Tiles for America is the only spontaneous memorial still standing 11 years after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. It stands on the corner of 7th Ave and Greenwich Ave., across from the former St Vincent’s Hospital where people gathered to search for their loved ones. It is comprised of thousands of hand painted tiles that are a gentle reminder of the heroic first responders and those we loved and lost that day.
It began on September 12th, when local resident Lorrie Veasey, owner of the paint your own pottery shop, Our Name is Mud, fashioned 500 ceramic Angels and American flags with messages of hope and inspiration. She hung them next to the photos of missing people on the weathered chain link fence surrounding the MTA property at Mulry Square adjacent to her shop.
Word of the “People’s Memorial” began to spread. More tiles began to arrive from all over the world as people expressed their feelings of love, hope, sadness, and patriotism. Thanks to the CCSA, (Contemporary Ceramic Studios of America), their member studios, and countless others, the memorial has continued to grow, change, and flourish, attracting countless New Yorkers and tourists.
Last August, while the city awaited the powerful wind and rain of Hurricane Irene, Village resident Dusty Berke, fearing their destruction, began to remove the tiles from the chain link fence, one by one. Within 20 minutes, 100 neighbors had gathered to help save their beloved memorial, bringing file boxes, bins, and a shopping cart. Four hours later, as they wheeled the last bin of tiles into the safety of Rizza Salon, the rain began to fall.
After the storm, local residents and shop owners decided unanimously that the memorial had become the heart of the village and should remain in the neighborhood. The “Village Angels” invited the first responders, survivors, and their families to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of 9-11 by re-hanging the tiles on the chain link fence.
Several people said that although it had been many years since the tragedy, they hadn’t been able to let it go until the act of placing a tile on the fence gave them something tangible. Others told stories of making a tile or finding a tile a friend had made. One woman said she came every week to kiss a tile; many passersby were quick to point out “their tiles” or the tile they re-hung.
Now, on the 11th anniversary of 9-11, Tiles for America faces destruction once again. This time the MTA has announced plans to build a ventilation station on the site. They plan to remove the tiles and store them for 3-5 years, until the ventilation station is complete. Then they will choose a small selection of the tiles to border the base of the faux brownstone they are building to front the new construction.
Once again the community has come to the rescue, forming the Tiles for America Preservation Project. Their concept is to save and exhibit the tiles within a unique community gallery space that will also feature local art exhibits, music and poetry performances, and workshops.
The Tiles for America Preservation Project has begun a fundraising campaign to preserve this incredible piece of history for future generations. If you would like to learn more, get involved, or make a donation please visit TilesForAmericaPreservationProject.com.