A snapshot of history: ArtiFactory unveils 9/11 memorial gallery

The ArtiFactory’s inaugural exhibition, the Flag Project, recognizes the patriotism in New York city after 9/11. Sharon Beckman and Ron Pile, who have a personal connection to 9/11, took the photos in the gallery.


Jeff Sigmund

A flag hangs at the entrance to The Flag Project exhibit at the Artifactory in Iowa City on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.

Olivia Augustine, Arts Reporter

When the twin towers fell — 20 years ago last Saturday — the U.S. was undeniably changed forever. This was felt all over the country, demonstrated by the millions of American flags flown. For Iowa City residents Sharon Beckman and Ron Pile, this display needed to be documented.

Through Sept. 26, local nonprofit ArtiFactory will hold a free gallery titled The Flag Project, which displays photographs of American flags flown in New York City in the weeks following 9/11. The photos were captured by Beckman and Pile, who are Iowa City residents.

At the time of 9/11, Beckman was living in Manhattan working as a creative director, while Pile was a pilot for United Airlines, flying on that day. In the beginning, these photographs served as mementos for just Beckman and Pile, kept in a photo book they made toge

“Ron was able to fly in a couple weeks after 9/11, and we were walking the city, and we were just kind of floored by the shows of patriotism everywhere,” Beckman said. “It was kind of amazing to see them — to see us — all come together in that way, just by showing flags.”

With the ArtiFactory acquiring its first official space as the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approached, a lightbulb went off in Beckman’s head — it was the perfect opportunity to present the photos.

ArtiFactory president Dan Cummins, a friend of Beckman and Pile, said the organization had been seriously looking for an official space for three to four years. They recently found a home in the Wesley Center basement, and The Flag Project is ArtiFactory’s inaugural event.

Related: Photos: 9/11 memorial in Iowa City

Cummins added that Beckman’s idea was perfectly timed, as 20 years after 9/11 marks a special milestone in American history.

“It’s, I think, probably one of the most — if not the most — defining event in many of our lives in the last two decades,” Cummins said.

One of Beckman and Pile’s hopes for the exhibition was that people would see photographs of places in New York and go back to where they were on 9/11, or maybe even recognize areas in New York they had visited. This was made even more possible by the small labels to the bottom right of the images that give the location of where each photo was taken.

Classical music will play in the background as guests browse through the gallery. At the entrance to the exhibition are accounts of both Beckman and Pile’s experiences of the day, encouraging guests to recall their own memories of that day.

“On 9/11 itself, Sharon’s experience was completely different than mine,” Pile said. “She was in New York at the time, and I wasn’t. I was in the air heading to Washington, D.C.”

The Flag Project is available to be viewed free of charge and is open on weekends from 2-4 p.m. Because of COVID-19, the gallery is limited to 20 viewers at a time and masks are required indoors.