By Tamara Schillin
The recently completed "The Firefighters" (2008) is an homage to the six firefighters who perished tragically while battling a blaze in the windowless meat locker maze at the abandoned Worcester, MA Cold Storage warehouse on Friday, December 3, 1999. The harrowing ordeal made headlines revealing the stories of noble men: fathers, little league coaches, husbands, sons, brothers, neighbors… The story struck a chord with artist Keith Francis who awoke from a dream inspired and compelled to pay tribute to their bravery, to design and dedicate a memorial sculpture to the Worcester firefighters, Lt. Thomas E. Spencer; Timothy P. Jackson; Jeremiah M. Lucey; James F. "Jay" Lyons III; Joseph T. McGuirk; Paul A. Brotherton.
Spanning 7'-0", with a total weight of 1,860 lbs, "The Firefighters" Sculpture is achieved and is presently on prominent, albeit temporary display in the artist's garden in Mattapoisett, MA. It is strikingly modern in the natural landscape, a backdrop of tall slender trees and neighboring New England homes, which belong coincidentally and poignantly to two local firefighters.
The sculpture is six intertwined 3' x 3' stainless steel rings rising out of a granite pedestal base, each representing a firefighter. They are freestanding but intricately linked together, supporting each other, forming a unit and working as a team to form a whole. These bands are wedded, welded together from a firey flame, committed to each other forever. The swirling fluidity of the form like smoke rings wafting into thin air, like an unfurling fireman's hose has a lightness for all its mass and seems to be launched into weightlessness. As one moves around the form, the play of sunlight refracts and radiates off the dazzling surface, abstractions of grass and branches and sun rays fill in the constantly changing geometric shapes in the negative spaces; the piece seems alive and alight like fire itself. The 1500 lb pedestal base, a particularly dense type of granite, is not only aesthetically harmonious in its contrast, but symbolic as a marker of memory and permanence, and intriguing because of its properties, being an igneous stone formed from molten lava, a stone which spent its nascent state as smoldering fire. This bed of lava, as it were, is the base for the soldered stainless steel rings.
The ring form is a Jungian symbol of totality of human completeness. "Jung understood the symbol of the ring to represent the goal of the individuation process, which in his terminology, culminated in the totality of the self."1 Each ring is complete and each relies on the support of another for their particular angle and position in the group. The group forms the gestalt whole, as the team of Worcester firefighters who, bound together, met their fate. Anecdotally, it is interesting to note the sculpture was also fabricated as a team. Artist Keith Francis utilized the skill and manpower of a number of advisors, technicians, friends and aides, one of whom is an active volunteer firefighter. The process involved the use of an industrial crane, a tow truck, careful calculations and the muscles of many men to bring all the elements together. "An undertaking this large could not be accomplished without the assistance of others: Adam Katz, In-house custom and Volunteer Fairhaven Firefighter, James Manning, Curator, The New England School of Art & Design at Suffolk University, Charlie and Donald Green, Evergreen Sheet Metal, New Bedford, MA, Kenneth Correia, Retired New England Bedford Firefighter, Mattapoisett, MA and PICO Construction, New Bedford, MA."2
"It is an honor for me to share my completed artistic vision with others in a memorial to firefighters."3
The artist is currently seeking a permanent home and publicly-positioned place for the "The Firefighters" Sculpture and is presently welcoming such offers.
Keith Francis is an internationally acclaimed Graphic Designer with a successful Boston design firm, Francis Communications, and resides in Mattapoisett, MA. His work has been collected by museums, private and corporate collections nationwide. He has been reviewed worldwide in publications such as the Boston Globe, Boston Herald and the BBC. Francis was the official artist the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004 and is again designing for the DNC 2008 in Denver, Colorado. He has won prestigious awards for his achievement as the poster designer for the opening of the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge and the World Trade Center Memorial design search in New York. New work will appear in the upcoming September exhibit at New England School of Design at Suffolk University, 75 Arlington Street, Boston, MA, "String Theories" where he will give a gallery talk on Tuesday, October 7, at 1:00 p.m. Please visit http://www.franciscomm.com.
All images are courtesy of the artist.
Photographs by Kristen Walther.