Founded in 1865, the FDNY is arguably the most universally known — and largest — fire department in the world. And now, many of the Bravest past and present are being honored in “Everyday Heroes,” a pop-up exhibit featuring the work of Scottish artist Alexander Millar.
Millar, a native of a little town best known for being the birthplace of Johnnie Walker, was inspired to create his first U.S. exhibit during a visit to the World Trade Center site four years ago.
“It was very moving and emotional for me. What happened on 9/11 did not just affect Americans, it affected the world,” Millar told Metro. “That day, we all saw the bravery of the men and women that make up the FDNY, and that inspired me to create a new body of work that honors the city's 'Bravest' and celebrates the qualities that make them some of the most extraordinary working people on the planet.”
Millar immersed himself in FDNY history and via the suggestion of the NYC Fire Museum, began working with the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of black FDNY firefighters.
“I learned a lot about diversity within the FDNY and what it took to get there,” Millar said. “That was when I came across a video developed by the Vulcan Society that talked a lot about the fallen heroes, but specifically people of color and women who serve the FDNY, but are not always acknowledge and recognized for their heroism. I wanted to do my part as an artist to honor these heroes and keep their memories alive."
“Everyday Heroes” is comprised of about 25 impressionist-style oil paintings honoring many of the FDNY’s diverse faces, from Wesley A. Williams, the first black firefighter to be promoted to the rank of officer when he became lieutenant in 1927 and who retired as battalion chief in 1952, to Regina Wilson, who remains one of just 10 black women in the department she joined in 1999. A 9/11 first responder, Wilson is also the first female president of the Vulcan Society.
“I thought the exhibit was amazing, and I think it’s a testimony to the unseen firefighters, the people of color and women,” Wilson told Metro. “A lot of images of firefighters show them as white men, and no one would have know that, at these tragedies like 9/11, that people of color and women are there, too, to protect them.”
Wilson said the FDNY has “a long way to go, but the department is really working its way to being more diverse and inclusive” and that "Everyday Heroes" highlighting the department’s diversity “is hopeful to me.”
Alexander Millar’s “Everyday Heroes” will be on view at 138 Wooster St. in SoHo through April 20.