Did 9/11 wreckage inspire Lake Worth Beach yard sculpture? New York artist who created it wonders
Updated: Sep 9, 2021
LONG BEFORE Timothy Carter found his calling as a sculptor, he worked as a railroad welder near Schenectady, New York. He was 33 and on weekends he often dined at the Water's Edge Lighthouse Restaurant overlooking the Mohawk River.
“In front of the restaurant, they had I-beams from Ground Zero as a monument,’’ he said, recalling the two pieces of twisted World Trade Center steel installed by the restaurant owners in 2007 as a 9/11 memorial.
“I would go look at them all the time.’’
Six years earlier, when terrorists flew airliners into the twin towers, Carter was living in Albany. “As the state’s capital, we thought we were next,’’ he said, recalling the fear that day.
A classmate from high school died in the towers, he said. But as the years went by, 9/11 started to fade from Carter’s daily thoughts.
He immersed himself in developing as a visual artist, following his creative spirit to the mediums of welding, painting, ceramics and eventually his calling, “the world of steel sculpture,’’ he said.
He would work with noted artists Jeff Whyman and John Sanders, both of whom learned their craft under the direction of Mark di Suvero, a pioneer in the use of steel as public art whose style would profoundly influence Carter.
Carter eventually developed a new technique that uses hydraulics to shape gradual curves in I-beams, a departure from the common practice of other sculptors who use heat to bend steel.
The sculptures he creates invoke male and female symbolism in the twisted steel shapes.
The notion that his style might have been influenced by all those times he stared at the twin tower beams outside that restaurant many years ago never occurred to him, he said, until Sunday.
That’s when he received a text from a stranger with a question that would force the artist to take stock of the origins of his style.
As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, there’s no shortage of documentaries and tributes on television.
One is the excellent 9/11 One Day In America, a gripping six-part series that debuted Aug. 29 on the National Geographic channel.
The next morning, on a bike ride around my Lake Worth Beach neighborhood, something unusual and bold caught my eye: Two twisted steel beams, painted a cheerful yellow and weathered by small streaks of rust, rising 7 feet from the front yard of a house on Lakeside Drive.
I’d never seen it before on occasional rides down the 1800 block. Why is it there now?
Is it just a piece of suburban art?
Or could it be World Trade Center steel, a sculpture meant as a 9/11 tribute?
Or is that last question just an idea planted in my subconscious from watching footage of the twisted wreckage of Ground Zero some 12 hours earlier?
The owner of the home, artist Maxine Spector, said she had no idea about the sculpture’s origins. She said it was given to her a few months ago by artist friend JoAnn Nava.
Nava said the sculpture was created about three years ago by an artist named Timothy Carter, who made the piece at a studio Nava owns in Lake Worth Beach.
Titled "Yellow 166100," it stood in Nava’s backyard, a bright yellow bloom rising from the grass near some palm trees and bushes, until she gave it to Spector eight months ago.
When Spector and Nava each saw the steel sculpture for the first time, it didn't invoke 9/11. They just saw a beautiful piece of art.
“That particular piece is a boy and girl dancing and the one is lifting the other as you see it from the side,’’ Nava said. “It’s part of his yellow series. Most of them are much bigger than that one.’’
Carter and I connected for the first time on the Sunday before Labor Day. My initial question blossomed into a cordial text exchange that the artist said opened his eyes to "profound" new possibilities about his influences.
He said he’d never given thought to the wreckage of the twin towers inspiring his work or influencing his style. But now that I’d broached the possibility, he said he couldn't help but wonder.
Perhaps the beams at the restaurant memorial, which he said “so deeply impressed” him while dining there before the dawn of his artistic career, played some role in why he would be influenced later by the steel sculpture work of di Suvero.
“I didn't do it consciously because of the twin towers,’’ he said. “However now thinking about seeing the beams back then, maybe in my subconscious there was an impression.’’
A couple of hours later he sent another text.
“You know, now that I am looking at my work, most of my yellow I-beam sculptures resemble that monument at that restaurant,’’ he wrote.
“I have a lot to ask myself now. Why am I so fascinated with curved I-beams? What is it that draws me to this really unused medium? Am I quietly reconciling with such a deep trauma subconsciously?’'
Or maybe my question did nothing more than underscore the power of art, how it can invoke emotions and reactions unique for everyone, whether we see one dancer lifting another or the twisted wreckage of the twin towers.
“I believe that my art enables the viewer to have a private conversation with the work, resulting in a conversation with themselves, using creative vibrations to elevate the human spirit,’’ Carter said.
ON A SUNNY morning, four days before the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Spector and her husband welcomed a visitor to photograph the sculpture. Though it has stood in their front yard for nearly eight months, it had been partially hidden under thick foliage until they recently trimmed the trees, she said.
Now it stands out, towering over a pair of chaise lounges and a small newly-planted coconut palm. The rust streaks on the beams will disappear one day soon when Spector finds time to sand them and repaint the sculpture.
And she agreed: The sculpture does invoke the wreckage of the twin towers — but for reasons beyond having recently seen images in a new television documentary.
“When you see two vertical shapes of anything next to each other,'' she said, holding her hands vertically side by side, "it's very easy (for the mind) to go to the twin towers because of the event that has stayed in our heads, because of what we did go through on 9/11.
'I do that now when I walk around and see things: ‘Oh, the twin towers.’’’
The same goes for her yard sculpture.
"When I look at it, I definitely see the twin towers,'' she said.
Carter's work has been displayed at a galleries and public places like the City of North Lauderdale.
A three-month show of Carter’s yellow I-beam sculptures will start in October at the Haven gallery in Palm Beach.
If you don’t want to wait until then, you can see one piece now in Spector's front yard in the 1800 block of North Lakeside Drive in Lake Worth Beach.
"It’s architecturally smart,” said Nava. “It’s certainly better than a yard ornament or a jockey holding a lantern.”
On Saturday, Carter's old weekend hangout, the Water's Edge Lighthouse Restaurant outside Schenectady, N.Y., will hold its annual 9/11 ceremony in the shadows of the two twisted beams from the twin towers.
The beams rise over a glass case containing an American flag, also pulled from the rubble.
The restaurant owners dedicated the memorial to honor those who died in the attacks and their son who was returning from Iraq.
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MUSIC FROM OTHER KEYBOARDS
Janet Reitman in the New York Times Magazine: “I Helped Destroy People.”
Tom Junod in Esquire: The Falling Man
Michael Wilson in the New York Times: Sept. 11 Steel Forms Heart of Far-Flung Memorials