“I’ve been lying awake thinking about your beautiful ‘Stacks’ sculpture and how I always see a ‘school library’ when I look at it… but the unfathomable loss of 26 precious souls at the Sandy Hook School [is] never leaving my mind. As I’m sure you know, 20 children ages 6 or 7 perished (12 girls, 8 boys) along with 6 of their educators (all female). Lucy, where I’m going with this: would you consider a commission to create a glass sculpture paying tribute to the 26 tragic victims?”
So read the e-mail sent by retired Curtis Packaging Co. owner Don Droppo, Sr, to Santa Fe, N.M., glass artist Lucy Lyon, in the early morning hours of December 21, 2012.
That connection has resulted in the creation of a memorial sculpture that will be unveiled at a public reception on Sunday, June 29, from 1 to 4 pm, at Curtis Packaging Co., 44 Berkshire Road in Sandy Hook.
“When I was president of Curtis Packaging, from 1989 until 2012 when I retired, I used to think of my role as one of stewardship,” Mr Droppo said Thursday, June 12. Originally a business producing combs and buttons from bone and hooves easily available in the area in the mid-1800s, since 1900 Curtis Packaging has been recognized worldwide for the printed folding cartons it produces. It is that sense of belonging to the Sandy Hook community and the desire to give back that prodded Mr Droppo to move beyond the initial feeling of helplessness to do “something,” to being a catalyst for the creation of a tangible “something” that would provide a sense of solace to anyone viewing it.
“It was a sense of loss you can’t describe. The children are everybody’s children, the teachers are your teachers, the staff is your staff,” Mr Droppo described his feelings. The “something,” he thought, would have to honor and remember “the beautiful lives” in a way that was as beautiful as the lives they had lived.
Lucy Lyon came to mind as a person who might help.
“About six or eight years ago, I visited Santa Fe for the first time. There are galleries everywhere, and I went in about 50 of them and bought nothing. In the fifty-first, though, I saw a sculpture of a library [Lucy Lyon] had done. The moment I saw it, I loved it and knew I had to have it,” Mr Droppo said. “I love books. They are special to me. I’ve never gotten one of the electronic books. I like to turn pages, and feel them. I like the covers,” said Mr Droppo of his attraction to the “Stacks” sculpture.
Ms Lyon is a well-known glass artist from a town near Pojoaque, N.M., whose art usually focuses on the human figure and people’s interactions with one another. She is a 1971 graduate of Antioch College in Ohio, and studied at Pilchuck Glass School in Washington. Her works have been exhibited in numerous public and private institutions.
The sculpture Mr Droppo had shipped to his Southbury home has three cast glass figurines among book stacks, the shelves filled with books crafted from stained glass.
It had happened that earlier in 2012, Mr Droppo had knocked over one figure, breaking it. Not satisfied with repairs attempted, he contacted the artist directly and asked if she could make another figure to replace his.
“She said yes, and we corresponded back and forth. She was in the process of making that figure for me, on December 14,” Mr Droppo said, so he is not surprised that Ms Lyon finally came to mind for the commission.
He suggested a work similar to the sculpture he owned, “26 book stacks or shelves or books disappearing…” and urged her to take her time to consider the project.
“I really enjoyed working with Don Droppo,” Ms Lyon said in a phone interview on June 16. “He gave me a lot of leeway in what I would do.” Initially, she hesitated to say yes to the idea. “I was kind of overwhelmed,” said Ms Lyon, but after reflecting upon the request, decided she would do it.
In addition to “Stacks,” Ms Lyon said she has done a number of other library works. The library setting seemed perfect for this commission.
“A library speaks of education and teachers,” she said. Using stained glass for the books on the shelves seemed right, as well.
“You do see stained glass in cathedrals,” she pointed out, “so it seemed perfect for the memorial.”
Almost immediately Ms Lyon knew that her signature figurines would not work for this sculpture, determining instead that cast glass, empty chairs would be more appropriate.
“This seemed a much more poignant way to honor them, but it was a step outside of my comfort zone, with no figures. The absence of the figures is what speaks to me,” she said.
Symbolism And Simplicity
By the early months of 2013, Ms Lyon had provided Mr Droppo with an initial sketch: six book cases representing the educators who had died, surrounding 20 empty chairs. The books would be multicolored stained glass, the school chairs of opaque cast glass. Only the date etched on the floor of the piece between two shelves would refer directly to the tragedy of 12/14. It was a design Mr Droppo — an accountant by trade but a student also of architecture — liked, for its symbolism, simplicity, and beauty. Books equal knowledge and learning, he said, so the school library theme resonated. He had the opportunity to travel to Santa Fe in December 2013 and see the work in progress, and meet the artist for the first time.
The chairs were the most challenging part of the process for her, said Ms Lyon.
“I actually looked online at the kinds of chairs used in the Sandy Hook School, and then I needed to get them to a small scale, because they are children’s chairs,” she said.
“When I saw the chairs in the pastel colors, it took my breath away. For me, that really connected it,” Mr Droppo said.
The sculpture was finished in early 2014. It went on view at LewAllen Gallery in Santa Fe in April.
“Santa Fe has a big art scene. Normally, shows are written up in an art magazine that goes in the Friday paper. This time, it was actually a news story,” Ms Lyon said, “so there were all kinds of people coming in [to the gallery] to see it. People were really touched by it.”
It was, she said, a very different experience from having other shows. Following the presentation at LewAllen Gallery, the sculpture was shipped to Sandy Hook.
“I saw it bit by bit as we unpacked it, first,” Mr Droppo said, and then in its entirety for the first time when it was set up in the lobby of Curtis Packaging.
Ms Lyon will attend the June 29 reception, and speak at approximately 2 pm.
“I’m glad I’m coming to Sandy Hook. It has been a long, and very emotional, process. It will feel like it completes the circle,” she said.
On View Through July
“The Sandy Hook Memorial” can be viewed through the end of July at Curtis Packaging, Monday through Friday between 9 am to 4 pm. After that, Mr Droppo hopes another organization, library, or school will accept it so that it can be in a more public place. Organizations or businesses interested in providing a permanent space for the sculpture, which measures 21 inches tall, by 26 inches by 33 inches, can contact Mr Droppo at Donzct@aol.com.
Despite its name, Mr Droppo said he never envisioned the sculpture as an actual memorial, nor is it his intent to compete with the work being done by the Permanent Memorial Committee in Newtown. It provides him with a sense of completion, he said. He hopes that anyone who has the opportunity to view the sculpture will feel the same.
“It was something I felt compelled to do. When I look at it, I get a very warm feeling, thinking about those kids, the teachers, and the staff. It just reminds me, I’m not going to forget them.
“I think,” he said, “that may be the intent: That anyone who sees it will be reminded.”