Towers Rising, Through the Eyes of First Responder Turned Artist

  • March 28, 2023
  • Artist rendering of North Memorial Pool with One World Trade still under construction
  • Artist rendering of the top of One World Trade obscured by branches and spring buds

Left: Berkman's "North Memorial Void." Right: "Spring Blooms." 

Artist Brenda Berkman was there for the end - and then the beginning - of the World Trade Center.  

She was supposed to be off-duty that fateful Tuesday morning, but nonetheless, FDNY Lieutenant Berkman responded swiftly from her home in Brooklyn. Arriving at the scene just as the North Tower collapsed, Berkman spent September 11 and the ensuing weeks searching for survivors and then for the remains of fellow first responders and still unknown numbers of civilians who perished. She lost countless friends and colleagues that day; New York City's skyline lost a piece of its identity.  

Brenda Berkman and her fellow first responders worked dutifully to help restore order to lower Manhattan and to honor those who had been killed. But the conditions at Ground Zero were harsh, and day in and day out, Berkman experienced terrorism’s gruesome impact. These haunting memories persisted. Time and distance from the event did not bring relief or peace. 

After September 11, 2001, Berkman was promoted to Captain before retiring in 2006. After 25 years of service in the FDNY, she embarked on a new and creative learning journey at the Art Students League. There, she connected closely with stone lithography and began using that printmaking medium to build a path out of the personal trauma she had experienced on 9/11 through creative expression. 

Artist rendering of the night sky during Tribute of Light, with One World Trade looming on left


For three years, from various iconic points around the city, Berkman used her new printmaking skills to document the evolution of lower Manhattan’s skyline through the gradual construction of the One World Trade Center in a series titled “Thirty-Six Views of One World Trade Center.” The work parallels the reincarnation of One World Trade Center with Berkman’s own reawakened faith in the resiliency of human beings despite the adversity and trauma that can intrude into our lives. The prints are also a historical documentation of the rebuilding.

Of her original 36 hand-drawn and hand-pulled prints in the series, 14 will appear in the 9/11 Memorial & Museum Towers Rising exhibit to mark the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the World Trade Center. 

Dr. Jan Ramirez, EVP of Collections & Chief Curator at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, had this to say about the prints:  "We’re proud to have one of the full sets of 36 Views in our permanent collection.  Artistically, this body of work speaks for itself. But since we are aware of Brenda Berkman’s direct professional and personal connections to 9/11, the series also invites reflection about how people can find their way forward after trauma – through embracing acts of creativity as an antidote to destruction and focusing on the evidence of hope existing around us.” 

Towers Rising: Envisioning the World Trade Center Before and After 9/11, will be running from April 2023 to October 2024. You can purchase tickets here. 

By 9/11 Memorial Staff 

Previous Post

The 2023 5K: Why I Run, With John Quinn

John Quinn with a photo of his friend Joyce Capeneto

With just over a month to go before the 11th annual 9/11 Memorial & Museum 5K, presented by RXR on April 30, John Quinn remembers his friend Joyce Capeneto, in whose memory he has participated for the past six years. 

View blog

Next Post

Rescue & Recovery: In Their Own Voices With Elizabeth Cascio


As we wrap up Women's History Month, trailblazer FDNY veteran Elizabeth Cascio reflects on her 39 years of service, her role in the response to the attacks, and her experience as a 9/11 cancer survivor. 

View blog