9-11 tribute painting finds home at Exempts Club

OBSERVER Photo by Rebecca Cuthbert Recently, Cody Stoyle's 9-11 tribute painting was installed permanently at the Exempts Club in Dunkirk. Before that, it hung in the lobby of Dunkirk High School for many years. Here, Stoyle (right) is pictured with his father Pat (left) and uncle Jim Stoyle (center) in front of his painting.

Cody Stoyle graduated from Dunkirk High School in 2002.

In the two semesters before that, he painted a giant, 8’x8′ mural depicting a scene from 9-11, in which a mournful firefighter pauses amid the destruction of that infamous day. In his hands he holds an American flag, perhaps reminding himself of what terrorists tried so hard to take from us.

For Stoyle, what started as an art project became more than that.

“It was an assignment,” he said. “A handful of us had to complete big pieces (of artwork) for an art class. I worked for two semesters on it. … (The mural) is actually two large canvases put together.”

Stoyle noted that creating the iconic tribute wasn’t easy; to get the perspective he needed, he couldn’t lay the canvases flat on a tabletop. He had to lean them against a wall, and use a ladder to complete the upper portions — a skyline blazing with fire, dark silhouettes of half-crumpled buildings outlined against the red and orange glow.

The project took on a personal importance for Stoyle, though, as his uncle, Jim Stoyle, recounted.

“Our mother’s father was a fireman who was killed in the line of duty in Ireland,” he said. “That would be Cody’s great-grandfather. We never got to meet him. But, he had a son — Cody’s great-uncle — who came to the (United States) and became a firefighter. And, I’m a retired firefighter.”

As Stoyle explained, firefighting, and respect for firefighters and what they risk their lives to do for others, is something that was in his family’s roots.

“We’re all members here,” he said of the Exempts Club, spreading his arms to indicate the large extended family surrounding him. “We’ll always support (firefighters).”

And as for how the painting came to its fated home on the wall of the Exempts Club, Dunkirk City School District Board President Dave Damico, who is also a member at the Exempts, filled the OBSERVER in.

“(Stoyle’s father) Pat works at the school,” he said. “He noticed that the painting had been taken down from the lobby after we had a bunch of renovations done there last year. He asked the superintendent, Dr. James Tracy, where the painting had been moved to.”

Tracy explained that the mural had been moved to a storage area for safe keeping, but agreed that it should fine a better, more fitting home. That’s when Pat and Damico put their heads together and came up with a great idea: Why not bring the mural to the Exempts Club, and let it hang in a place of honor?

Tracy agreed.

“It’s a beautiful piece,” he said. “You can almost feel the emotions of (the firefighter in the painting).”

Tracy said at the Exempts Club, the painting could serve as a tribute to our local heroes while also displaying Stoyle’s impressive talent.

One of Stoyle’s fellow Exempts members, Nick Anson, installed the painting on the club’s back wall, which, almost too coincidentally, was the exact right width and height for the piece of art.

“It’s almost eerie,” said Claudia Szczerbacki, board of education vice president. “It’s like it’s always been there.”

“Or fate,” said Damico. “(The mural’s) home has always been here. Waiting for it.”

The mural is encased in protective Plexiglas, and Anson anchored it to the wall. Above it, a red emergency light spins and flashes, making the fire in the painting seem alive — like if you put your hand against the Plexiglas, you could feel its pulsing heat.

A fitting home, indeed.