An Early Birthday Present For Me From My Father

I met my father for lunch today, and he had an early birthday present for me. It was a piece of the above mural in a picture frame, along with a brief description.

About Yakov's Mural
After 9/11, Yakov Smirnoff used his art as an outlet for his grief. He created the painting "America's Heart" including a special message that reflected his belief in the human condition.

"The human spirit is not measured by the size of the act, but by the size of the heart."

Yakov shares that, "Along with so many people, I was stunned as I watched the images on television on the morning of September 11; and what made this devastation even more grievous was to know that what I was watching was coming from New York harbor, which is the home of the Statue of Liberty. She had to stand there and watch our American landscape changing in front of her very eyes, never to be the same. And yet she stood there, together and strong without wavering. I think it's a wonderful metaphor for all of us, to stand there, together and strong, without wavering, in love and not fear."

In his book, "America On Six Rubles A Day", Yakov talks about his feelings as he became a citizen of the United States of America:

"July 4, 1986, is a date I'll never forget. It was then that the Statue of Liberty ceremonies were held at Ellis Island and I was sworn in as an American citizen. Now, no matter what date you become a citizen, it will be a thrill like none you've ever had before. It was a double thrill for me because I was chosen to represent California at that ceremony. Then came the unveiling of the newly renovated Statue of Liberty. Like a lot of you, I hoped that they hadn't modernized her too much. But my worries were for nothing. She was as beautiful as ever, and I couldn't take my eyes off her. I was oblivious to everything around me; it was like I was in a trance."

The Statue of Liberty is a predominate symbol for Yakov. You'll find her in his show, many of his paintings, and in his personal life. While painting "America's Heart" Yakov became convinced that "this has to be a mural at Ground Zero". The story of the mural for New York City is complete with twists and turns that took over a year to make this gift happen. Yakov says, "I was driven from the moment I painted "America's Heart" to place a huge banner at Ground Zero. I wanted it to happen immediately but with the search for a suitable building it took just under a year to complete everything. And maybe that was the point, because we put the mural up in the pre-dawn hours immediately prior to the 9/11 '02 Memorial Services at the World Trade Center and the impact on me seeing that was overwhelming."

As the eyes of the world returned to Ground Zero on September 11, 2002, they were met by Yakov's work, over 200 feet tall and 135 feet wide, unfurled from the New York skyline. Brokaw, Jennings, and Rather used it as the backdrop for their news coverage. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and news media from around the world broadcasted it all day long. Millions saw the message and now recognize the painting, but few knew who the artist was nor where the mural had come from.

"We just wanted to give something to the people of New York and the rest of the country. The Memorial Services were about the families of the victims and the remembrance of this terrible thing that had been done to us. The mural was something to help reinforce and uplift, it wasn't the focus, -- it was a backdrop for our spirits. Since that time we've had a lot of visitors who recognize the painting and asked about how it came to be at Ground Zero," says Yakov.

Over the course of 2002, Yakov traveled to New York several times talking to the owners of every building at Ground Zero and researching with the City of New York the possibilities of putting up this mural. "For the longest time it looked like it was simply an impossibility to make this work, meet the codes, find an appropriate building, and even find someone to put a mural this huge up," says Yakov, "then I found out that the owners of the building at 90 West Street lived in Iowa. I was ready to hop a plane to present my vision in person to the owners, but once they heard the concept, they loved the idea and agreed to let the mural go up on their building."

The mural was printed in Ohio and sixty New York Sheet Metal Union Workers from Local 137 volunteered to put the mural in place. "Seeing the mural at Ground Zero has helped me reaffirm my participation in the American Journey. Once again, we joined together to give each other support and love in the worst of times. That's something about being an American, living in freedom, that no terrorist can take away from us. Our ability to overcome and maintain the real vision of the human spirit."

After hanging for over a year at Ground Zero, the mural was torn in November of 2003 by a windstorm. Read more about this by clicking here: Wall Street Journal - New York Bids Farewell to Mural.