Remembrance and Solace: Memoria Project In Highlands

October 27, 2011
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HIGHLANDS — Ten years after the tragic events that inspired the artistic effort, the huge creative endeavor that is the Memoria Project has been permanently installed in Highlands. The dedication ceremony was held Sunday, October 23.

Those involved in the nearly decade-long project came to the borough’s Veterans Park, Bay Avenue, late Sunday afternoon for the formal dedication of the two large white marble sculptures that form the centerpiece of the project, along with five inscribed granite stones, that make up what is the Memoria Project.

Stephen Shaheen, designer of the Memoria Project, at the dedication ceremony on October 23, 2011. /Photo by John Burton

The artist who conceived the project, Stephen Shaheen, announced that the borough “really does own this” now. “And they really worked their butts off to make this happen.”

The project honors and memorializes the loss of life experienced by Monmouth County from the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks.

The county had seen 146 of its sons and daughters perish that fateful day and Shaheen and others involved sought to establish a lasting tribute.

“I ask you tonight to think about what that legacy is,” Shaheen said to the crowd, as they gathered by the huge sculptures (each weighs more than 100-tons) and the newly laid sod on the park’s Memorial Hill.

Following those terrible events, Shaheen, a New York-based artist and designer, worked with craftsmen with whom he had worked in Italy, and received permission to work at Gateway National Recreational Area at Sandy Hook, to take the two large blocks of Vermont white marble and create the sculptures. They are intended to be both a lasting tribute and an educational tool.

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The artist and those assisting him decided on Sandy Hook to create their artwork, because they wanted a public space where visitors could view the process and participate, according to information provided by the Memoria Project.

In his comments to the audience on hand at the 1.7-acre park situated in the borough’s business district, Shaheen read Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, which says “all works of art eventually disintegrates into dust,” as Shaheen explained it.

“Shelley is correct, nothing does last,” Shaheen conceded, at least about the actual physical artifact. But emotions and memories, handed down and continuously evoked, do last, the artist said. “That will stand in their community forever,” he said.

“What we’ve captured here is a story,” noted Evan Urbania, who chairs the project’s board.

“This is designed to be a place of remembrance and solace,” Urbania said as he looked upon the sculptures that towered over him in the background. But it is also a time to create new memories, he added.

The Memoria Project is dedicated to the victims of the attacks on September 11, 2011./ Photo by John Burton

Afterwards, Mayor Frank Nolan said of having his community as the project’s permanent home, “obviously, it’s humbling.” But it is, “without question a positive thing on that very negative day.”

The Memoria Project was a grassroots effort with hundreds of people, including some family members and friends of the victims, offering financial support and the labor to bring it to a realization.

“It was the result of many people coming together,” Shaheen said, with them “most of the time just getting your hands dirty.”

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