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9/11 memorial takes root



Published: Sat, July 30, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Tobin is giving the finished sculpture as a gift to Trinity Church.

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

PHILADELPHIA -- Steve Tobin thinks big.

His West African termite mounds, as tall as 12 feet, graced the lawn of the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 2000 and 2001.

He plans to exhibit other large, nature-inspired sculptures on the grounds of Stonehenge, the prehistoric site in Britain, within two years.

Now, Tobin is at work on a 15- to 18-foot-tall, 20-foot-wide sculpture to be installed within sight of ground zero in New York to mark the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy.

"They knocked down our towers," Tobin said of the Al-Qaida terrorists, speaking recently at his warehouse studio. But they failed ultimately, he said, because "they uncovered the strength in our roots, our connectedness."

On Sept. 11 and after, as visitors walk under and through his sculpture -- the bronzed replica of the root system of a historic tree -- that is what he hopes to inspire.

Memorable tree

Tobin's sculpture memorializes the roots and stump of an aged sycamore, knocked over by debris from the falling towers of the World Trade Center.

"I really wanted to be associated with this healing" on this anniversary of Sept. 11, he said. "The sculpture is an uplifting story."

Linda Hanick said the tree stood at St. Paul's Chapel, where emergency personnel rested, directly across from the northeast edge of ground zero. Hanick is vice president of communications for St. Paul's parent, Trinity Church, two blocks southeast of ground zero.

"The stump comes from the tree at St. Paul's to the north," Hanick said, but Tobin's sculpture will be "on display at Trinity, which is to the south."

The Episcopal administrators don't know how long the sculpture will stand in the courtyard at the entrance to Trinity. After a dedication on the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 11, "it could be six, nine months," she said.

Hanick is certain there is only benefit for the church.

Not only is Tobin bearing the cost of his sculpture, but "he's giving it as a gift" to Trinity.

Tobin's story

Steve Tobin grew up in Villanova, Pa., graduated from high school in 1974 and majored in mathematics at Tulane University in New Orleans.

"I had no interest in art growing up," he said. "I am completely untrained as an artist."

For years, he worked out of a barn on his 14-acre property in Pleasant Valley, Pa., but for the last year, his studio has been a former warehouse he owns just north of Quakertown, Pa.

To pay the 16-person team that has been working on the Trinity Church project, as well as for the material, "I just mortgaged all my property," homestead and warehouse.

Tobin had estimated the original cost of the Sept. 11 memorial at $330,000, but now "it's well beyond that," though he declined to say how much.

He is hoping for a sponsor.

Among buyers, his larger pieces are not for the faint of heart. He estimated the going prices for his bronzes to be "on the upper end, $300,000, $400,000."

Such prices not only helped him buy the 300-foot-long warehouse, but have let him dream about the railroad link out back.

"I'm going to get boxcars on the rails," he said, "and make the boxcars as galleries."

Preliminary versions

In the warehouse, there is what he calls a maquette -- a small preliminary model -- about one-third the height of the final version of his Sept. 11 sculpture. On the lawn outside the warehouse are two smaller versions, each different, each looking like a many-legged spider.

"I can compose the roots in any way I please," Tobin said, "to fit my artistic objective."

Recently he sent to a casting factory the last of the 300 pieces that will make up the final 8,000-pound sculpture.

How it will take shape he still must determine. He seems certain only about its intent.




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