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One of the great challenges in coping with terrible events like the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 is finding a way to appropriately memorialize the fallen. It fell to Sisters Country artist Lawrence Stoller to help create a memorial to 11 American Express employees who were killed when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center collapsed after being struck by planes flown by al Qaida terrorists on that Tuesday morning 20 years ago.

In an article in Lapidary Magazine, Stoller recalled:

“Shortly after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, my wife, Sunni, and I pictured a giant crystal installed at Ground Zero. We shared a vision of a monument that would bring badly needed light and healing to our country’s collective wound. Nearly a year later a friend in the mineral business called from New York. Harvey Siegel, owner of Aurora Minerals, asked if I would be interested in being part of a project to memorialize the 11 employees from American Express who had died in the World Trade Center attacks. Before my mind could formulate an answer, my heart said, ‘Yes, of course.’ I was humbled by the extraordinary opportunity and the profound honor of being part of such an undertaking…

“The memorial was to consist of an 11-sided pool of water, around which the names of those who had died would be inscribed, one to each side. Behind each name, a five-line description of each person, supplied by family members, would appear etched beneath the surface of the water, with the words ‘September 11, 2001,’ inscribed in the center. The pool would be mirrored by a matching, 11-sided canopy in the 35-foot ceiling. Both uniting and creating tension between this heaven and earth, an 11-sided crystal suspended by 11 cables would hover two inches above the water, the crystal’s image mirrored in the reflecting pool. Drops of water would intermittently fall from 11 small holes in the ceiling symbolizing tears for each of those lost; thus the name, Eleven Tears.”

The work was intense and demanding. Looking back on it, Stoller sees how the terrible events of the time, and the effort to appropriately memorialize the fallen, created a sense of unity and solidarity that is often missing from our discourse today. In a note to The Nugget, Stoller reflected on his relationship with his colleague Peter W. Small, a Sisters resident who died in 2010:

“Peter W. Small and I had a relationship which stands as a touchstone for me as I watch our country and our world become ever more polarized,” Stoller said. “Peter was an exceptional craftsman, engineer, and metal worker. We joined forces in the late 1990s when I commandeered him to do bronze and metal work to compliment my lapidary and large gem and crystal carvings. When I was commissioned by American Express to do the centerpiece for their Eleven Tears Memorial, they asked how long the project would take. I told them the last large project I did took three years. They said, “you have seven months to get this done,” in honor of those who were lost.

Peter was there to help me with the intricate metal work and engineering of the sculpture. We would work for hours at a time problem-solving and doing the tedious work of bringing the sculpture to form.

“Our time working was spontaneously laced with humor and observations about what was important in life. But when it came to politics and religion, Peter and I were diametrically opposed. If we started riffing on either a political or religious topic, we would quickly become embedded in our ingrained, righteous beliefs. While these discussions could get heated, one or the other of us would artfully break the spell of our entrenched positions with a joke, usually at our own expense.

“As staunch as our individual beliefs were, we always surrendered them to the overriding truth that our friendship and creative process were far more real, and important than our well-worn, unbending beliefs. I think I can speak for Peter in saying that we both learned and grew from the creativity of our relationship. Working on the memorial was a symbol and reflection of the destructive power intolerance can proliferate. And that it is incumbent upon each of us to set our own intolerance aside for our own good, and the greater good.”