Building a Monument to First Responders

Sculptor Erik Blome’s Dedication Remarks 9/11/11


Erik Blome, Oak Lawn 9/11 monument dedication 9/11/11

First, let me say three words…

“Selam”

(which means “Peace” in the Ethiopian Amharic Language, the language of the country where my son is from, and also the word for “peace” in Arabic.)

“Shalom”

“Peace”

Now let me add one more word.

“Hot”

That is what it was like this summer as we made this monument. In fact it was so hot that we had to take spells in the shade pouring water over our heads just to get through the days in our un-air-conditioned workshops. Yet somehow, this was not suffering. It was joy for my assistants and myself. We felt happy not because we were having fun, some of which we did have, but because our goal had something true about it. We knew that in the end our hard work would pay off and that the work would result in an object of beauty for this community. And so, when Sandra Bury would so kindly show up with cold water or food, or Jim Guenther, a member of this community, would come with his usual bag of coffee and hamburgers from Oak Lawn Restaurant, we felt a bit of the spirit of Father Mychal Judge of New York working inside us all.

He was quoted as saying, “You know what I really need? Absolutely nothing. I don’t need a thing in the world. I am the happiest man on the face of the earth. Why am I so blessed? I don’t deserve it.” Now, Mychal Judge was of course the first recorded death at the World Trade Center, having died administering Last Rites to a fireman. His story moved me immensely early in my researches. At his funeral Father Duffy of New York City mentioned that Father Mychal Judge, the Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York, died first so that he could be there to greet the dead on the other side, instead of sending them there. So I thought of not only father Judge as I worked, but all those who died there; civilians, first responders, everyone. Over 400 first responders, and 2819 people in all. One statistic struck me unusually hard. The estimated number of children who lost a parent in the 9/11 attacks was 3051.

We poured metal all summer into ceramic molds made of the same material that is on the outside of the space shuttles, ceramic shell. These pieces were cast into 20 or more sections and then painstakingly welded back together and chased, filed and finished.

This process of bringing metal back together has a magic about it that artists like me sometimes see as a metaphor for life. As you push forward, things have a way of coming together and working in harmony, as a unity. You have to have faith and keep your eye right on the line, like a welder.

This is how I feel about this project and my experiences in Oak Lawn. The project required a lot of people working together and apart who in the end must come together to form a whole on this plaza. I have worked with many communities and I have never encountered one as passionate and committed as this one to a project. There were many volunteers I need to thank, and I will do so now.

Ed Heil. Ed is a pipefitter, welder, and owner of Tunnelvision Welding. A member of Pipefitters Local 597

I’d also like to thank his assistant Pete Perisin. Both worked tirelessly for several weeks volunteering their time and taught me a lot about structural welding. Two reds and three whites!

I have other welders to thank. From Architectural and Ornamental Ironworkers Local 63,

Mike Loftus, Dan Loftus, Cory Duzlak, Lou Kaczmarek, Fletcher Holmes, and Steve Canty.

My assistants, some of who came from far away and stayed here for a few weeks to help on this project.

Thomas Stracke, from Florida

Ryan Napoli, from California

James Bertucci

And special thanks and applause for my to two main assistants who also are veterans…

Phil Bassuk, who served on the frontlines in the invasion of Iraq

Joe Chappelle, who served in the army, the “Big Red One” as he called it.

I’d also like to thank my youngest assistants, my two sons Max and Noah, who will continue to grow and assist me.

Lastly and mostly, I would like to thank my wife Charlotte Blome, who puts up with me while I work on these projects, acts as marketer, billing assistant, and coordinator, assists in the studio, and also takes care of all the important details like providing clothing, food and the like.

Special thanks to Ad Astra Art Bronze in Lawrence, Kansas for casting the pieces on a tight timeline, and especially Eric Shweppe who coordinated the project.

American Colloid Corporation for providing resins and binders and sand for casting bronze, and especially Dave Carroll.

The Welding Center of Oak Lawn for providing hundreds of pounds of welding rod, and abrasives. Thank you Mike.

Thanks also to Public Works for allowing me to work in their space.

A very, very special thanks goes to two individuals…

Sandra Bury for support, humor, insight, creativity, and most of all COLD WATER!

Larry Deetjen, the great leader, communicator, organizer, and spearheader, without which this project would not have happened.

Lastly and importantly, thank you to the Rotary Club of Oak Lawn and all those in it who worked tirelessly on fundraising and promotion activities over these past few months.

Now that I have thanked everyone, I would like to leave you with a quote from Mother Theresa that I think sums up the impulse behind my work, which seeks to humanize rather than de-humanize.

“If we have no peace, its because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

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(Thanks to OakLawn.Patch.com and Mark Dynia for photos!!)

3 responses

  1. Mike Pacheco

    Erik, every piece of art that you have been involved in has turned out beautiful, this is one of my favorites. As usual, ….Great Job !!!

    Mike in SF

    September 14, 2011 at 12:00 am

  2. Diane Teska

    Erik, how proud I am of you as a man, and as a sculptor! And I’m proud that Rotary had a small part in what you’ve become. This sculpture is one of your crowning glories, and its commemoration of 9/11 a beautiful one. As one of our 9/11 heroes said, “Let’s roll!” And to you, “Keep on rolling!” Hugs, Diane

    September 14, 2011 at 3:11 pm

  3. What a very fitting and emotional tribute. They work of many people combined with the power of artistry through metal work has brought a fitting tribute to what the United States stands for even in times of stress. Thank you Oak Lawn, all those touched by 9/11 and Erik Blome for revealing the emotions and strength of resolve in his sculpture. Bill

    September 20, 2011 at 8:36 pm

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