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“For whom the bell tolls” at the Mining Museum

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© Форпост Северо-Запад

The collection of the Mining Museum has been enriched with a new exhibit directly related to the attacks of September 11, 2001. The bronze monument was created in three copies - one installed in New York, one in the Konstantinovsky Palace, and the third now in downtown St. Petersburg.

September this year marks the 20th anniversary of the largest terrorist attack in history, which took the lives of nearly 3,000 people. Terrorists hijacked four passenger jetliners, two of which were headed for the World Trade Center towers in central New York and one for the Pentagon building near Washington. A fourth plane was headed toward the Capitol but crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

Sometime later, memorials began to be erected in the Ground Zero area, where the destroyed towers stood before September 11, 2001. One of the first was the Tribute of Light, which was two groups of spotlights pointing pillars of light into the sky. The most famous is a complex of two enormous pools completely outlining the contours of the towers.

Russian craftsmen have also taken part in commemorating the tragic events and the heroism of rescuers. For example, a 30-meter sculpture by Zurab Tsereteli appeared in New Jersey.

In the area of Ground Zero itself, a bronze monument-bell was unveiled, whose author was Viktor Piirainen, professor of St. Petersburg Mining University and famous foundryman. It is installed in the lobby of one of the buildings that were built on the site of the destroyed towers.

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© Презентация монумента для официальных лиц в Нью-Йоркской ратуше

Two copies of the monument are in Russia. One copy was presented in Strelna during the G8 Summit, where it remains to this day, and the other one the author the project gave to the Mining Museum, to the Hall of Artistic Casting.

Compositionally the monument is divided into three tiers. The upper one depicts the area of Manhattan with its twin towers, the middle one - the participants in the events, helping people in distress. The base uses the shape of a bell.

Not surprisingly, it was a representative of Mining University who carried out such a large-scale idea. Bell casting has always developed in parallel with cannon casting, where specialists in metallurgy and materials science were in charge.

Viktor Piiräinen told the Forpost how, as an engineer, he became the author of the monument for the United States, why the monument drew a strong positive response from Americans, and what he is working on today.

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- Mr. Piiräinen, how did the idea for the monument come about?

- The idea came up in 2002 at a conference of the American International Bell Association, where I flew in as a foundry worker from Russia. At the time, the topic of the New York tragedy was often raised at official events in the U.S. In particular, the conference was discussing competition for memorial monuments, and I decided to participate. A good friend of mine, an American of Russian descent, with whom I shared the idea, gave me a selection of newspapers and a set of commemorative silver coins. They had been issued after the terrorist attack, and every American family felt it was their duty to buy them. We found pictures of the direct participants of the events in the newspapers, we embodied their images in the sculptures, and the slogans from the coins were placed along the perimeter of the monument.

- Did the people of the United States appreciate your work?

- Looking first at the design and then at the monument itself, the Americans took it very warmly - everyone recognized those words and those faces. Moreover, when I was invited to a reception at the U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg, I brought the miniature as a gift to the Consul General. Among the guests were the parents of George H.W. Bush, then president, who were traveling through Eastern Europe. Barbara Bush liked the miniature so much that she took it with her, so I was later asked to bring another copy to the consulate.

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© Форпост Северо-Запад

- Why did you decide to use the form of a bell in the base?

- It was predetermined by the historical and spiritual purpose of this instrument. “The voice” of bells opens and closes many pages of human history. “The Liberty Bell,” which heralded the first day of U.S. independence - July 4, 1776 - is kept as a national shrine in Philadelphia. In Italy, the “Bell of Death” is cast from the cannons of all the countries that participated in World War I. The “Buchenwald Bell” calls on the peoples of the world to never forget the atrocities of fascism. And the “Hiroshima Bell” recalls another crime against humanity. Today, in the United States, bells are of interest only to collectors, who collect expensive cabinet bells. In Russia, however, a bell is most often a huge piece for a temple. I decided to show what we can do! I got strengthened in my idea when I became acquainted in more detail with Mikhail Mikeshin's monuments – “Millennium of Russia” in Novgorod and the monument to Catherine II in St. Petersburg, whose bases are also made in the form of bells.

- How did it happen that an engineer became involved in bells?

- For more than 30 years I worked at the Central Research Institute of Materials, established on the initiative of Mendeleyev. As part of my work, I was involved in new foundry technologies and the revival of artistic casting. In 1994 I began teaching at the Northwestern Correspondence Technical University, where on the background of renewed interest in the construction of churches, a new line was actively developing - campanology - the science of bells. In 2011, our university was merged with Mining University, and I became a professor at the Department of Materials Science and Technology of Art Products. Everything fell into place because casting is a logical continuation of mining and metallurgy. Nowadays, apart from the artistic processing of materials, my main area of research interests is a synthesis of inorganic polymers and nanostructured hybrid materials in the context of the development of hydrogenous topics.

- Are you planning to participate in any new project?

- Today I am working on an international project for the upcoming 310th anniversary of the birth of Lomonosov. In Freiberg, where young Mikhail Lomonosov studied chemistry, metallurgy, and mining with the then famous chemist and mineralogist Johann Henkel, it was decided to build a monument to the Russian scientist. The main initiators are St. Petersburg Mining University and the Freiberg Mining Academy. The monument will include not only a full-length figure of Lomonosov, but also stained-glass windows, which will depict his studies in Germany and his subsequent educational and scientific activities in Russia. Considering the fact that one of my works is standing in America, and the other will be installed in Germany, the transfer to the Mining Museum of an exact copy of the 9/11 monument as an example of the current stage of artistic casting technology seems very logical.

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© Генконсул ФРГ в Санкт-Петербурге осматривает проект памятника Ломоносову

“No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own or of thine friend’s were. Each man’s death diminishes me,
for I am involved in mankind; therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

The 17th century English poet and priest John Donne.