A year ago, members of Toledo's firefighting and arts community began working on plans to replace the aging Last Alarm firefighters' memorial downtown.
Today, the fruits of their effort will be unveiled.
Three designs have been selected as finalists for a new memorial, estimated to cost $500,000. The designs will be displayed during the annual fire memorial service at noon today in Chub DeWolfe Park, across from fire headquarters.
"The finest and most original came to the top," said Adam Russell, art in public places assistant for the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo.
The designs, which range from traditional to contemporary, were selected from just over 70 submissions from across the United States and China.
The winner could be chosen by the end of August or early September.
PAULA SLATER AND TEAM Enlarge
One artist was a finalist for the World Trade Center memorial. Another is working with a partner who is a finalist for the Art Tatum memorial. The third is the only artist with a piece in Toledo and the only one who has other firefighter memorials.
Norman Lee, 35, of Texas was one of eight finalists for the World Trade Center memorial, the first competition he entered. He said he was short-listed for the Tatum memorial and was a finalist to design a piece for the Freedom Museum in the Chicago Tribune Tower.
Mr. Lee, who designs museum exhibits and interpretive centers, said he wanted to blend symbolism and narrative and find a way to mold the story of the fire department with firefighters' memories.
"One of the major elements is the historical timeline bench. I propose that images from the Toledo Firefighters Museum could be used as part of the design. We're not trying to use a bronze sculpture to convey the firefighting history, but actual photographs from the time they were taken."
The historical photographs would be sandblasted into the stone bench and could be changed or added to over time.
Mr. Lee's design includes two rows of five gateways clad in brass alloy panels awash in a thin veil of water. The interior sides of each panel will have semi-opaque glass panels etched with the names of firefighters who died in the line of duty.
A garden of shamrocks, which Mr. Lee said are used in firefighting insignia and come from many early firefighters being of Irish descent, would be nearby. At night, the panels and intervening floor space are back-lighted to unify the gateway panels and passage.
Mr. Lee said his design uses firefighting traditions in a subtle way - such as brass, which is suggestive of fire poles, badges, and nozzles.
"It's a living memorial, a continuity of history," he said.
Paula Slater, a 54-year-old sculptor from California, said she has been excited about the Toledo project "for a long time."
Six or eight months ago, she said she was contacted about it by retired firefighter George Costic, who found her online and liked her bronze sculpture work. She sent him her resum and examples of her work.
Ms. Slater said she applied when the arts commission sent requests for proposals, partly because she has relatives who are firefighters and paramedics.
Her partner, Brad Bourgoyne, a graphic engineer from Louisiana, is a finalist for the Tatum memorial, Mr. Russell said.
Ms. Slater would sculpt the four, life-size bronze firefighters - at least one of whom is of a prior generation - and a paramedic with child in her design.
She said Mr. Bourgoyne would handle the site plan - which includes stainless-steel flames, two water jets, an eternal flame, a replica of the current marker, and a nighttime beam of light shooting skyward through the steel and illuminating mist from the water.
Each side of the tribute is different. One shows firefighters shooting water onto the steel flames, forming a cascade. A second is the eternal flame and a wall etched with the fire emblem and the names of the fallen firefighters. The third side has an image of the current memorial.
"[Mr. Bourgoyne] came back to me with this design, the form of it. I was just blown away. This is just elegant," Ms. Slater said. "I think it will just be a monument that Toledo, Ohio, could be proud of for centuries."
The former painter said she has created life-sized busts of congressmen and senators, was commissioned for a piece for an orthopedic hospital in Indianapolis, and is a finalist for the new Lincoln memorial in Kentucky.
She said she just finished a piece of a life-size, full-figure miner for a memorial commemorating a mining accident in Port Huron, Mich.
The third artist is Hai Ying Wu, a sculptor who lives in Washington state and China. He designed a memorial at Elm and Champlain streets in North Toledo that commemorates the bloody 1934 strike at the former Electric Auto-Lite factory. That memorial was dedicated in 2001.
Mr. Wu, who currently is in China, has designed other firefighter memorials in Seattle and Arizona and has sculptures across the United States. He was reached via e-mail, but did not respond to questions in time for this report.
His proposed design consists of sculptures of two firefighters and two rescue workers atop granite slabs and boulders with an American flag on a nearby flagpole. Among the tools with the fire and rescue personnel are a hose and a ladder.
The realistic, exaggerated poses are to emphasize the "intensity of battle" the firefighters are engaged in, strength, and stability, according to information included with the design.
The boulders have three meanings - imitating a building as it collapsed around the firefighters, showing the dangers they face; giving space to engrave the names of the fallen heroes and donors, and depicting pillars of solid rock, conveying strength of spirit behind the names of the fallen.
The arts commission will pay each artist $2,500 to develop their submissions into three-dimensional models and to bring them to Toledo for presentations, tentatively scheduled for the first week of August.
Public hearings will be held for input on the designs, Mr. Russell said.
The project's design review board, which includes those from the art and firefighting communities, will review the public comments and make the final selection, said Marc Folk, executive director of the arts commission.
Construction won't begin until the money for the tribute is raised. That process has begun, but could take a year or two. Some donations have trickled in and a citywide retirement party for former Fire Chief Mike Bell, now the state fire marshal, garnered some cash.
The bash brought in more than $25,000, but organizers are sorting out expenses.
The proceeds will be split between the memorial and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Toledo, said Sue Cervantes, secretary/treasurer of Toledo Firefighters Local 92 and a member of the project's fund-raising committee.
"We have quite a bit to go. We're building up our kitty. Slowly, but surely, we're building it up," she said.
Ms. Cervantes said it will be easier to solicit funds once the final design has been selected. Fund-raising ideas include parties and selling commemorative items.
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