorenzo Ghiberti's bas-relief panels on the Baptistry doors in Florence (1403-1424) which Helzer had seen on a trip to Europe. This work was one of a series of sculptures in a solo show in the Rock Creek Gallery, "Remembrance, 9/11/01" in September 2003. This bas-relief is a compendium of many of the figures made for that 2003 show. As the show was about to close, Helzer planned to sneak into the gallery on a Sunday and take a sledgehammer to all his sculptures so that people arriving for classes on Monday would feel the deep shock and the wound of 9/11. In the end, fortunately for us, he did not carry out this idea, and the work remains.

We at Rock Creek take pride in this generous artistic legacy, and in the vibrant department that Helzer built and that continues to carry on the art spirit he embodied.