Like many of us, Robin Lassen remembers exactly where she was on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was living in California getting ready for work. We had the TV news on in the background and went to see what the talk of a plane crash was all about. That’s when I saw the second plane hit. We all saw the second plane hit that tower. Then, they were interviewing a military official about the attack when a plane hit the Pentagon; then, the crash in Pennsylvania.
“It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Lassen, who started drawing at age 10, is turning that defining moment into a stunning painting in the station lobby of the Orcas Island Fire Department.
The floor-to-ceiling mural, painted in the deep rich hues of sunrise, pays homage to the men and women who sped to the scene of one of America’s most horrific tragedies.
“I feel privileged to be able to honor our first responders,” Lassen explains. “I’m from a law enforcement family and have deep respect for the people who put their lives on the line every day.”
Dominating the mural is a familiar pre-9/11 New York City skyline outlined against the oranges, pinks and purples of sunrise. Below, the words Pentagon and Pennsylvania, painted in block letters appear on either side of the painting. At the bottom, words from the Roman philosopher Cicero: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time,” the same words that appear on the World Trade Center Memorial.
“I looked at a lot of other memorials to see what was used,” Lassen adds. “I wanted something that would be meaningful and appropriate. This quote by Cicero was perfect, and I like the fact that it’s also on the New York City memorial.”
“Painting here at the fire station, surrounded by first responders, some of whom knew someone at the World Trade Towers, has been exceptionally humbling,” Lassen offered.
The plan is for the mural to act as the backdrop to a beam that was once a part of the twin towers.
Eight years ago the department requested an artifact from the towers to become a part of a local memorial. Members of the Orcas fire department traveled to New York to bring a beam back to the island and the fire station. For a time, it sat in the lobby. A casual conversation with a friend of Lassen’s about a fitting backdrop for the beam prompted a suggestion, and then a sketch, to honor those who lost their lives and those who offered theirs — the first responders who went where no one dared.
“Whether or not we knew someone who was there that day, all of us felt the pain of 9/11,” shared Fire Chief Scott Williams. “I wanted that shared sense of community to be a major part of our memorial: to honor those who lost their lives and those who lost family and loved ones.”
Part of achieving a sense of community is using local artists, Williams explained. In addition to Lassen, whose work has been displayed at Crow Valley Gallery for 10 years, the department is working with several craftspeople to create the perfect display for the salvaged beam.
“We’re trying to build something we can all feel good about,” acknowledged Williams, “something the community can participate in that represents the losses and sacrifices that were made that day. We’re pleased with the way the mural is turning out and look forward to sharing the completed project with the Orcas community.”