After Newton resident Amy Toyen was killed as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Jeff Gonski, her fiancée at the time, often found cutouts of newspaper articles left on his Watertown doorstep.
“I never knew who they were from,” Gonski said.
He also received cards from people he had not heard from in years.
“People wanted to connect,” Gonski said “They were coming out of the woodwork.”
He saved the articles and the cards. His e-mail server crashed, losing all of the e-mails Amy wrote to him, but Gonski held onto cards she made him and letters she wrote to him over the years.
"She was an amazing person," Gonski said. "She was an incredibly caring individual. She was a person who cares about everybody."
Gonski, his wife, Stephanie Galvani and his two-year-old son, Tom have plans to visit Ground Zero on Sunday, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, in memory of Amy, an Avon, Conn. native. Dorine and Marty Toyen, Amy’s parents and Avon residents, are also going.
“It’ll be an interesting experience. I really don’t know what to expect,” Gonski said. “I don’t know if I’ll get what I need…. Some people are still living in that day.”
In Amy's last conversation with her sister, Heather, currently a Canton, Conn. resident, before 9/11, the girls talked about wedding dresses and plans for the wedding, which would have been the following June. Gonski proposed to Amy on a surprise trip to Ireland in the spring of 2001.
Dorine Toyen kept a photograph of what her daughter’s wedding dress would have looked like in a memory box of items related to Amy and 9/11. The box also contained newspaper clippings about 9/11, an American flag, a piece of metal and some dirt from Ground Zero that relief staff sent, the book that attendees at Amy’s memorial service signed, cards received when people donated to scholarships in Amy’s name, a DVD of 9/11 coverage and another DVD of television news feature about Amy. Dorine never watched the first DVD and has not opened the box for 10 years
“I said, for you I’ll go through the box,” Dorine said.
Dorine and others close to Amy will soon see a unique model of her wedding dress.
Gonski borrowed the photograph and is working with artist Virginia Fitzgerald to design a replica of the dress made out of the newspaper clips and cards. Fitzgerald is based in Natick, MA, where Gonski now lives. He is informally calling it "The Dress Project."
“We’re trying to make a dress that embodies Amy,” Gonski said. “Conceptually it should be interesting. It’s not just about Amy and myself, but the support that came out of the community after it.”
Dorine said she “looks forward to seeing it when it’s finished.”
“It’s something that will help him. It’s something that he does,” Dorine said. “It’s good for him. He’s done a lot of neat things. It’s hard for him, but he’s lucky he has Stephanie. He has this little boy…. She’s wonderful. She’s very understanding.”
He said he hopes to have the dress completed by the 10th anniversary, but would “rather have it be done right” than rushed.
The dress may appear in a 9/11 museum someday in memory of Toyen or on display elsewhere, but Gonski said he does not plan on keeping it in his house.
“I’ve had those cards for so long,” Gonski said. “They’re quite a relief to unload.”
Gonski has been dabbling in art and other creative mediums predominantly since 2002 and art has also been a part of the lives of many people dear to him. Amy was an artist herself and some of her artwork hangs on the walls at his home.
“She is still a part of our lives,” Gonski said. “We keep in touch with her family.”
His wife’s parents are artists and Marty Toyen has an apt for photography.
“Marty’s always been a bit of a shutterbug,” Gonski said.
In fact, Marty gave Gonski a Bronica RF645 medium format camera and some film, which Gonski has incorporated into The View From Ten, a multimedia video blog he started leading up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The medium format gives the photos a vintage touch.
“I always had sort of a passing interest in [photography]…. It’s really fun taking pictures and to have a creative outlet,” Gonski said. “As an adult, when you start going out into the working world, your play time is taken away from you. Where do you have fun and find the things that you love doing?”
The social and visual element of video games, as well as people’s YouTube video game reviews, also inspired him to do a multimedia blog.
In addition to photography, Gonski has taken classes to learn new skills that pique his interest, such as blacksmithing and cooking. He previously produced a cooking blog from a beginner’s perspective.
While Gonski does talk about 9/11 and Amy in The View From Ten, that is not the sole focus. He also shares thoughts and updates on other aspects of his life, whatever crosses his mind. The cooking blog entailed more blogger networking and efforts to increase readership, but Gonski’s The View From Ten is mostly intended for one person.
“The genesis of this project started with me wanting to do something creative for my son,” Gonski said.
When Gonski was a teenager, his father, Robert gave him a letter he wrote when Gonski was three years old. In the letter, his father, who Gonski said was not normally an outwardly expressive person, described the feelings he had at the time and what it meant to him to be Gonski's father.
While some photographers capture landscapes and animals, Gonski is drawn to less traditional scenes and minute details.
“I just like finding a lot of the things people don’t notice, like taking pictures of a gummy bear on the floor or a girl with crazy hair,” Gonski said. “I think it’s just taking time and slowing down and not being in a rush, taking a look at the world around you before rushing to the next thing.”
Whenever Gonski finishes a roll of film, he runs from Boston’s South Station to Bain Capital, his current employer. On the way, he drops off the film at a professional color lab. When the prints are ready, he scans the photographs into his computer and adds some to The View From Ten.
Gonski doesn’t view his creative projects as an outlet for grief.
“I think 9/11 re-prioritized my life. A lot of people go through, ‘What if?’…. A lot of people have a lot of things that they want to try in life…. For myself, it is important to try new things,” Gonski said. “We as Americans aren’t intended to live in a grieving process forever.”