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Last month, the New York City Sanitation Foundation unveiled a commissioned memorial to honor sanitation workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The memorial, titled “Forever Strongest,” was designed by Bernard Klevickas, a DSNY Machinist for the Bureau of Building Maintenance.
“I have coworkers I know who caught and survived COVID-19,” said Klevickas in an email interview with Hyperallergic. “One of the mechanics where I am stationed caught and survived it, as had other coworkers I am in occasional contact with stationed at the Central Repair Shop and garages around the city.”
Klevickas has not caught the virus and is now vaccinated against it, but gave much thought to the impact on his colleagues. When he was approached by the Sanitation Foundation to make a memorial, he jumped at the chance. Klevickas took first place at the 2020 DSNY Art Show, and his previous works have been shown at Materials for the Arts, the Whitney Museum, MOMA PS1, the DUMBO Waterfront, and Governor’s Island.
“What inspired the work: Civic pride, the desire to want to do something creative and expressive during the lockdown,” he said. “To commemorate and honor those who have lost their lives doing a job that is needed but is seldom thought about.” Elements of the sculpture, which features a highly polished bird form drawing back a steel drapery to reveal an urn atop a pillar, came to the artist in a dream. In developing the design, Klevickas visited Greenwood and Woodlawn Cemeteries and the Metropolitan Museum to see the tomb effigy of Elizabeth Boott Duveneck.
The unveiling ceremony took place on May 20 at the Department of Sanitation on Spring Street in Manhattan and featured Emerald Society Pipes bagpipers, the Honor Guard, a prayer by Rabbi Stuart Berman of the DSNY Clergy, and speeches by Sanitation Foundation Executive Director Julie Raskin, and Sanitation Department and city officials.
“Forever Strongest” is slated to tour at department garages throughout the summer before being permanently installed for public display back on Spring Street. In addition to commissioning the memorial, the Sanitation Foundation has also distributed 85,000 masks, 350 gallons of hand sanitizer and thousands of meals to the sanitation workforce, to date, and the sculpture is also a monument to their dedication to supporting sanitation workers in ways both practical and symbolic.