“I am a proud Mohawk ironworker. I come from a great nation of men who walk in the sky.” – John McGowan, Local 40 Ironworker
For the past 100 years, Mohawk Native American men from the Kahnawake and Akwesasne reservations have traveled from upstate New York and Canada to New York City to build its iconic skyline. From Rockefeller Center and the George Washington Bridge to the Empire State Building, these men have scaled astonishing heights, earning themselves the nickname skywalkers. It comes as no surprise, then, that these men also have a long-standing history with the World Trade Center site.
Opening today in Museum’s South Tower Gallery, “Skywalkers: A Portrait of the Mohawk Ironworker at the World Trade Center Tintype Photographs by Melissa Cacciola” explores the intergenerational connections between this community and the World Trade Center.
The exhibition features 30 tintype portraits of Mohawk members of the Local 40 ironworker’s union, created by New York City–based artist Melissa Cacciola, whose chosen medium dates to the American Civil War. It requires that each portrait subject remain completely still for up to 12 seconds while his image is captured. Then through a four-step development process that involves complex chemistry, the image appears directly onto a metal plate, creating a truly one-of-a-kind and authentic photograph.
Featured stories include those of Jim Morris, who helped build the original World Trade Center complex, Lindsay LeBorgne and John McGowan who were among the thousands who participated in rescue and recovery operations following the 9/11 attacks, and cousins Steven and Adam Cross, shown guiding a piece of steel into place making One World Trade the tallest building in New York City in April 2012. The exhibition also includes two objects, which illustrate the contributions this community has made to the history of lower Manhattan.
“Skywalkers” is accompanied by a brand-new audio tour, featuring the voices of artist Melissa Cacciola and Mohawk ironworkers Lindsay LeBornge and Jeff Morris. The tour will be available in both English and Mohawk languages. This is the first time the Museum has translated an audio tour into an indigenous language.
The Museum will host a special program on Thursday, December 13, at 7 p.m. Melissa Cacciola, Lindsay LeBorgne, and Local 40 Business Manager Robert Walsh will discuss this series of portraits and the shared history between the men and the history of the World Trade Center.
“Skywalkers” will remain on view for approximately one year, through November 2019.
By Tara Prout, Memorial Exhibition and Registries Manager, 9/11 Memorial Museum