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posted: 9/9/2011 1:00 AM

Children's artwork sparks 9/11 memories

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  • A portion of a mural commemorating the events of Sept. 11, 2001, painted by students from Louise White Elementary School in Batavia, hangs on a wall in the home of Daily Herald columnist Sammi King.

      A portion of a mural commemorating the events of Sept. 11, 2001, painted by students from Louise White Elementary School in Batavia, hangs on a wall in the home of Daily Herald columnist Sammi King.
    Courtesy of Sammi King


Each morning, when I pass a painting hanging in my hallway, I am reminded of Sept. 11, 2001.

I purchased the painting -- done by children from Louise White School in Batavia -- after attending the Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 11 of the same year.

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The painting was a piece of a large continuous mural that was created after Sept. 11, 2001.

At the time, Nancy Legner was the art teacher at the school. Before retiring in 2007, she was chosen Illinois Art Teacher of the year. She remembers the mural project.

"I wanted to do something that would allow the students to express themselves," Legner said. "We put the tables together in the art room to be able to let each class come in and paint. We worked on it for a week and it was something that the whole school did together."

The large continuous mural was displayed in the hallways of the school. When it was time to take it down, Legner decided to try and use the mural as a way to teach the impact art can have on others.

"We let students and parents come in and cut a one-foot square for a dollar," she said. "The money that we raised was sent to the Red Cross."

After the Veterans Day assembly, I put down two dollars and received a pair of scissors to cut my part of the mural. I was drawn to a tempura-painted image of a large American Flag, surrounded by large bright yellow stars and two green shapes that looked like cactuses. I cut the image out, rolled it up and left the school.

When I got home, I took a closer look at the painting and saw some things I had missed in my original observation. In the upper right hand corner was a sun not in the usual yellow, but red with rays, crying downward. Under the cactuses were line drawn images of the twin towers with people falling from the towers.

Who had altered the picture. Was it a child afraid to share his feelings? Was it a teacher who felt the line drawing was too disturbing ?

"I wouldn't have painted over it," Legner said. "However, it might have been another student. Or it could have been the student who did the original drawing."

Art can evoke many emotions and this painting was very troubling for me. I found myself thinking about this child, who might have been afraid to express his feelings. I wondered if we had done enough to explain to our children an event that we had a hard time understanding ourselves.

Breanna Morgan was a third-grader at the school in 2001. She remembers being in school on Sept. 11.

"Many of the kids were aware that a plane had crashed but we didn't know it was intentional," she said. "I remember that they locked all of the doors and wouldn't let us go out for recess."

She didn't recall the mural.

I remember the sky being eerily quiet without any planes flying. I remember fearing for my niece who had just started a job in a congressional office the week before. I remember emailing classmates to see if anyone had heard from a college classmate who worked in the World Trade Center. I remember the horrifying images on television. I remember praying for the victims and their families and for the first responders. And for the first time in my lifetime I remember being afraid for our country.

If I could have wiped it all out with green tempura paint; I, too, would have done it with the boldest of brush strokes.

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