Healing Power of Art Helps 9/11 Grief - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Healing Power of Art Helps 9/11 Grief

Henrietta Whitcomb Henrietta Whitcomb
David Whitcomb David Whitcomb
Art by Jack Kronenbusch Art by Jack Kronenbusch
Terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001 Terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001

Sep 11, 2006 03:39 PM

by Diane Ako

HONOLULU (KHNL)- Immediately after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Americans responded with an outpouring of art. Now, on the eve of the 5th anniversary of the attacks, we look at how art helps heal.

In a sunny studio in a Diamond Head home, Henrietta Whitcomb sits down at her easel. She likes to paint beautiful scenes from nature- sometimes, to counter any ugly moments in her life. "One of the things about art that's really healing is that it makes you focus on something else."

That something else, for many people, was the tragedy on 9/11. It inspired countless pieces of art- in photographs, video, paintings, sculpture, and more. Not all of that art was angry. Some of it, like Whitcomb's pretty scenic canvases, simply help process emotion through the act of painting. "I think it really is very, very subjective."

Whitcomb lives half the year in Oahu and the other half in Manhattan. Her Greenwich Village apartment is less than 2 miles from Ground Zero. Henrie was on the streets walking home from a doctor's appointment when the buildings crashed down. Her husband Dave Whitcomb was in the air en route to Charleston when the first WTC building fell. While she says she wasn't afraid, she was upset by the attack on American soil. "It was a horrible experience but it was also an experience we learned from and responded to very positively."

For a long time, one of the principal focuses of her art has been drawing tree trunks, though the pace seemingly has accelerated the past few years. You'll see more tree trunks than anything else among the pieces in her studio. What drew her to tree trunks? I asked her today and her quick answer was "roots".

This makes psychological sense, because Henrie has a powerful sense of ohana. She has very close family ties in Hawaii, to relatives like her mother, her brother and his family, and her sister-in-law. Henrie is also very much the center of her large group of friends, an extended ohana that she brings together.

I wondered if her accelerated pace of drawing tree trunks might also have anything to do with her psychological reaction (common with so many New Yorkers) to 9/11? In addition to roots, trees have strong trunks; despite this strength, they get blown down. However, they grow again.

Interestingly, when I walked into Henrie's studio this morning, she had by her easel a photo she had taken some time ago; and she was beginning to cogitate on how to paint it. It shows a group of seven trees with other trees around and in the background. Two of the trees are especially large, strong and tall. I was instantly reminded of the Twin Towers, because as you know the WTC comprised 7 buildings amid the Wall Street conglomeration; and two were so huge nobody ever imagined that they would fall in the lifetime of anyone alive.

Ironically, on September 11, she is flying to New York with husband Dave. "We're flying on the 11th of September and I don't think either one of us thinks that's especially dangerous."

Henrie adds, "There's nothing to be afraid of. Life is very unpredictable. I believe and always have that if it happens, it happens. I can't live my life being afraid."

Will it be an emotional day for these long-time Manhattanites? Dave mulls it over. "It's going to be a very sad anniversary and I'm sure it'll strike home to both of us when we get to New York that day."

Henrie nods and mentions, "New Yorkers are very flexible and very able to heal because there's so much around them they can identify with. It speaks to being able to survive. It speaks to being able not to let adversity put you down but to be able to pick yourself up that day and after that."

Even by the very act of flying on 9/11, the Whitcombs are in a small, unplanned way, defying the terrorists.

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