Service members, veterans captured on canvas
February 13, 2014
By Dean Siemon
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- With a picture of her husband, Staff Sgt. Douglas Robey of the 555th Engineer Brigade sitting to the side, Jennifer Robey completed a painting of him during the Art of Honor workshop Saturday at the Nelson Recreation Center on JBLM.
The portrait depicted him supervising his troops during one of his two deployments to Afghanistan, illustrating for his family how he cared for the other Soldiers under him in his unit. The painting captured the trait for which they are proudest of him.
When Robey learned about the opportunity for military families to paint a portrait of their service members, it was a no-brainer for her, as it was for many others in the class.
�"It�'s very hard to do what he does. Anything I can do to make him feel good, makes me feel good," Robey said.
About 20 military spouses, family members and service members attended the class led by Seattle artist Sally Brucker. She used a digital projector to display photographs onto canvas, and traced outlines around each Soldier�'s image -- templates for loved ones to follow with paint and brushes.
In 2007, Brucker hosted a similar event at her studio in Issaquah. Brucker was inspired to create the Art of Honor workshops after her father -- Pvt. 1st Class Clarence Craft, a veteran who fought in Okinawa -- passed away in 2002. While still grieving her father�'s passing, Brucker painted Craft�'s portrait using a newspaper clipping from the 1940s. It was a meaningful experience she came to see as a way to remember and honor him. She decided to share it with other military families.
�"You�'re not just looking at them, you�'re recreating them," Brucker said. �"Almost like I got a sense for where they�'ve been just by drawing their facial features."
Each of the portraits had a story to tell, like Cindy Kirker�'s painting of her husband James, a sergeant at Madigan Army Medical Center, which featured him helping an Afghan woman during his 2010 deployment as an Army medic.
She also brought her daughter, Sarah, who painted a portrait of her mom hugging a family friend, Sara Sawyer -- a Gold Star wife who lost her husband in Afghanistan in 2010.
Both portraits were surprise gifts to their respective recipients as something more personalized than a photograph.
�"You�'re taking a moment in life and making it more personal than it was before," Kirker said.
Wati Mixon brought her two children to paint their dad, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Mixon of the 593rd Expeditionary Sustaintment Command, who was coming home from Afghanistan later that evening.
While Mixon�'s son, Kheal, 12, painted Michael in uniform making a funny face, her daughter Mia, 10, picked a photo of her father having lunch with a blue frog named �"Lily," which she gave him before he deployed to Iraq.
�"Everywhere my husband would go, he would bring Lily," Mixon said.
These were just some of the stories that Brucker said she hopes are handed from generation to generation to share veterans�' legacies.
�"I�'m hoping to get some stories out of this -- sharing who the veteran is, what their relationship is and how meaningful they were to them," Brucker said.
Brucker hopes to schedule more Art of Honor workshops not only at JBLM, but at other local installations with some of the art possibly being featured at local art displays. Eventually, she sees Art of Honor becoming a national program.