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Local artist creates memorial sculpture for LEAP explosion

The design for the Healing Bells Memorial Sculpture.

FARMINGTON - With a recent grant from the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area LEAP Explosion Fund, local artist Vera Johnson will be creating a memorial sculpture in honor of the September 2019 tragedy.

Johnson hopes to pay tribute to Farmington Fire Rescue Captain Michael Bell who perished in the explosion, as well as the six other firefighters and LEAP employee Larry Lord who were seriously injured. The $10,000 grant, approved by the LEAP Explosion Fund committee, will allow Johnson to create an interactive "Healing Bells Memorial Sculpture" that will be installed in Bjorn Park, directly across from the site of the explosion. The sculpture will be constructed from antique and discarded fire extinguishers and will create a series of seven bells that visitors can ring.

"No one will ever forget what happened. We can, however, collectively find a way to support the affected community and offer a place to go and turn grief into something beautiful, to help ease the pain of loss. Like a symbolic wailing wall - may we all say a prayer each time we hear the bells ring," Johnson said.

Johnson is seeking old fire extinguishers for the community sculpture she is creating.

Johnson is seeking input from the community for the project, which she hopes will be a collaborative effort in order to make it a reality. Johnson said the completion of the project will depend on interested individuals.

Specifically, Johnson is seeking materials and bids for the projects that include:

*Large, older fire extinguishers
*Fabrication and welding
*Setting posts
*Transportation of sculpture pieces
*Laying brick fo ra patio
*Storyboard design and creation
*Input for dedication

Interested individuals should contact Vera Johnson at 207-645-4464 or 418-0374 or

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24 Responses »

  1. Are you kidding ? Ten grand of hard working taxpayer's dollars for an 'aht' project at a time like this? How about a plaque and a bench....donated. Folks for miles around remember exactly the moment of tragedy for our community and the brave firefighters and other hero emargency responders of the event and keep them continually in our prayers and thoughts any time we hear a rescue siren. Any 'extra' soft money would be more valuable to the community if used directly for local emergency services and equipment. You would not call it 'soft money' if you had to work as hard as the taxpayers providing those 'tax dollars'. Ridiculousness. Try some 'feel good' volunteer work.

  2. This is beautiful.

  3. Vera puts love and caring into each artistic creation she designs so we shall look forward to her LEAP tribute piece. Looking forward to its installation.

  4. Can't wait to see this wonderful piece!!! Vera's creations are heartfelt this one will be a fantastic reflection spot!!!❤

  5. Hey, Olde Crone....the sensible people/tax paying citizens in this town would agree with you, but the artsy-fartsy
    folks just have to take this to a new level. Art is for the most part in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps Ms. Johnson should ask the Bell and Lord families what they think of this. Or the fire dept members. Or the folks who carried out the injured folks.
    I personally think hanging old fire extinguishers is rather tacky. Not very creative in my opinion.
    And I thought she got a grant. Why is she asking people for help with metal work? Or other donations.

  6. My family and I feel a remembrance plaque and stones with all the firefighters names and title and special ones for Mr. Bell and Mr. Lord. Would be more appropriate.

  7. I would also like to add that instead of using tax payers money why not set up a fund to raise the money for all that I suggested instead of just handing out the money. The people of our community could then feel like they were a part of this project to honor our firefighters and mr.lord. Just a thought from a hard working taxpayer.

  8. I must agree, a memorial made of old junk is not a tribute to a Capt. Bell.

  9. The grant does not come from taxpayer dollars, it is coming from the United Way, as the article states. It was approved by a LEAP explosion committee of the United Way. Perhaps instead of jumping to conclusions about who was or wasn't talked to about this wonderful project, you kindly inquire to this committee about the family's approval of the project instead of assuming they haven't been consulted? The artist is asking for help as it is meant to be a collaborative piece that involves community engagement. As the article also states "she is seeking materials and BIDS". The grant would pay for that work being done. Reading comprehension is a wonderful thing our taxpayer dollars also pays for. Maybe take some time to use those skills you were taught with our taxes?

  10. To clarify for the naysayers, if you actually read the article, the funds granted were from donations, not taxpayer money, and secondly, the artist is not asking for any more donations or volunteers, but BIDS for items to be used in the project. Some of those materials and/or work will be paid for from the grant, so the wealth is shared and put back into the community. And she is asking for input and ideas from the community, so that pretty much covers her asking specifically from others for help. The Bell and Lord families are free to offer their opinion and I am sure Vera is very receptive to it. I am honored to know such a generous, talented and community-oriented person as Vera. Good choice on the part of the committee who chose her for this project!

  11. First off the amount of money is ridiculous. Secondly what is it that the artist is doing it looks like all of the work is being done by someone else.

  12. Is this for the victims or for a topic of discussion for people wearing knit hats in July sipping lattes?
    A granite bench will keep its place in history much longer than junk fire extinguishers....

  13. Olde Crone & WhyNOT- This IS funded by donations. I'm sure that people who donated to the LEAP Explosion fund considered "make a memorial" a valid use of their donated money. The sensible, taxpaying people who DONATED their money. The sensible, taxpaying people who will almost certainly come out of the woodwork to help create a memorial through further DONATIONS of their time and resources. How much more DONATED do you want this to be? Are you offering to fund it yourself in order to get it done the way you want? It may not be exactly the choices you would make, but that seems to happen with almost any public project. Pony up a big old donation of your own and maybe Vera (a local business owner and resident, and thus a sensible taxpayer of both personal and business taxes) will let you put your two cents in about the materials.

  14. On a more positive note, I like the idea of seven bells surrounded by perennials. Sounds simple, respectful, long lived and peaceful to me.

  15. The sketch looks beautiful and creative. The inclusion of fie extinguishers and the concept of using bells in the first place show an emotional connection to the historic and horrible event that should not be lost.

  16. Olde Crone,
    Don't let the chanting and prayer flags disturb your reflections.
    Maybe a Portland based minister can bless this.

    Everything is Beautiful.

  17. The donations were from TAXPAYERS !!

  18. I think it is a terrific idea.

  19. I'm all for a memorial but this project seems a bit tacky and tasteless and not worth the money being spent on it.

  20. Monies for this project were donated.
    Families involved were/are/will be consulted and given opportunities to mold and shape the process which is ongoing.
    It is intended to be helpful, hopeful, reflective and dignified. I for one appreciate the efforts of the donors, volunteers and artists to help. As there is no one way to do something like this, collaboration is a good way to go about it. Thank you all.

  21. A tree. A bench. A plaque. Keep antique equipment for museum. Period. Fiscal responsibility. Honor without bleeding $$$$.

  22. Try to do something nice fornthe community and people have to crap all over it. Grow up folks. This is a memorial. Also, definitely work on your reading comprehension as the commenter above suggested. What's wrong with you folks?

  23. to each their own but bottom line the family of Cpt. Bell should be asked their thoughts and opinions on this as well out of respect. I'm sure this tragedy and the absence of Mike is hard enough to deal with day to day. Just my thoughts and opinion

  24. At least us artsy fartsies create art, and aren't just old farts with nothing to offer but negativity. A bench and a plaque. Really? THAT'S never been done before.
    I think it's a beautiful, creative, and very respectful way to remember a terrible tragedy.
    To all who oppose because of the cost, shame on you for making the dollar more important!!!