PAWTUCKET — While family and friends of the 100 victims along with survivors of The Station nightclub fire are still waiting for a proper memorial to be erected at the West Warwick site, many went out and got their own personal memorial in the form of a tattoo.
These tattoos, expressing the creative and diverse ways that people chose to honor and remember that horrific tragedy, will be the subject of a unique photography exhibit called “Station Ink.” The show will be held at the Pawtucket Armory Center for the Arts, located at 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket, from February 15-17. The opening reception will be Friday, Feb. 15, at 7 p.m.
This show is being organized by Paula McLaughlin, who lost her brother, Michael Hoogasian and sister-in-law Sandy, in The Station fire. The young couple, married only 16 months, perished together on that fateful night of Feb. 20, 2003. The 31-year-old Michael and his 27-year-old wife, Sandy, had a passion for both music and tattoos, which gave McLaughlin her inspiration for the photography exhibit.
“I was never a 'tattoo person,'” said McLaughlin, of Chepachet. “But right after the fire, all of my brother's friends and my sister-in-law's brothers went out and got tattoos.” She said theirs were of the Sacred Heart, which was the next body art that her brother had intended to have done. She decided to get her first tattoo at that time herself, a different image inked onto her back that she said represents her personal remembrance of her brother and his wife.
Through the ensuing years, McLaughlin said she met and spoke with many people who had tattoos related in some way to The Station fire. Coming up on the 10th anniversary of the deadly night, she said she got the idea to put together a display of photographs. She mentioned it to professional photographer and longtime friend John Pitocco, “and he never hesitated,” she said.
A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and a designer for 25 years, McLaughlin said she wanted the event to be “beautiful and artistic as well as respectful.” She also thought that the photography exhibit “would be something else for us to focus on except that 10-year number.”
Through the Station Fire Memorial Fund organization, which McLaughlin is involved with, notice of the intended project was sent out. It was also publicized by radio station 94 HJY and through FaceBook and Twitter pages.
In December, two photo sessions were scheduled at the Pawtucket Armory. Anyone who had a tattoo in honor of a loved one or The Station nightclub fire and who wanted to be photographed for the exhibit was invited to attend. Over 70 people responded and were photographed, and there will be 80 photographs on display.
The large-scale photos, of various sizes, will be suspended from the ceiling. “My vision is to make a memorial photo garden. They will be suspended so when you walk through you feel like one photo leads to another,” she stated.
McLaughlin, the wife of Pawtucket Fire Department Battalion Chief John “Jay” McLaughlin, noted that there are a lot of connections to the city of Pawtucket in making the event possible. In helping his wife find a suitable venue, Jay McLaughlin had approached the Pawtucket Armory Center for the Arts about the event. Pawtucket Armory Manager Debbie Whitehouse immediately said she would donate the Drill Hall for the exhibit. In addition, she also provided the use of a photo studio inside the Armory, which is where Pitocco held the photo sessions.
McLaughlin also visited Pawtucket-based Printmakers to have the photos enlarged and printed on panels of various sizes. Once they learned what the event was about, the Printmakers staff donated their labor and printing services, so all McLaughlin had to pay for were the supplies. Other local businesses, such as Coca-Cola, where her brother had worked, is providing free refreshments. Another creative friend, Vitar Ferreira, is providing his expertise for the installation.
McLaughlin has been involved with the other fire victims' families and survivors in trying to have a memorial established at The Station site at 211 Cowesett Avenue. It has been a long and frustrating journey, but a big hurdle was cleared this past September when the land was donated to the Station Fire Memorial Foundation.
However, McLaughlin notes that a substantial sum of money is still needed to create a lasting memorial at the site. For that reason, while admission to the show is free, donations will be accepted on behalf of The Station Fire Memorial Fund. “My mother is getting older, and 10 years later, she still has no place to sit when we visit,” she said.
McLaughlin said she would love for the photography exhibit to be turned into a book, to further raise proceeds for The Station Fire Memorial Fund. In addition, she has designed a 10-year commemorative pin, modeled after her own small heart tattoo that she has on her wrist. Made by Tim Raup, the production of the pins was donated by Kenilworth Creations.
The Station Ink exhibit hours are: Opening night, Friday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 16, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 17, noon to 6 p.m. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org .