How do you make sense of the senseless through art?
Artist Pamela Chatterton-Purdy of Harwich is known for her 47 “Icons of the Civil Rights Movement.” But her first eight icons were created to “wrest meaning” from the terrible events of Sept. 11, “the day that changed everything.”
Chatterton-Purdy is one of several Cape Cod artists and musicians who will exhibit her work or perform during a commemoration of the 20-year anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday, Sept. 11 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Harwich United Methodist Church.
Exhibiting artists include Elaine Felos Ostrander and other artists from the Guild of Harwich Artists, and Anne Ierardi, a Yarmouth-based artist and pastoral counselor.
From 9 a.m. to noon, an open mic will feature music and poetry. Singer Mary Dulemba will be accompanied on the keyboard by the Rev. Dr. Dianne Carpenter. Lisa Forte-Doyle, an English teacher at Monomoy Regional High School, will read her poem “9/11 Trilogy.” Poetry by Maya Angelou will also be read. Participants will speak on “where were you when you heard the news?”
In addition, the award-winning singer and songwriter Steffani Bennett of New York “will be here in spirit,” Chatterton-Purdy says. Her song “In from the Rain” will be featured on an album called “Songs of Hope” which focuses on 9/11.
“This is a community celebration honoring those that gave and lost their lives on that unforgettable day,” Chatterton-Purdy says.
On the following day, Sunday, Sept. 12, at 10 a.m. the church service will honor those who died 20 years ago. Carpenter will deliver a sermon titled “Roman’s 8:28/39, Ashes, ashes… falling down.” Forte-Doyle will again read “9/11 Trilogy” and a reception for the artists will follow the service at 11 a.m.
Chatterton-Purdy and her husband, the Rev. Dr. David A. Purdy, a Methodist minister, have collaborated on a new illustrated book called “Icons of 9/11: Where was God?” (2021). The 32-page book, the couple’s fifth, is based on Chatterton-Purdy’s Sept. 2002 exhibit called “Icons of 9/11” that debuted at the Star Gallery in Orleans and moved on to other galleries in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, finally ending its tour at the State House in Boston. For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the couple collected the eight icons in book form, with accompanying text.
“The spirit of America came to life around the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001,” Chatterton-Purdy writes in the book. “There were no Republicans, no Democrats. We were all Americans who responded in unity with love and compassion.”
Chatterton-Purdy’s later icons memorialize those who were killed in the Civil Rights Movement and also honor other African Americans such as the Obama family. In 2016 the couple published “Icons of the Civil Rights Movement,” which followed two earlier books of icons. A traveling exhibit of the same name was hung at the Zion Union Heritage Museum in Hyannis.
The icons are built on three-quarter-inch plywood, to which Chatterton-Purdy attaches sheets of gold leaf. She took a workshop in gilding techniques and for inspiration studied books of Russian and Irish icons. She cuts moldings for frames in a miter box and prepares the plywood by painting it red. She then adheres gold leaf to it with a gel medium allowing some of the red under-paint to leak through. She uses “puffy paint” for antique lettering.
“The idea began when I was a member of Star Gallery in Orleans,” Chatterton-Purdy recalled during an email interview last week. The artists were asked to create a show with the theme “red.” “I walked into church the next Sunday, and it was Pentecost. Therefore, the first icon was of Pentecost.”
Chatterton-Purdy’s model for the 9/11 icons was Laurie McGrew Moore of Harwich. As she writes in her book, “I posed my model in a red robe holding a red candle. The circles like coins are there to represent some iconic people of the Holy Spirit, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Sojourner Truth, and the iconic recent image of the three firefighters hoisting the flag at Ground Zero!”
Each icon in the book was inspired by a scripture from the Bible. For another icon, “Take Up the Whole Armor of God,” inspired by Ephesians 6:13, Chatterton-Purdy borrowed a firefighter’s jacket from the Harwich Fire Department and visually draped it over a symbolic wall of first responders. Moore looked straight into the artist’s eye “just as the incredible first responders did that day, risking their own lives in an effort to save others.” In the book she writes, “The full-faced front view, sharp eyes, seemed to portray the strength and resolve of the Holy Spirit alive and well on Sept. 11, 2001.”
The couple hope their paintings and text convey the message that “God is present even during the most unspeakable tragedies.” “Icons of 9/11” is dedicated to the memory of their late pastor, the Rev. Elisabeth McClintock, and in appreciation of Moore. Copies of the book will be available at the event.
The commemoration “Remembering 9/11/2001” will be held on Sept. 11 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Harwich United Methodist Church, 1 Church St. in East Harwich. On the following day the 10 a.m. service will be devoted to remembering 9/11 and followed by a reception at 11 a.m.