Dawn Siebel knew she had a big project on her hands when she decided to undertake painting 343 individual portraits of the New York City firefighters who died on Sept. 11. Each tiny portrait begins with a block of burned wood that Seibel then adorns with the firefighter's bust as well as name and ladder company. She dubbed the project better angels: the firefighters of 9/11.
According to Siebel's website, it took over 3,000 hours and six years to create the works. She's actually still working on them, refining certain faces and updating ladder information as she gets it. But the pieces will be pretty much complete when better angels comes to Colorado Springs this Friday. The exhibit will hang from Aug. 31 through Sept. 11 at the Colorado Springs Fire Department Headquarters and Museum, 375 Printers Pkwy. Friday's opening reception, beginning at 11 a.m., will include Gov. John Hickenlooper, Mayor Steve Bach, CSFD Chief Rich Brown and Siebel herself.
Siebel was living in Colorado on 9/11, after residing in Manhattan for 22 years. Her connections with firefighters go deeper, though. After she moved away from Colorado, her old neighborhood in Boulder caught fire in 2010, destroying "about 90 percent" of her former neighbors' homes. That fire, the Fourmile Canyon Fire, held the record for most homes lost in a Colorado blaze, until the Waldo Canyon Fire this summer. The connection is not lost on Siebel, who goes on to write:
I often say that Colorado is where I learned about fire. It’s easy living in America’s cities to not have fire high in your awareness. Unless your own house burns, it’s not really on your radar. In America’s West, that’s not possible. Fire danger — and fire mitigation — is something everyone must consider.
Here are some samples from better angels. You can see all the portraits on Seibel's website: