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The Portraits of a Fallen Memorial

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By: Kerri-Lynn Swanson
Photos: Allen Carrasco

Honoring the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Since October 2001, the United States and its brave service members have been fighting for our great country and all of the freedoms we hold so dear. The media has been reporting on military activity in Afghanistan and Iraq for so long that many of us tune it out. With the origin of the conflict a world away, it is easy for civilians to forget the price our country and our people pay every day. Our troops will never forget, and their honor and commitment to this country have never wavered; they stand proud, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for people they will never meet.

In the past 10 years, more than 6,338 men and women have been killed in active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. During this time, many of us have lent our support in a variety of ways to our troops overseas. We wear yellow ribbons, send care packages and well wishes during the holidays and thank every soldier we see. But what we all want to do as a nation is heal and find peace. One community of California artists are helping us find a way to heal by honoring our heroes one portrait at a time.

Sherry Moore (second to left) and artists

The Beginning

Around the same time as the conflict began thousands of miles away, artists Eva Andry and curator and Army veteran Sherry Moore met at an event in Venice Beach. At this event, Eva had a display of portraits she had painted of various fallen soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as her response to the war. Sherry was the curator at the Los Angeles Veterans History Museum and offered to put all of Eva’s portraits on display. They worked together for several years until Moore moved forward with the current directive to have all of the California fallen painted leading to a permanent memorial.

It was in this service that Sherry found a way to not only honor these brave men and women but to also provide an artistic medium to bridge the gap between today’s military and civilian families. A veteran herself, Sherry attended University of Southern California (USC) through a program for disabled veterans, earning her Master of Public Art Studies. In May 2010, with conviction and determination, Sherry launched The Portraits of the Fallen Memorial to not only commemorate the fallen but to provide education, hope, understanding and healing to our country.

Artist: Caryl Christian Levy

Soldier: Specialist Carla Jane Stewart Glendale, CA

While Sherry was a student in Public Art Studies student at USC, she asked Caryl to be the chair of her thesis committee. Caryl, who eventually became a good friend of Sherry’s, was one of the first artists to be invited to do a portrait for the memorial. She was matched with Carla Jane Stewart from Glendale, CA. After spending time getting to know Carla, Caryl cast her likeness on the small canvas, adding gold leaf around the edges of the painting to give a precious and exceptional feel to the painting to express how precious and exceptional Carla was to those who knew her.

Caryl Christian Levy is an artist and Public Arts professional in Los Angeles, CA. As the former Director of Research and Special Projects in the Gayle Garner Roski School of Fine Arts at USC, Caryl spent many years teaching undergraduate and graduate courses throughout her tenure. Since 2004, Caryl has focused her studio work on re-interpreting inherited hand-made artifacts and fabric histories created by her grandmother in the early 20th century. Her current body of work titled “Vestment Series” explores images of domesticity, sentimentality, grief and the every day within the backdrop of American regionalism.
For more information on Caryl, check out www.cmcfinearts.us.

Jill Sykes with portrait of Lieutenant Commander Keith Taylor of Orange County, CA

Artist: Jill Sykes

Soldier: Lieutenant Commander Keith Taylor, Orange County, CA

Jill was one of the artists who had a connection with the soldier she was given by the curator. Lieutenant Taylor was a supply officer who was not in a combat zone when he perished; this just happened to be the same position held by her daughter-in-law. Contrary to what is intended, this type of connection can sometimes make it much more difficult to create a rendering of the soldier because of the emotional connection. After several versions of the portrait, Jill presented her canvas to Sherry Moore in November of last year.

Jill Sykes was born and raised in Los Angeles, where she attended the prestigious Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles and The Academy of Art / Lone Mountain College in San Francisco where she studied with Gordon Cook, among many other reputable artists. She spent many years as a graphic designer and illustrator for film and business. Over time, she found herself focusing on painting, specifically abstract expressionism, which is a world away from the structure of graphic design. She currently works with oils and printmaking and her works can be found in exhibits across the country. Jill’s son currently serves in the Navy and has been deployed overseas.

Slade Smiley with portrait of Specialist Timothy D. Watkins

Artist: Slade Smiley
Solider: Specialist Timothy D. Watkins

Slade Smiley was one of the first participants in The Portraits of the Fallen Memorial, producing one of the original six canvases. The Watkins family was also the first family that the memorial had the honor of meeting during the commission of Timothy’s portrait. Although no real connection between Slade and Timothy was made at the time of the pairing, Sherry and Slade soon learned from Rob Watkins, Timothy’s father, that it was possible that Slade and Tim could be found together at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood where Rob performed regularly as a ventriloquist. Although best known for his plethora of memorable moments on Real Housewives of Orange County, Slade Smiley has been practicing art most of his life, sketching and drawing throughout his childhood. His penchant for painting took a back seat for many years as he dabbled in several business ventures but decided to pick up a paintbrush as a serious artist again three years ago as a way to give back. Most of Slade’s paintings are given to local charities across Southern California to auction off or sell to generate proceeds for charitable causes.

The Future

The Portraits of the Fallen Memorial has a mission to tell the story of those who serve our country with the painting of fallen soldiers from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are developing a traveling exhibition that will address issues of patriotism, why one volunteers to serve, and to tell the stories of these fine American heroes. The long-range vision is to transfer the portraits to tile for a permanent memorial to honor our fallen heroes. The Portraits of the Fallen Memorial invites you to be a part of their current mission to paint the remaining 578 California fallen heroes who gave their lives for our country and to ensure there will be a permanent memorial where all Americans can come and pay their respects to these brave men and women. As Sherry Moore so eloquently states, The Portraits of the Fallen Memorial invites you to be a part of their current mission to paint the remaining 578 California fallen heroes who gave their lives for our country and to ensure there will be a permanent memorial where all Americans can come and pay their respects to these brave men and women. As Sherry Moore so eloquently states, ‘‘Let us always remember. Let us never forget”.

For more information about how you can help, visit www.portraitsofthefallenmemorial.org.

Posted in: January 2012Lifestyle
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