My name is William Alford and I was at 400 17th Street East in the Forest Lake Neighborhood on April 27, 2011 when it was destroyed by an F5 tornado (I’ll never admit it was an F4, as officially claimed, because I can’t envision a greater disaster than this). The home I was in was severely damaged and my wife Leah, her mother Hope Hamilton, and I escaped death by preparation, circumstance, and grace. Hope passed away several months after the storm and was listed as the 53rd victim of the tornado event. Leah has chronicled her memories of our experiences on that fateful day on her blog at http://catwoodsporchparty.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/tornado-on-the-ground-tuscaloosa-april-27-2011-3/.
I have been in the Forest Lake neighborhood almost daily since the event and have walked the entire area, communed with neighbors, and done what I could to contribute to recovery. After a few months of attending to the imperatives of insurance, security, and reconstruction, I began to fully feel the sense of loss. Before that I had been operating on adrenaline in the haste to attend to unbearable demands and compartmentalized my feelings for another day. Now I began to think that this enormous life-changing event for so very many should be captured in some way to give homage to all the aspects of the disaster. One of my many hats is that of an artist-blacksmith and I am one of the founding members of the Alabama Forge Council, so I am pre-disposed to think in terms of metal. One afternoon I was helping a neighbor (Tanya Mikulas, who has wonderful photos of the tornado aftermath on her website at http://scalephotography.com/category/tornado-debris/) watch for feral cats during a home demolition and observed the removal of a cast-iron bathtub from the debris. Then the lightbulb went off — use these cast iron tubs from actual destroyed homes to make a memorial plaque to commemorate the loss. The homeowner graciously donated the two tubs and helped to load them into my trailer for transport. Since then many more tubs have been collected and we now have about 2,000 lbs of iron to work with. Photos to come.
Johnny Williams is an old and dear friend who heads Alabama Art Casting at Tannehill State Park (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alabama-Art-Casting/158958187458472) and I knew he would be interested in such a project and a quick phone call confirmed this. Since then the project has matured and evolved and many people have contributed to the outcome. On this blog I will chronicle the project as it moves forward and I invite you to visit often and see if you might play a role in its progress. My final art concept is that the cast-iron plaque will rest atop a brick pedestal made entirely of bricks from damaged or destroyed homes and the front of the pedestal will have a mural composed of personal items found in the debris field that represent aspects of life in the neighborhood that were lost: children’s toys, doorknobs to homes, parts of automobiles, rosary beads, etc. At this stage, test “sketches in iron” have been poured and will be on display at the One-Year Memorial ceremony at Coleman Coliseum on April 27, 2012. This is a difficult artform and will be a challenge to bring to fruition, but should be a memorial that will endure for decades to come so that this day will not be forgotten.
This image below is of the test iron pours that may be sold to raise money for the final construction and even possible property location. This process is still being developed and I will report as it progresses. The billets shown are 3 inches x 6 inches and the graphic image is taken from the larger plaque (still to come) and represents the neighborhood (small squares are homes) and the loss is indicated by the negative space in the shape of the storm monster.
IRON CASTINGS OF MEMORIAL IMAGE – photo by Tanya Mikulas