Tonawanda News — It all started with a vision.
One day, when artist Richard Sean Manning took two large ceramic “stacks” he had created out of a kiln, he and his wife Laura realized they looked like the Twin Towers, and that started Manning on a mission.
He pledged to create a series of one-of-a-kind ceramic “911 Twin Towers” and donate them to museums across the country.
The first permanent exhibit was installed at the Great Explorations Children’s Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla.
But perhaps most thrilling for the artist was when he found out that his work was accepted as part of the permanent collection at the National September 11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero in New York City. The nine-foot tall towers will be featured in an exhibit of “Relief/Response Art.”
Richard realized that museums would need funding to create spaces for the works, and for the instructional materials to go along with them.
That’s when Richard, a Starpoint graduate, artist and philanthropist, decided to create 3,000 original paintings, called Unity Art — one for each person killed in the Sept. 11 attack, and sell them online to raise money for the museums, and also to benefit other charities.
Up until that time, Richard had been a prolific artist, but had worked primarily with clay. So his pledge to paint 3,000 pieces was a bit daunting, to say the least.
But that didn’t deter the animated and enthusiastic artist.
To date, he has completed 1,800 of the paintings.
“When I started a couple of years ago, I just worked with one cheap brush, because I didn’t know any better,” he said.
Today, the paintings have evolved, with Richard using a number of different brushes, and even some botanicals, such as branches and flowers, to create the paintings.
Although some works in the Unity series — Richard always creates works in a series of 18, because it’s a mystical number — refer directly to 9/11, other themes have nothing to do with the attacks.
Buyers can choose from colorful and uplifting themes such as faith, flowers, and even golf.
“I realize that not everyone wants to have a painting on their wall reminding them of the tragedy every day,” Richard said.
Laura Manning calls her husband’s paintings “everyman’s art.”
“They’re not pristine, they’re pure, and there’s something for everyone in the series — themes everyone can relate to,” Laura said.
Each work is available as either the original; or as a large, medium, or small Giclée limited edition numbered print, offering buyers a range of price options.
Buyers can shop for the paintings online, and 66 percent of the purchase price goes directly to a designated charity. The other 34 percent goes to cover costs.
“Basically, we use the other 34 percent to cover the cost of shipping and handling. The charity gets all of the rest,” Laura said.
Laura explained that the initiative has the potential to raise $400 million for various non-profits.
Currently, local charities receiving money are the Palace Theatre and Ronald McDonald House of Buffalo. But the Mannings are looking for other local 501c3 charities to apply to receive the donations. To register a charity or ask about a museum receiving a pair of 9/11 Twin Towers, contact laura.manning@TheManningArts.org.
Although this is the latest philanthropic effort for the couple, the Mannings have a long history of charitable endeavors.
“We want to plant the seeds of global consciousness for future generations. Sean and I believe that you have to give back. There are three stages in life, learn, earn and return — now it’s our turn to return our good fortune,” Laura said.
The couple split their time between St. Petersburg, Fla., and Lockport, and are now in the midst of a building and renovation project at the site of the former Warm Lake Winery on Lower Mountain Road.
Eventually, Richard plans to convert one of the spaces into a huge studio/classroom, and will be able to bring in students to learn about art and the creative process. He frequently goes into schools, especially his alma mater, Starpoint, to share his knowledge with the students. Although he focuses on art, he also tries to teach the children to respect each other.
“I don’t have any teaching background, but I can keep the kids’ attention. I want them to know that they can create art, too. Everyone can,” Richard said.