sculptor creates September 11 memorial
On the morning of September 11, virtually every American
was glued to their television screen. Instantly, most of us were
paralyzed and speechless. Many stayed home from work and school.
For Sedona artist Edward Breathitt, who had taken a
visiting-artist residency at Murray State University in Kentucky,
that morning was no different than any other.
“I was at home writing letters throughout the day. Not
having a television, I was totally unaware of the events that
had taken place that morning. When I went to teach my class at
2:30 in the afternoon, all of my students were present, but there
was an unusual silence in the classroom.
“There was no mention from any of them about the attack
that had occurred. The mood of the class puzzled me - they are
usually a very talkative bunch. Rather than trying to discern
what was going on, I went on with my lecture until the end of
class at 5:30.
“When the class was over, I went into my office and
turned on my radio. The first thing I heard was an account of
the attack on the World Trade Center. I immediately walked over
to the student union to watch the events on the news. Two-hundred
students were crowded around the large screen TV with looks of
shock and fear on their faces.”
For about two weeks, Breathitt said, he was completely
shut down creatively. He had several projects to complete, but
when he sat at his work bench, he was unable to make the first
stroke. After several days, Breathitt subscribed to a cable TV
service so he could track the events that were occurring.
“Unable to work, I found myself watching cable news
about six hours a day, and at some point I began taking notes,”
he said. “This was a very unusual routine for me since I had not
had a TV for over 10 years.”
One evening, he was watching an interview with the New
York City planner and the question was asked “Will the city rebuild
and if so when?” The response was “The city will definitely rebuild.
It will be five to 10 years before any structures are built, but
in the meantime we will create some type of memorial.”
As soon as Breathitt heard these words, it was as if
a creative floodgate had opened. “Many images started to appear
in my mindscape and I was unable to turn off the switch.”
After a sleepless night, Breathitt went to his studio
and began to rough sketch some ideas. The creative flow was very
strong. He questioned his students about their creative output
and learned that most of them were experiencing the same creative
block that he had just worked through.
“I asked several students that I felt might be up for
the challenge, if they wanted to collaborate on a creative response
to the 9-11 tragedy, if for no other reason than to just get our
creative expressions flowing again,” said Breathitt.
Each student that he approached agreed enthusiastically,
and with a group of nine, they began to meet and collaborate our
ideas. The focus was to design a memorial and there was no agenda
other than the creative process. This took on so much momentum
that other art students were asking to participate to increase
the group to 12. There was no credit being offered in this endeavor
but everyone was so anxious to participate, it seemed to be a
vehicle for them to positively cope with this tragedy and enable
their own healing process.
Breathitt decided to approach the Dean of Fine Arts
to see if she would put this on the curriculum, as an accredited
class the following semester. It was a perfect fit for an upcoming
lecture series called “Artists Response to Tragedy.”
The project took on a life of its own.
“As we were researching magazines, newspapers and books
on 9-11 for our project, I kept coming across articles about Father
Mychal Judge, and what an outstanding servant to humanity he was,”
said Breathitt. “Not only was he of great support to the Fire
Department, he went out of his way to help addicts, alcoholics
and homeless in his community. He never turned his back on anyone
and exemplified the true personification of a compassionate being.”
Breathitt felt that as a personal contribution to this
tragedy, he would create and donate a bronze bust of Father Judge
to present to Engine 1 Ladder 24, which Judge was most closely
Many people in the Sedona art scene are not familiar
with sculptor Edward Breathitt, who moved to Arizona in 1993 and
built his home and studio in Sedona in 1995. He is not affiliated
with any galleries or exhibiting his work locally. For most of
his career, Breathitt has been almost exclusively a commissioned
sculptor with an emphasis on representational portrait sculpture
and monumental bronze.
He is a fine arts graduate of the American University
in Washington, D.C., and has been sculpting professionally for
18 years, including a three-year term as a make-up effects artist
in the Los Angeles film industry a number of feature film credits
to his name.
Breathitt attributes his success to the many great mentors
that taught and inspired him and states that he will “be a student
until the day he dies.” Passing the gift along also has been important
So, when the September 11 Memorial Project began to
take shape at Murray State, Breathitt called on one of his favorite
Sedona apprentices, Patrick Reider, to come out to Kentucky to
help and learn.
“Pat came in when the class officially started in January,”
said Breathitt. “I knew that to successfully complete this project
in our given time frame, that I would need someone other than
myself working full-time on this project. Pat was very instrumental
in our successful completion. After it was all over, Pat and I
calculated that we had over 3,000 hours into this project just
between the two of us!”
Breathitt wasn’t satisfied with just a bust, he wanted
to work Judge’s fire helmet into the composition, and to do so
successfully, he decided to have his hand resting on the helmet
with a fragmentation of his arm unifying the composition.
“Pat sculpted the helmet, made the molds, cast and chased
the wax, and signed the piece with me upon completion,” said Breathitt.
“There was about a six-week period where we were lucky to get
three or four hours of sleep a night to meet our production schedule,
and several 24-plus hour shifts with no sleep at all.”
“The experience changed my life,” said Reider.
On May 17, a delegation
of 22, including the 9-11 Memorial Design Project students, supporting
faculty and staff of MSU, University President F. King Alexander
and various University administrators, boarded a plane from Nashville
to New York.
On Sunday, May 19, they made their presentation to NYC
Fire Department Engine 1 Ladder 24 and friends, family and colleagues
of Father Mychal Judge.
“Standing in front of those brave men who put their
lives on the line and who lost 347 members of their fire fighting
family was a proud and rewarding moment for us all,” said Breathitt.
“The culmination of all our efforts had come down to that one
very emotional moment.”
The ceremony received media coverage from CNN, ABC,
NBC, CBS, Fox and Time Warner’s NY News Cable One.
“All of our efforts had paid off,” said Breathitt.