Overwhelmed by the unfathomable loss of September 11, 2001, Mindy Kombert began to sketch boxes to represent each life lost. The sketch became a blueprint for the Flag of Remembrance that has found a permanent home at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, where it is currently on exhibit. The 20-foot-by-27-foot masterpiece created by Kombert and Sherry Kronenfeld, both Chappaqua residents was a labor of love that gave these women a way to process the events of that fateful day.
“I really felt the need, being a visual person, to visualize the scale of the loss,” says Kombert, a multi-talented artist. She had 12 pages and went to Kronenfeld with her first sketch. “I wanted to learn all about them and what had brought them all together on that day.”
Since the two women had been working together at a local design firm before they started this project, Kronenfeld knew it would be seamless. “Mindy and I have perfectly matched–that is, complementary– skills and talents, so our roles easily fell into place. She came up with the concept and handled the visuals, the graphics, the materials–ink and fabric, etc., and I did more of the organization and the communication.”
They suspended their business and formed a committee that grew into a not-for-profit. “It was very difficult initially, we met at my kitchen table,” says Kombert. “We had no idea what it would cost. “They found an anonymous donor to fund the project and received donations of materials and printing services.
“I took the skills I had, quilting and graphic design, and it evolved into a monument two stories high,” says Kombert. Kronenfeld did the press releases, the media outreach, the contacts and relationships with companies. She contacted all the World Trade Center companies who lost large numbers of employees and the city agencies (FDNY, NYPD, etc.) who lost first responders–to make sure as many people as possible knew about the project.
For ten years I photographed memorials and artwork–large and small–across the country made in response to the 9/11 attacks. The Flag of Remembrance is one of only a handful of objects or artworks I consider to be truly remarkable. Staggering in its scale, detail, and craftsmanship, this flag speaks powerfully to the zeal, compassion, and need to memorialize and speak publicly that was evident across the culture in the aftermath of the attacks. Though generically resembling an American flag, I stood before it the day it was hung the first time, humbled by its ability to be both deeply personal and speak viscerally about our nation’s grief. Indeed, it is a monument unto itself. – JONATHAN C. HYMAN
CNN correspondent Jeanne Moos caught wind of the project and highlighted it in one of her segments on 9/11 victims. Following that special, Kombert and Kronenfeld set up an 800 number to provide a convenient and quick way for people to contact them if they had any questions about the Flag or to send in photos for inclusion. However it also turned out to be a way for family members to tell them about the person they lost. “I had one woman, a widow, who called me several times just to talk about her daughter, who was living with her at the time of the attacks. She talked about what a wonderful daughter she was, how dedicated to her mother and to her job, and how much she was going to miss her,” says Kronenfeld. “In this and many other cases, it seemed to be therapeutic for the family members to talk, for them to communicate everything they could about the special person they had lost. Others were just as heart-wrenching, including several who asked if instead of one close-up photo–as we had indicated was optimum–they could have two in a photo, because they had lost two or more family members.”
The Flag was made by transferring victims’ photographs to individual pieces of fabric. The blue field with white stars was dedicated to uniformed first responders while the stripes of white and red were reserved for civilians. Each victim’s name and age were included. An image of a memorial candle accounted for those whom photographs were unavailable.
Deeded to the Museum in 2007, the Flag is now part of the museum’s permanent collection. Kombert kept it folded under her bed in Chappaqua for many years until it was transferred to the Museum’s conservation facility to ready it for the Museum. The Flag will hang for one year and then fall into a rotation schedule with other large works in the collection. “My hope is that it will be loaned or travel,” says Kombert. In addition to its debut at the Chappaqua Library in 2004, the red, white and blue muted-toned flag has been on display at the Kensico Dam memorial The Rising, the Liberty Plaza Marriott, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Doral Arrowwood Westchester.
“The project itself was gratifying, as we felt all along that we were doing everything we could to pay tribute and forever remember the victims of 9/11,” says Kronenfeld.
“The Flag is a reminder of the scale of the loss we suffered,” says Kombert. “I am so happy that it is where it belongs.”
For more information, please visit www.911memorial.org.