Thursday, September 9, 2010

Heroes of Sept. 11 inspire McGrath's art

September 9, 2010
Cranston Herald
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

REMEMBERING THE HEROES: Marion McGrath poses next to her depiction of Father Myke Judge being carried out of the wreckage on Sept. 11, 2001. The painting has been on display in several states since its completion.

Generations of families have known Marion McGrath as the director of Carriage House Day Care center, which is located on Shaw Avenue in the Edgewood section of Cranston. Thousands of children have passed through the center’s doors since it opened.

Still, more residents know McGrath for all of her hard work and advocacy as an Edgewood resident.

However, few people realize that McGrath is a talented painter whose paintings have been featured in exhibits up and down the east coast.

Having grown up in the World War II era, with two sons who were policemen, McGrath was drawn to the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001 in a very personal way.

“I was watching the Today Show and saw those planes crash. I saw the people jumping out of the towers,” she said. “I was drawn to every image at that time. I couldn’t leave the television set sometimes. I’d turn it on in the middle of the night. This was such a tragic event for our country.”

McGrath was struck by the fact that the policemen and firefighters at Ground Zero were “ordinary men doing extraordinary things.”

She saw a photo of several firefighters pulling the lifeless body of chaplain Father Myke Judge out of the wreckage and knew she had to paint that image. The priest had been ministering to the injured and dying firefighters when he suffered a heart attack and died.

McGrath said she visualized what she wanted to do for her painting and asked her art instructor, Delores LaCassio, if she thought it could be done.

“She said I could do it,” McGrath said, and with that, she began painting.

From the start, McGrath felt the images flowed easily onto her canvas. Although she never knew Father Myke, McGrath said she’s learned so much about him since she began her painting.

She painted the images of the exhausted men carrying Father Myke Judge, and then in the shadows behind, a cross can be seen and a ray of light shines through the smoke and soot. McGrath purposely left the background gray, never adding any colors to the rest of the painting.

“That ray of light touches each and every one of them in the picture,” McGrath said. “I wanted to depict that even in this wicked tragedy, we still have faith that something better will come along.”

As word got out about McGrath’s painting, people stopped in to watch her progress. When the painting was done, she kept it on exhibit in Fort Meyers where she spends her winters.

As the anniversary of the tragedy approached, however, McGrath wanted to take her painting to New York City and show it to the Franciscans and the firefighters who had known Father Myke.

“One of my fears was that it would be so reminding of the event, that I had great anxiety about how it would be received. I didn’t know if it’d be received well or if it would be too emotional, too reminding,” she said.

“It was a very emotional meeting,” she recalled of her visit to Ground Zero, the Franciscans and the firehouse. “They looked at the painting in the trunk of my car and said, “This is not like all the rest.”

Word of the painting traveled and McGrath was asked to display her painting again, this time in Boston at the St. Anthony Shrine for the Sept. 11 commemorative prayer service being held there in 2002. She was also featured in a documentary out of England.

Currently, the painting is in McGrath’s home here in Cranston, where she keeps it in between exhibitions.

McGrath had no interest in learning to paint until she took her very first painting class in October 1999.

“My sister-in-law, Barbara was bringing this artist to Fort Meyers for a class. She needed 10 people to sign up for the class in order for it to run, so I signed up,” McGrath said.

McGrath remembers some frayed nerves at the thought of going to a painting class with no prior painting experience.

“I had nightmares for three nights before,” she said.

Once in the class, there was a great deal of information and technique to take in, but McGrath was a fast learner.

She has since completed several more paintings, which are displayed in her home and at Carriage House. Although she’s proud of all her work, few have the emotion and meaning that her 9/11 paintings have.

“By having done this painting, it’s brought so many people into my life that I wouldn’t have known before,” said McGrath. “I honestly believe that things were meant to be and this is what I was meant to be doing.”

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