Sculptor Heath Satow with his 9/11 memorial work called "Reflect"… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )
Some see doves. Others are certain they are looking at hawks. Still others are convinced the small figures they're seeing represent angels.
That's a good thing, says the sculptor who has created a memorial to victims of Sept. 11 that will be dedicated by Rosemead officials on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
Nearly 3,000 of the stainless-steel figures are welded together to create a pair of giant hands lifting a twisted steel beam from New York's World Trade Center.
"I didn't want to be too specific. I want the viewer to bring their own ideas to it," artist Heath Satow says of the 4 1/2 -inch symbols that represent victims of the 2001 attacks.
Satow spent five months in his downtown Los Angeles studio bending and welding the bird-shaped figures together to form the two hands that hold the rusting, 10-foot section of I-beam.
The reaction of those who have seen the artwork is generally the same, Satow said.
"You get the 'Wow, that's neat,' when people first see it," he said. "Then you get the 'Whoa' when they get close enough to see that it's made of thousands of birds."
Rosemead officials commissioned the sculpture, called "Reflect," two years ago when Satow was operating out of a workshop in nearby Alhambra.
Satow chose the I-beam from a catalog of World Trade Center artifacts maintained by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Rosemead parks director David Montgomery Scott arranged for the Port Authority to release the 500-pound beam to the city.
Satow said he came up with four potential sculpture designs, which were narrowed down to two and voted on in mid-2010 by Rosemead residents. They overwhelmingly chose the design with the two hands, said city spokeswoman Aileen Flores.
Flores is one of several city officials who have seen the finished sculpture at Satow's Santa Fe Avenue studio. "It's better than I could imagine, absolutely beautiful," she said.
City Councilwoman Sandra Armenta, who has also seen it, said the artwork suggests "in a breathtaking, emotional way" that Americans will rise above whatever befalls their country.
The $60,000 art project was financed with donations and money raised by events including spaghetti dinners and food booths at the city's concerts in the park, 5K runs and the sale of memorial bricks, Armenta said.
Satow, 41, said each of the bird-like figures was cut from 1/8-inch steel by automated lasers and then polished, bent and welded by hand. "It's the most labor-intensive piece I've ever done," he said.
"It was really heavy creating each bird, knowing that it represented a real person. It was taking a toll — I was getting really depressed working on it."
The 1,700-pound sculpture will be unveiled in noon ceremonies Sept. 11 at Rosemead's City Hall. It will be displayed for about a week before it is temporarily put in storage until it can be permanently placed in a new courtyard that is being built, officials said.
Among those taking part in the ceremony will be Kevin Danni, who was on the 55th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center when the second hijacked plane crashed into it.
"We were in the stairwell, evacuating. I'd been on the 61st floor at a training session with Morgan Stanley. We were slowly heading down the stairs. Luckily, it was an orderly evacuation. It took us probably 45 minutes to get out," said Danni, 31, an investment advisor from Pasadena.
About 12 minutes after he left the tower, it collapsed as he looked on in horror from several blocks away. He ran to escape the wall of dust and debris that followed.
"My whole 300-member training class survived. I got a second chance at life. It's a gift," he said.
Danni has also had an advance peek at Satow's sculpture. "It's incredible — a great tribute to people who lost their lives," he said.
And he knows what the tiny figures that form the sculpture are. "They're doves. There are 2,977 doves there," he said.