For many Americans, it seems like the tragic events of 9/11 happened only yesterday - although it has been nearly a decade. And for some, that day has etched a memory which may never be dulled by time.
But for Leoma Lovegrove, the renown Southwest Florida artist, the approaching 10-year anniversary represented an opportunity to both honor each of the lives that were lost on Sept. 11, 2001 and collaborate with the local community in a patriotic creation
Lovegrove, whose international headquarters are located in the Tree Tops Center on Sanibel, came up with the idea for the community-wide art project two years ago after taking part in a production called "Remember 9/11" at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theater.
"We had invited people to paint these squares, which were going to become part of my American flag project," recalled Lovegrove. "All of a sudden, all of these people started getting out of their seats to stand in line to paint a square. There's something about working with wet paint that makes people want to get involved with something."
According to Lovegrove, more than 200 squares were painted by those Broadway Palm patrons, which ultimately became a part of her "Remember 9/11" mural currently on display at Southwest Florida International Airport.
In preparation for this year's 10th anniversary memorial, Lovegrove planned to get even more people involved with plans to create another piece of 9/11 artwork. And with a bigger idea in mind, a bigger canvas was needed.
Since early July, Lovegrove has been traveling throughout the region with a gigantic canvas - measuring 18 feet by 10 feet - upon which members of the public are invited to paint the names of those who perished on Sept. 11, 2011.
At subsequent locations, different colors will be used for the victims names from The Pentagon and the last two airplanes. Last month, 2,753 names from the World Trade Center were painted in red but the community at The Franklin Shops in Fort Myers and at the "Red White & Boom" Independence Day celebration in Cape Coral. Iberia Bank and Dennison Moran Gallery hosted the events for the names to be painted for United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11. In all, the more than 3,000 names will form the base of a painting of an American bald eagle.
"People can draw a name out of a bowl, or if they knew somebody who was lost that day, they can paint that person's name, too," she explained. "It doesn't matter if a name gets painted twice."
This Sunday, Aug. 21, Lovegrove will host another painting event on Sanibel at her gallery - located at 1101 Periwinkle Way - from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.
"Originally, we were only supposed to be bringing the canvas to six locations, but I have to follow what the public wants," said Lovegrove, who added that she gets phone calls every day from people who want to help paint names on the huge - and soon to be historic - canvas. "We're probably going to wind up doing more than a dozen stops before it's finished."
Lovegrove also noted that her project has become "a gathering place," where people share stories and reflect on where they were that day nearly 10 years ago.
"This brings the project up close and personal, so that we will never forget," she said.
After several more painting events - including next Sunday, Aug. 28 at The Shell Factory & Nature Park in North Fort Myers - the canvas will be brought back to Sanibel, where Lovegrove will add the image of an American bald eagle in flight.
"It's not going to be your typical eagle... I'm definitely going to 'Leoma-ize' it," she stated. "But it is going to be very patriotic."
The finishing touches on the canvas will be added on Sunday, Sept. 11, back at the Broadway Palm during their "Remember 9/11 Tenth Year" program beginning at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are complimentary and currently available at the ticket office, located at 1380 Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers. Several members of the NYPD Local 1013 will also take part in the event.
Following the program, Lovegrove plans on submitting the commemorative painting to the Alliance of the Arts. She hopes they take it to Southwest Florida International Airport for display, or to have it become part of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City.