Orleans Art Exhibit Memorializes 9/11

By: Elizabeth Van Wye

Topics: Arts

Florence Adams with her series, "Painting the Town." COURTESY PHOTO

ORLEANS – Orleans artist Florence Adams had a personal and visceral reaction to the unfolding and catastrophic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Her son David is an officer in the New York Police Department Emergency Services unit.  He was on duty that morning at the World Trade Center and she and her family spent agonizing hours not knowing if he had lived or died.

Although David survived, many of his friends did not. In the weeks that followed, to help her deal with the stress of the tragic events, Adams turned to painting to express her emotions. 

"I paint my feelings," she said.

The result is the "9/11 Painting Exhibit" at the Old Firehouse Gallery at 44 Main St. that runs through Sept. 19.

There are 11 paintings, mostly abstract in style, in the exhibit.  They are displayed chronologically and the first, completed only weeks after that day, is titled "8:48 a.m.  There is a fire at the World Trade Center..."  With vivid oranges and golds, the flames rise into the clear blue skies that were present above New York City and in so many places that day.

Her paintings mark significant moments as the tragedy unfolded. At 9:50 a.m. we are faced with a torn canvas, ripped from its frame as fire consumed the buildings. The painting "Storming the Gates of Heaven" features the iconic steel girders in the background and 2,974 multicolored dots, representing those who died on that day.  A painting titled "Ground Zero...'The Pit'" shows us squares painted with glitter glue representing the fire that endured there for 30 days.

The last two paintings in the exhibit represent events that took place the following year. The day the south tower lobby was uncovered at Ground Zero, March 10, 2002 is revealed in her "folk pop" style of vivid colors.  Its title, "In the last piles of rubble, fresh pangs of loss," comes from the headline in the New York Times that day.

The final painting, is called "9/11 Memorial Flag."  With its red and blue streaks along with white lines on a black background,  it represents May 30, 2002 when Ground Zero recovery ended.

Also on display at the gallery are the pictures and bios of 23 victims of the tragedy who had connections to Cape Cod.  Adams' 9/11 paintings were first displayed at the Snow Library in Orleans on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 as part of an exhibit of 41 paintings.  Adams would like to eventually donate her series so that it could continue as a reminder. 

"It still touches me," she said.  "We are still in it."

Adams was born and raised in New York City.  A graduate of Hunter College with a math degree, she was a computer programmer but always loved drawing and painting.  Interested in abstract painting, in the 1960s she studied with artist Leo Manso at NYU.  After moving to Cape Cod in 1975 she continued to work and also pursued her art studies, including locally with artists Barbara Melcher and Phyllis Szerejko.

After retiring in 1996 she painted a series of 40 paintings of places in Orleans in brilliant colors called "Painting the Town." Each painting was "designed on the computer and then painted on stretched canvas," she wrote.  She has continued to paint and calls her work "a marriage of left brain and right brain talents and obsessions – a life in full circle."