Cardiff first stop on 9/11 memorial painting’s journey

An oil painting honoring first responders who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks is making its way through San Diego County fire stations. Its first stop: Cardiff.

Wendy Moldow, a resident of Cardiff, gifted the artwork, titled “9/11 Tribute…We’ll Never Forget,” to firefighters this past Sept. 11 at Cardiff’s Fire Station No. 2. Moldow bought the painting earlier this year at an auction benefitting military veterans, but she said it “doesn’t belong in my house.”

“I want this to be viewed by our local heroes — our firefighters,” said Moldow during a short ceremony while flanked by firefighters. “So begins the painting’s journey.”

Moldow said she picked Fire Station No. 2 to host the artwork first because firefighters from there quickly responded when she recently called about a large rattlesnake on her lawn. They helped out other times, too.

“I took care of my mom for six years at the end of her life, and whenever we needed them, they were here right away,” Moldow said.

Every three months for the foreseeable future, the piece will move on to a different fire station. To determine where it goes next, the names of county fire stations will be put on scraps of paper and then one will be pulled out of a firefighter’s hat.

Already, the painting has traveled around quite a bit. Kelly Cool Lucas, who now resides in Carlsbad, painted the piece in Denver immediately after the Sept. 11 tragedy to raise money for the families of first responders who died.

“The absolute sadness and frustration is what I was trying to show there,” Lucas said over the phone this week about the devastated firefighter at the center of the painting. “Not that

firefighters are weak by any means, it’s just the tragic nature of the situation. And it’s the easiest uniform we can relate to.”

During an auction, a restaurateur bought the artwork for more than $25,000 and hung it in the lobby of his Denver restaurant. Yet the piece proved to be too emotional for patrons.

“While he loved the piece, he couldn’t have his patrons crying,” Lucas said.

So, the restaurateur gave the artwork back to her, although he was still satisfied with his $25,000 contribution.

The painting sat in Lucas’ studio for a decade, but she took it out again after hearing about a great cause. Lucas auctioned it off to Moldow to benefit Next Step Service Dogs, a nonprofit that trains and pairs service dogs with military veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lucas said the latest leg of the painting’s journey is “the best possible outcome.”

“All the people who touched it along the way had the very best in mind for it,” she said.

Battalion Chief Mike Spaulding said it’s an honor Cardiff was chosen to first host the piece, which hangs at the entrance of Fire Station No. 2. He added the painting is a local reminder and tribute to the firefighters, police officers, military personnel and civilians who lost their lives on Sept. 11.

“The image brings back a lot of memories,” Spaulding said. “You ask yourself, ‘Where was I when this was happening?’”

Moldow echoed him.

“9/11 is important to remember, to pay tribute to those who lost their lives,” she said.

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