Artist Denise Allen creates memory quilt as 9/11 tribute
Nothing could be more meaningful these days for Denise Allen, a highly regarded needlework and folk artist, than for the World Trade CenterNational 9/11 Memorial and Museum to hang her memory quilt depicting the terrorist attacks as part of its historic opening exhibition.
"I put my heart and soul into it," said Allen, whose only son, Richard, was among 295 Marsh & McLennan employees who perished at the World Trade Center that fateful morning a decade ago. The museum will be dedicated on Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.
"The museum contacted me about the possibility of exhibiting the quilt there but I'm not sure if it will actually happen or not. The piece is quite controversial," said Allen, who is anxiously waiting for the museum to contact her. "I haven't heard from them yet, but I believe it could still happen."
Allen's works hang in museums and galleries, and are coveted by collectors. For more than two decades her needlework creations had told her story and depicted scenes from black history and legends mostly through intricate wall hangings. Her themes range from her childhood in Brooklyn to African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman and the creation of the Underground Railroad. Daily life - cooking, washing, sewing, taking care of children - is an essential part of her art.
But Allen said the artist in her seemed to have faded away on 9/11 with her son's death. Tall like his father, after whom he was named, Richard was a young man of 30 with a warm disposition and a disarming smile. With his death Allen felt her creativity had died too.
"After that day I stopped doing my art, I just couldn't do it, my creativity was affected. How do you forget?" said Allen, a former Woodside, Queens, resident who soon after the WTC attacks moved to a farm "among the Old Order Amish" in Palatine Bridge, N.Y.
The well of imagination that allowed Allen to produce the original artwork that brought her recognition and enormous personal satisfaction, had dried up with her son's passing.
"For most of these 10 years, I was almost paralyzed," Allen said. The only exception was her memory quilt about 9/11. It became more than a passion. It was an obsession.
"I didn't have much time and I worked on it for three months. It was 10-1/2-feet high by 5-1/2-feet wide," Allen said. "They decided not to hang it, and now I think it was better this way because otherwise I would not have the quilt anymore and could not have kept working on it."
The quilt is intricate and impressive, even disturbing.
"My son is in the quilt, I made his body shattered," Allen said, her voice filled with emotion. "I was given only pieces of his body."
On top of the quilt she placed a three-dimensional image of the cross-shaped steel beam found amid the wreckage in the days following Sept. 11 that became a symbol of hope for many working during the recovery effort at Ground Zero.
"I told the truth," said Allen who will return to the site of the tragedy for the first time in 10 years on Sept. 11.
"I feel my husband and I have moved on," Allen said. "I feel that I am coming back to being me again. My son is in a better place and can't be hurt by anybody."