Killingworth artist Carole Pleines will provide the Durham Fair with a personal painting she completed after the 9/11 attacks. Her work is an oil painting of Ground Zero Spirit, a photograph of three firemen taken shortly after 5 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. The painting was on display at the fair in 2001 and, to mark the 10th anniversary, Pleines has been asked to display the work again.
"The photograph was taken by Thomas E. Franklin of the Bergen Record. The three firemen depicted are George Johnson of Rockaway Beach, Dan McWilliams of Long Island (both from Ladder 157), and Billy Eisengrein of Staten Island (Rescue 2),” Pleines said.
“The flag came from the 130-foot yacht named Star of America, owned by Shirley Dreifus of the Majestic Star. The yacht was docked in the basin in the Hudson River at the World Financial Center. McWilliams cut the yardarm off of the yacht and took the flag and pole from the yacht to an evacuation area where it was raised by the three firemen,” she added.
According to Pleines, “This is probably one of the most reproduced photos of Sept. 11, 2001. Franklin captured the spirit of those who devoted all their time and energy to save and bring out as many people alive as possible.”
The photograph, she said, “was so inspiring that I just said I can do that and make it larger than life which I really tried to do. I just felt that it was so beautiful and it reminded me of the raising of the flag at Hiroshima [sic]; that painting is just something that’s going to live on forever."
Pleines is a Connecticut native and graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a master’s degree in social work. Upon retiring, she became interested in learning how to paint. The self-taught artist has never taken art classes. Her other artistic endeavors include decoy carving, gourd carving and gourd jewelry.
For painting, she uses only oils. ”I’m kind of a slow painter because I don’t have the skills that other painters have. I like to use oils because it’s easy to manipulate for me; it doesn’t dry as quickly,” she said.
Pleines, who exhibits every year at the Durham Fair, has won numerous awards, including the fair's Cheryl King Award for the best crafter. She also won The People's Choice Award for a painting done for friends as a wedding gift. And, she won the Novice Bench Class First in Category at Ocean City Maryland at the 39th Annual Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition in 2009. The shoebill entered took two years to complete.
The painting of the firemen has been hanging in her studio for the past decade along with a painting of Father Mychal Judge.
“He was the first person to have been killed after 9/11. He had gone in to give last rites or at least administer to a couple of the firemen who had been hurt and, as a result, a piece of junk came down and hit him on the head and killed him because he didn’t have a helmet on,” she said.
Neither painting is for sale. She offered the piece to the Durham Fair Committee but is unsure whether or not it will be displayed.
Pleines explains: “Because he represents religion and because he was a bit of a controversial priest – he was gay. Durham is a funny town – it’s old Yankee. So, I don’t think they’re going to use it. I don’t know … nobody has said that to me, it was the inference I had gotten.”
The artist had wanted to donate the painting of the firemen to a firehouse in New York but the firehouse that was to receive this painting is no longer there.
“I may at some point donate it to the Killingworth Firehouse but that’s down the road. I kind of enjoy looking at it,” she said.
Pleines was doing geneaology research and found that the fireman in the center of the painting, George Johnson from Perth Amboy, NJ, shared the same name as her great-great-grandfather, who was also from Perth Amboy. “Isn’t that creepy?,” she said.
She does show at craft shows but admits that her work is expensive so she doesn’t do well there. (Her decoys start at around $550. The shoebill stork that won first price is $2,500). “That’s not what people have in their budget right now."
Pleines plans to enter a Christmas tree full of homemade carved-gourd ornaments in the fair. And, she will show her jewelry as well as a decoy.
Every day that she looks at the two paintings in her studio she thinks of the tragedies that the families have endured and continue to endure.
“I know people say that there’s closure but I don’t know when there’s something as horrific as that there’s ever closure. Kids may grow and may become more mature and wiser, but the pain of the loss of their father or mother always has to be there. And, always thinking about the phases of life that were never shared with their parents because they missed them. It’s heart-wrenching when you think of it,” she says.