Touched by the bravery of the soldiers who have died serving our country in Afghanistan, three Canadian artists – including Shairl Honey, formerly of Birtle, Man. – have started to create a massive, historic, military oil portrait collection.
The “Canada Honours Afghanistan Fallen Heroes” project will see every fallen Canadian soldier commemorated in a work of art, with the intent to exhibit the paintings in every province, along with military paraphernalia, personal items from the soldiers, including written material such as letters they wrote home.
“The intent is to not only show the faces of the fallen heroes, but to give Canadians a glimpse into the character of these incredible people who gave their lives for what they believed in,” said artist Susan Abma of Leduc, Alta. About three years ago, Abma felt called to paint all of the Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, hoping the exhibit would be available to tour then be retained as a historic collection by the Canadian Military, the Canadian War Museum or the Portrait Gallery of Canada. However, as the number of fallen soldiers climbed, feeling that she may not be able to complete that many portraits alone, Abma shelved the idea.
The project got back on track last year, when Abma and Honey, now living in Busby, Alta., were waiting in an airport. Seeing a magazine that had pictures of all the fallen soldiers to that date, Abma once again had a strong desire to paint them. “Talking about the soldiers in the photographs, we thought it would be a fantastic collaborative project,” Abma said. “With great hope that there wouldn’t be more soldiers killed, we estimated if one more artist was brought in, it would mean approximately 40 paintings each and if done over a two-year period it was very doable.”
Having worked with Cindy Revell on previous occasions, the Sherwood Park, Alta. resident is the third artist involved.
Although the trio will not be paid for the work, they are honoured that this is the first project for their company Canadian Oil Painters Inc., which will hold all original portraits as a collection. Reproductions will only be made for family members.
“This enormous, but emotionally rewarding project is an opportunity to use the talents we were blessed with to commemorate the soldiers,” said Abma. “No matter what a person thinks of war, those self-sacrificing soldiers should always be remembered by our country.”
The artists have six portraits underway and three commemorative paintings, and have been in contact with more families to schedule interviews. The artists can be reached at [email protected] jectheroes.ca,and are interested in hearing from any families who have not yet been contacted. They hope to begin exhibiting in mid-2011.
There will be some still-life paintings of military items, some scenes of military life, etc., which will be made into prints and sold to help offset costs. Because the costs are huge, funds are also being raised via sponsorship. Those who wish to assist with Project Heroes can do so by visiting www.projectheroes.ca.Check out the progress on the project at www.projectheroestm.blogspot.com.
“It is with great honour and pride that I have accepted this challenge with Susan and Cindy to paint and exhibit over the next few years Canada’s Afghanistan Military Heroes portraits. This may be the first project for our company, but hopefully not the last, as we have always worked well together,” said Honey.
To date all families talked to have been in total support of the project. They like the fact that Abma, Honey and Revell are attempting to bring the soldiers to life by having not only the portraits, but by collecting other items and information that will show the person who he or she was.
The artists are finding this an emotional project. “We run the gamut from tears to laughter and back again. These soldiers were real people – the families have wonderful and fun stories to tell about them. They also have sad ones, romantic ones and some they weren’t so proud of. The soldiers were just like every one of us, but they have a common thread that most of us may not – they were willing to die for their cause, and they did. By choosing to do this project, we have an obligation to attempt to understand who they were and to do our very best to tell their stories through our work.”