- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2008

A statue in Falls Church commemorating the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks was removed Wednesday from its public display site because of complaints from some residents and pressure from the Virginia Department of Transportation, the artist said.

The statue was thrust in the spotlight last week when an anonymous letter — written as though by Islamic extremists — was found on the base of the memorial containing a threat to damage it.

“The Dust Cries Out,” built by Northern Virginian artist Karen Swenholt, was installed Sept. 8 on Great Falls Street in Falls Church. It features two life-size nude figures resembling the dust-covered survivors of the Twin Towers collapse, with arms reaching toward the sky.

Mrs. Swenholt, 54, says she received permission to place the statue on a lot next to her home that is owned by VDOT.

But little more than a week later, the Northern Virginia Fairfax Permits Office told Mrs. Swenholt that it had received complaints from neighborhood residents about the nudity. The office also told her she had not obtained a proper permit.

After permit office spokesman William Dunlap told Fairfax County Police that his office intended to remove the statue, police advised Mrs. Swenholt to move it herself to avoid possible damage. By Wednesday afternoon, the artist had placed the memorial on her front lawn.

The sculpture was well received by friends and neighbors, with families organizing small field trips across the neighborhood to visit the memorial, Mrs. Swenholt said.

“We had a very positive response from the community, with groups coming from all over to see the sculpture. It was very touching,” she said.

Claire Waters, who said she does not live in the neighborhood and identified herself only as a Fairfax County resident, said she and her children enjoyed the sculpture.

“I think it’s a beautiful piece of artwork; it’s a skillful representation of suffering and loss,” said Mrs. Waters.

Wednesday’s incident was not the first time Mrs. Swenholt had been pressured to remove her artwork from the lot. On Sept. 10, Mrs. Swenholt discovered an anonymous letter placed at the base of the sculpture that complained the statue “was a remembrance of the daily injustice to every follower murdered by the United States every day.”

“If we were to put a statue of Allah with his tears because of your wars, you would burn it to the ground.”

The letter also threatened “you will take this down today, or we will do this.”

The statue is constructed of flammable material.

Police told Mrs. Swenholt that because the letter did not constitute a threat to anything other than the statue, they were not obliged to pursue the matter. Fairfax County Code 82.2-83 stipulates that police are obliged to investigate a threat of burning or destruction only in the case of dwellings or motor vehicles.

Fairfax County Police spokeswoman Mary Anne Jennings said that the letter was put on file and the case remains open.

Mrs. Swenholt said she is concerned that the combination of the threatening letter and the complaints from residents forced the county into a situation of political correctness run amok.

“If freedom of expression is threatened, then America isn’t free; the state shouldn’t silence its citizens just because a small number are offended,” she said.

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