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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, September 11, 2002
Sept. 11

Art imitates life Art imitates life (September 11, 2002)

Midpeninsulans find solace from tragedy in creative works

by Katy Chase

The immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedy left many groping for answers -- looking to officials, loved ones, religion and within themselves for some sense of understanding or closure.

Two Midpeninsula residents, Tricia Greenwood and HernĚn Gamarra, turned to art as a means of expressing their feelings about the tragedy.

Like many of us, Greenwood spent the hours, days and weeks following Sept. 11 fixated on the glow of the TV screen, waiting for the latest update and trying to fathom the scope of the horrors flashing before her eyes.

"Even at work, I wanted to listen to the radio, but my boss said it was unprofessional," said Greenwood, who works as a graphic designer. She switched it on every day as she commuted home from Palo Alto to Sunnyvale, "just to see if they'd found anybody, just to hear some good news." But the overwhelming tragedy took its toll on Greenwood, who lost both of her parents within three years as a teenager.

She arrived home from her guitar lesson Sept. 30 deep in thought, pondering the best way to contribute to the nation's healing. A song she had written the year before, "In Heaven," surfaced in her mind. It was composed in tribute to her friend, Chris, who was fighting a losing battle with cancer.

Remembering how the spare, spiritual ballad had brought such comfort to Chris' relatives at the funeral and afterward, she concluded that maybe music -- her longtime love, but never her career -- could again pave the path toward healing.

She rewrote only one verse to reflect Sept. 11: "Sometimes I know it feels/Like the pain will never end/Life will never be the same/It takes time for hearts to mend." The song --the first she has shared with the world -- features her soothing second alto vocals (and harmonies by friend LeeLee Stone) over the understated acoustic guitar of friend and teacher James Robinson.

"My heart goes out to the people who were killed," Greenwood said, "but the people who were left behind are the ones left here to endure the loss." The song's lyrics describe the trials of recovering from a loss or trying to comfort those left behind, ending with an image of reuniting with loved ones in heaven.

"It gives people hope that this isn't the end," said Greenwood, whose faith in God is central to her music and life. "Music can really help people open themselves and be ready for change. Only God can renew your mind."

When selling the single in stores turned out not to be financially feasible, she began mailing out copies, including some to relatives of Sept. 11 victims. She has sent out more than 300 CDs so far, and will continue to do so for those who request it.

"I don't want to make a dime off this," she said. "I want to give it away."

Greenwood is currently working on a full-length CD, "Love and Fear," which she hopes to release in May.

Redwood City resident HernĚn Gamarra felt similar inspiration watching the aftermath of Sept. 11 unfold. He created a watercolor painting of firefighters sifting through the wreckage at Ground Zero.

"After the attack, like most American citizens, I was thinking maybe there's something I can do," said Gamarra, who moved to the Peninsula from Peru 35 years ago. "After I saw the pictures on TV, I decided to make a composition and offer a tribute to the American people."

He sat in front of the TV with a pad and pencil, making sketches for two months as the towers fell, chaos burned through the streets of New York and workers sifted through seemingly endless mountains of debris.

The painting -- with a mood Gamarra calls "so pacific" -- seems to capture the scene even before the dust has settled on lower Manhattan. While its eerie, ashy stillness is clearly a memorial to the victims, it focuses on the people who are still alive and dealing with the aftermath.

He shared his work with the world by taking it to a caf╚, where one woman burst into tears upon seeing it.

An artist by nature but not by training, Gamarra went into business painting houses upon moving to the United States -- a career he continued until his recent retirement. But he always thought about painting as an art, he said, adding "you're born with your artistic eyes."

Gamarra opted to explore his artistic inclination, signing up for a semester of watercolor classes at Canada College in Redwood City.

"I didn't learn anything!" he said. Disappointed but undeterred, Gamarra made the Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Redwood City libraries his university, learning by studying dozens of watercolor books and "practicing day and night."

He settled on landscapes, still life and flowers as his favorite subjects. Retired from house painting, Gamarra now wants to devote himself full time to watercolor.

His next project? A phoenix rising from the ashes of the World Trade Center site.

Weekly senior writer Pam Sturner contributed to this report. A high-quality mp3 of "In Heaven" can be downloaded for free at


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