On the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, I spent part of my day at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History viewing a three-story panel from the 101st to the 103rd floors of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. The FWMSH holds this artifact as a permanent part of its collection now, a remnant from a still present tragedy and a constant reminder that carried me to memories of that day, the lives lost, and the wars that followed. It also made me think of how an object has the power to transport you out of the routine of the everyday to one of reflection and insight. At over thirty-six feet tall and six feet wide, this steel façade enveloped me into the scale of the tragedy.
Standing there made me think of a series of works of art that has preoccupied me of late and that references another tragedy in our nation’s history. In 1968, the artist Leonard Baskin was commissioned by the National Park Service to illustrate a commemorative volume for the Custer Battlefield National Monument. At that time, the Battle of the Little Big Horn (June 25, 1876) stood as the most memorialized human tragedy in American history. But unlike artists before him, Baskin chose not to focus on the “reality” of the military battle, but rather on the human tragedy wrought in the faces of Indians and the officers in a series of moving portraits. As then director of the Amon Carter, Mitch Wilder observed, “We see man's mortality, brutality, and futility. And yet we read in the faces of Baskin's people the basic humanity which ties us together in a tragic climax no one seems to comprehend.”
Wilder’s words could just as easily apply to the World Trade Center artifact; works of art or historic artifacts have the power to touch our basic humanity even when beyond comprehension. One of the watercolor-and-ink drawings that Baskin made for the commission, An Oglala Sioux, is currently on view in the exhibition at our museum The Allure of Paper.
Above: Leonard Baskin, An Oglala Sioux, 1971. © The Estate of Leonard Baskin; Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, New York
This is my first blog post as director of the Amon Carter. I hope you’ll check in and let me know your thoughts as I share mine with you; I’ll be posting every other Tuesday.