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Kathryn Finegan Clark: By the Way

An elegy that continues


Todd Stone has done what great artists have done over the centuries – simply looked out their windows over the city and painted what they saw.
What he has seen recently is the rebirth of a neighborhood once turned into ashes by terrorists. He has captured that dramatic transformation in his newest solo exhibit, the monthlong “Renewal,” running through Sept. 30 at the New York Culture Club at Oculus, the fantastic new transportation hub and shopping mall at the new World Trade Center.
A collection of more than 30 works in oil, watercolor and digital media portraying the 20-year rebuilding of downtown, the show is the culmination of the documentary Todd created as he followed the city’s move from destruction to resilience to recovery to renewal.
What Todd saw from the roof of his Lower Manhattan studio on Sept. 11, 2001, was death and devastation. He turned that dreadful, heart-wrenching experience into a series of paintings he called “Witness.”
Other series followed as he was granted the space to paint the city’s gradual rebirth from what he termed his “studio in the sky” from successively higher perches in the new World Trade Center buildings. From there he painted the city healing itself.
For Todd that path emerged from the horrific day when terrorists leveled the World Trade Center, stealing 2,996 lives from what he now calls “a sacred site,” and forever changing the lives of thousands more.
A native of Manhattan, Todd loves the city and had been painting his cityscapes since 1980. He was doing just that in 2001 from his studio in Tribeca, when he saw the planes attack, and climbed to his rooftop, saw the bodies fall, saw the buildings shrink into rubble.
After that he spent a year on a series of paintings he titled “Witness,” actually rubbing into them the ash that drifted through his windows.
“Initially, I was just trying to get the pain to stop,” he said. “I felt this enormous burden to get these images out.”
From that first dreadful and enduring burst of sadness, his work became what he considered “an elegy,” a poem of lamentation for the dead. Then on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 he revealed another series, “Downtown Rising: Studies in Resilience.”
Now, his mood has brightened as the city itself has undergone a rebirth. He focuses in this solo exhibition on the ever-changing skyline from Manhattan to Brooklyn, to New Jersey and New York Harbor.

He said, “The work continues to be an elegy for those lost here and a celebration of the workers and community who brought the vision of the rebuilt World Trade Center to life again.”
For two decades he has continued to paint the city from the new World Trade Center as it was constructed, capturing the complexity and beauty of the city from above, a view few people ever see.
Silverstein Properties, the developers of the new center, offered him the use of vacant floors as construction continued. First, Todd painted from what he called “my studio in the sky,” on the 48th floor of 7 World Trade Center, then the 67th floor of No. 4 and finally the 71st floor of No. 3.
The Renewal paintings, he said, “depict the panoramic view overlooking the National 9/11Memorial, site reconstruction and city beyond. The paintings foster a dialogue about how the external face of a city’s skyline reflects its people’s shared inner life.”
I’ve known Todd and written about his work for years and I’ve watched his art change from abstract to landscapes and cityscapes. A neighbor, he frequently spends weekends at his Nockamixon Township home on the other side of our Chestnut Hill.
As passionate about nature as he is about the city, he has continued to paint despite the loss of vision in one eye.
Before 9/11 he did a number of lovely landscapes capturing the beauty of the hill we share and the magic of the Delaware River and Gallows Run, a stream that runs down our hill to the river.
Activist as well as artist, Todd founded the Gallows Run Watershed Association, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental stewardship, sustainable land management and the preservation of the rural character of the watershed.