‘We Shall Remember’

Tuesday December 05, 2023

(From left) Michael Updike, Geordie Vining, Sean Reardon and Glenn Focht.

NEWBURYPORT — The latest addition to the shoreline of the Clipper City Rail Trail is a memorial, unveiled Sunday, that is designed to help trail goers remember something many would like to forget, the Covid-19 Pandemic.
The circular granite stone, brought from Canada, has a message written in 71 carved letters, which took the sculptor weeks. It features 42 swimming fish, which represent the concept of community. The circular motion of the swimming fish symbolizes infinity.
The memorial has a crack across the center of the stone, which is meant to remind of the heartbreak Covid-19 caused.
Michael Updike, a Newbury sculptor, and Geordie Vining, the city’s senior planner, who supervised the construction of the rail trail and selected most of the trail’s art work, designed the memorial together. They began talking about it in 2021 at the height of the Pandemic.
“I was thinking about how there are essentially no memorials to the great Flu Epidemic from a century ago. I was also wondering whether that collective forgetting may have contributed to how ill-prepared we were for Covid-19,” Vining said.
The Spanish Flu, which ravaged the nation and world during World War I, killed 50 million people, compared to the Covid Pandemic, which took the lives of 2.2 million.
The words Updike and Vining wrote and Updike carved on the outer edge of the memorial are:

“For those who died and those who survived and all we lost during the Covid-19 Pandemic. We Shall Remember.”

Updike said he insisted the last sentence in the center of the stone be changed. Initially, it read: “We will remember.” The sculptor had it changed to be more of a commandment.
When the city asked Updike, a juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsman and designer for the company Mariposa, to develop a concept for the memorial, he initially proposed a larger piece of circular granite. It would have required a seam running through the rock to knit two large pieces of the stone together.
Vining, who recently vacationed in Japan, proposed highlighting the granite “crack” in gold, along the lines of the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi.
Updike, who is also a gravestone sculptor, was very familiar with the Kintsugi technique for putting broken pieces of pottery back together and covering the repair with gold. Kintsugi highlights and embraces the breaks and scars, rather than trying to repair the object to look new.
When a bowl or object is broken, rather than discarding the pieces, in Kintsugi the fragments are put back together with a glue-like tree sap and the cracks are filled with gold. No attempt is made to hide the damage. Instead, it is highlighted in the unique piece.
The idea is that beauty can be found in imperfection.
Mayor Sean Reardon called the memorial a “beacon of hope.” He believes the memorial will be a symbol of a more resilient and compassionate future. He praised the placement of the memorial near the water on the river’s edge and thanked the staff of the city’s Public Works Department for installing the memorial.
Anna Jaques Hospital president Dr. Glenn Focht said he is grateful to be asked to help unveil the memorial. His hospital treated 1,300 Covid-19 victims out of about 22,000 victims of the Pandemic in the state.
The 3-mile Clipper City Rail Trail connects the MBTA commuter rail station to the harbor walk on the waterfront. The pandemic memorial is on the new section of the trail, which follows the Merrimack River waterfront to water street and connects through the South End to Parker Street in Newbury. It showcases structures like the pandemic memorial, a gallery of local paintings and offers views of the river with great birdwatching.

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