Banner from Porter-Gaud students now hangs in 9/11 Museum

Porter-Gaud School art teacher Laura Orvin stands in front of a banner her students made in 2001 that now hangs in the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

A token of compassion and goodwill made by Porter-Gaud students in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks now hangs in the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which opened in New York last week.

Nearly 400 students in the first through fifth grades painted pictures and wrote letters for a banner under the direction of Laura Orvin, then a lower school art teacher. The banner, originally sent to the office of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, now hangs in Remembrance Hall, the museum's largest exhibition space.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum sits on the site of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the 2001 attack. It contains more than 10,000 artifacts, including a half-destroyed firetruck and a set of stairs that was used to flee the World Trade Center. The museum sits adjacent to the 9/11 Memorial, which opened in 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the attack.

Orvin started the project after noticing the young students' reactions to the attacks in school. Some wrote letters to police officers and firefighters; others brought in money to donate to the Red Cross. But many students expressed their understanding of the situation through their art, drawing pictures of burning buildings, crashed planes and other jarring images that dominated television screens at the time.

"It was so sad. I wanted to do something to help," Orvin said. "You can tell how a child is feeling by looking at their art."

Some Porter-Gaud students had parents who commuted from Charleston to New York for work, and others had family in the city. Orvin wanted to redirect the children's thoughts from the crumbling towers and smoke-filled streets to "the positive parts of our country."

In the banner, Orvin's fourth-grade students included drawings of the Statue of Liberty, a bald eagle, and the iconic image of three firemen raising a flag from the rubble of the World Trade Center. Students also wrote letters of encouragement and compassion to first responders on heart-shaped pieces of paper. The drawings and letters were copied onto a piece of canvas and painted by the lower school students.

George Slotin was one of those students. Now a recent graduate of New York University, one of his "most vivid memories" surrounding 9/11 is painting the banner.

Once the banner was complete, Orvin sent it to Giuliani's office. After that, she "didn't have a clue" what happened to it.

Five years later, she got a call from a 9/11 Memorial employee. Orvin learned the banner had hung in the Pier 94 Family Assistance Center's children's play area until the center closed. While the building was being cleaned out, a city employee found the banner rolled up in the closet and donated it to the museum.

Nearly 13 years after painting the banner, Slotin said he is humbled that the project he and his classmates worked on as young students now hangs in the museum.

"We had no idea where it was going. We assumed it was going with the other hundreds of thousands of banners and paintings and letters," Slotin said. "For them to save it for a decade and for them to find it valid enough to be put there and kept forever is humbling."