By JEAN ZEHRINGER GIESIGE
On the evening of Sept. 10, 2001, Jessica Stammen, 21 at the
time, attended a meeting of the leadership team at St. Paul’s
Chapel in Manhattan, N.Y. The team was planning a service to
reach out to the young creative arts community in the neighborhood,
and Stammen had agreed to return to the church at 8:30 a.m.
the following morning to pick up flyers advertising the service.
The next morning, she overslept, not by a little, but by a lot.
She couldn’t think about the flyers or the church —
she was in such a hurry to get to her art class at Cooper Union,
a liberal arts college in Manhattan, that she didn’t even
listen to the radio while she made her way to school. She did
not yet know about the event that would change her life and
the lives of everyone around her.
She learned about the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center
as she arrived at school.
“Everybody was just dumbfounded,” she said. “We
went out during a break and watched the buildings burn. It was
such a shocking thing that no one knew what to do. We all sat
in our classes for another hour before a professor finally told
us to go home.”
Although it would take her weeks and months to recover from
that feeling of shock, as an artist she had the sense that the
images of that day had to be captured.
“I don’t really know what I was thinking, but a
couple of my roommates and I grabbed cameras and tried to get
as close to the buildings as we could. We just saw so much,”
she said. “Like everyone else in the city, we were walking
around aimlessly, trying to register what was going on —
which never really happened. I told myself I needed to be as
close as possible or as far away as possible. I could not deal
with anything in between.”
Stammen, who spent part of her childhood in Celina, and who
is the granddaughter of Pete and Lou Ann Stammen of St. Henry,
stayed as close as possible to ground zero in the days following
the attack. Her church, St. Paul’s, became a center of
solace for rescue volunteers — the historic church, where
George Washington once prayed, even took the unusual step of
closing to the public so that it could better serve its new
and weary congregation. Stammen spent days there dishing up
food and comfort.
“I was obsessed with feeding people,” she said.
“We organized the food, we made sure people were getting
coffee. It was very much about food. But St. Paul’s was
also serving spiritual food, offering counseling so that people’s
spirits could be renewed after they had been gnawed at by their
Almost as immediate and as compelling, she said, was her urge
to express everything she was feeling through art. The church’s
pastor, Rev. Lyndon Harris, told her, “We need an artist
down here,” and within the first hours after the attack,
“he had named me the unofficial artist-in-residence.”
One of Stammen’s first projects was to recruit her fellow
art students, round up donated art supplies and make 23 six-foot-square
banners that were hung around the church yard, facing out.
“Each banner had one word, or maybe a passage from scripture.
One banner just said, ‘Courage.’ The banners were
a way for us to face out to war, to say that we are a community
that has pride, that has hope, and we’re going to confront
this,” she said.
Stammen continued to volunteer at the church. Gradually the
dust, smoke and rubble cleared, along with her thinking. She
came to understand that going back to school, after what had
happened to her neighborhood and her adopted city, was impossible.
“I was completely dysfunctional, as were many students,”
But not completely. Out of the ashes came an idea. With the
support of a benefactor, Stammen received and used a piece of
a steel beam from the World Trade Center’s towers to create
seven large steel-and-bronze chalices that represent the sense
of hope and survival that was born on Sept. 12. The bowls of
the chalices, cupped by bronze hands, rest on replicas of the
columns of the twin towers.
Stammen, who had never undertaken such a project before, had
to rely on the help of others to walk her through the process.
Her mother, Jo Ellen Stammen, a former illustrator of children’s
books and now a painter living with her family (Jessica’s
father, Tom Stammen, and her two brothers) in Camden, Maine,
helped her work through her feelings during the long and difficult
“When I felt like I wanted to give up, she would give
me a boost,” Stammen said.
She was aware that the project was not exactly her own.
“When an artist works in a private studio, it is very
important that you are pursuing a personal vision very passionately,
without any compromises,” she said. “But when you
are working on a project that I thought of as a very public
piece, meant for community use, you have to realize that it’s
about a lot more than yourself.”
The chalices have become very public pieces. Six of them have
found homes in such places as the Smithsonian, at St. John the
Divine Church in New York and at Stammen’s church, St.
Paul’s. The seventh will tour churches around the country;
Stammen is planning to bring it to this area next spring.
For now, Stammen is substitute teaching in the same school district
in Camden where her father works, taking this time to map out
the details of the tour, and to tell the story of Sept. 11 and
the days that followed and how God worked through people to
turn darkness into light. Someday, she plans to return to graduate
school and continue studying art. For now, she has to tell this
Immediately after the terrorist attack, she said, hundreds of
would-be volunteers were turned away from the World Trade Center
site and its environs. So many people wanted to help. With the
chalices, people can connect with that part of the national
memory, can draw hope and courage from the sight and feel of
the metal that survived.
“For the people who didn’t make it to the site,
it’s an amazing thing for them to be able to touch the
steel, to see the banners from the church” that accompany
the chalice, Stammen said. “I don’t think that people
would have had the same reaction to the chalices if we hadn’t
used that steel. Everyone wants to have some contact point with
something that came from the site.”
For Stammen, the chalices have come to represent what her pastor
has called the Sept. 12 Community — a community of hope
“I want people to experience the hope that came out of
that community, the hope that made it possible for the physical
and spiritual nature of the site to be transformed,” she
said. “That’s what this chalice is all about. It
says that God can transform us absolutely.”