Background: In 2003, Sassona Norton was selected in an international competition to design and build a prominent 9/11 Memorial in Pennsylvania. The Memorial was underwritten by Montgomery County, which includes Philadelphia at large. The city and the surrounding communities lost fourteen of their residents in the World Trade Center attack, and the memorial was to honor the victims and the first responders. It was installed in 2005, on the fourth anniversary of 9/11, in Norristown, the County seat, on the Courthouse plaza overlooking the city.
Concept and Description: Eighteen feet tall, the bronze and Corten steel 9/11 Memorial raises a pair of two seven-and-a-half foot hands lifting an I-beam, which was salvaged from the fallen North Tower. Rough and knurled, the hands cradle the twisted, torn and scorched I-beam with great tenderness. They rise on top of a tilted square steel column anchored at the edge of a large steel disc, which is s circled with the statement: “September 11, 2001: the many who were killed; the many who fought to save others. Memories never die.”
Norton looked to extend the memorial’s message beyond the tragedy into the process of remembrance. In juxtaposing hardness against softness, the 9/11 Memorial expresses the power of transformation. For Norton, the transcendental evolution of remembering starts with the horrific tragedy and ends with the introduction of the mix of strength and sadness. The lifting of the I-beam hints at the impact of the past on the future and the beginning of the journey from here to there.
The 9/11 Memorial is one of the largest in Pennsylvania. But for Norton, its importance lies in extending the message from now into a time that is yet to come. Public art of historical meaning has the power to broaden our thinking and affect our behavior. In creating a 9/11 Memorial about the complex act of remembrance, Norton wished to introduce an element of hope into the darkness of the days. She looked into the possibility that unimaginable pain may lead to a resolve, that sorrow may replace rage, and that a horrific experience could ultimately turn to a source of determination and strength.
The 9/11 Memorial turned also to a destination of personal remembrance for those who have lost their loved ones. Since its dedication ceremony in 2005, a large number of wreaths have been laid every anniversary at the feet of the Memorial.