To Gander, with love: Saint John painter set to present gift to Nfld. town on 20th anniversary of 9/11

·3 min read

Saint John artist Norman Jackson's powerful September 9/11 oil painting, depicting an eagle rising from the ruins of Ground Zero in New York City – a copy of which also garnered a personal thank-you letter from former President George W. Bush – will make a special appearance in Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador this weekend.

The internationally recognized artist is heading east to take part in the 20th anniversary of what is commonly referred to in that province as "The Day The World Came to Town." There, Jackson will donate the painting, "The Eagle Will Rise," to mark the two decades since one of the darkest days in American history.

For more than a week 20 years ago, the citizens of Gander and the surrounding towns put their lives on hold to help roughly 7,000 passengers on 38 jetliners bound for the United States.

The planes were forced to land in the Newfoundland town, of just more than 11,000 residents, after the United States closed its airspace following a series of coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

"The people had to leave the jets because of security and take nothing with them," Jackson said. "These people stepped off with not even a toothbrush ... These people were desperate, and they didn't even know where they were. And some didn't even know the jets had hit the (Twin Towers)."

Jackson will present the original oil painting to the Fox Moth Museum in Norris Arm, a town about 60 kilometres west of Gander, where it will stay permanently.

The painting has been in storage for more than a decade, and he felt now was time to "do something with it," said Jackson. "I thought: It's time for it to be seen. You can look at it and go through your memories of that day or think about what happened to the people."

While its two prominent features are a large bald eagle rising Phoenix-like from the ruins of Ground Zero and the two steel beams in the form of a Christian cross standing in the debris, there are several other details to be seen upon further inspection.

"There's a fireman crying, and there's someone looking at the eagle," said the 80-year-old artist, who's known for memorializing headline-making moments in history in his paintings. "The dots are souls rising to heaven unto the eagle ... It shows the Americans rising from the ashes to be renewed."

As his ancestors are Miꞌkmaq, Jackson said he painted a teepee to represent his people as well.

Jackson said he still remembers where he was 20 years ago when the two airplanes struck the Twin Towers. He received a call from his friend Shane Cassidy, informing him of the tragic incident.

"I decided to do a painting," he said, after watching the news around the attacks unfold on an old black-and-white television. "I started at 10 o'clock at night and finished at 10 in the morning. I worked all night long because I was driven to finish it."

In addition to donating the painting, Jackson, who has been selling his artwork and giving half the proceeds to the local Romero House Soup Kitchen for years, is also raising money for a scholarship fund in Newfoundland through the sale of prints.

"This is from the people of Saint John and the children, and it's also from the firemen of Saint John and the people of Canada. It's a gift to America from Canada."

Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal

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