Kelley Hill Soldier pays homage
PFC Elena Fedorova created the "Fort Benning Madonna" as a protective symbol for U.S. troops.

FORT BENNING, Ga. - The massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, in early November made a lasting impression on PFC Elena Fedorova.

An artistic photographer who created an online digital studio four years ago, Fedorova said she wanted to produce an image that would pay homage to the shooting victims and serve as a symbol of love and protection for U.S. troops fighting in harm's way around the globe. The result is the "Fort Benning Madonna," a depiction of the mother Mary praying for the Soldiers.

The 24-by-36-inch picture will be among the works on display this weekend during the "It's a Wonderful Life" fine art exhibit and sale at the Joseph House Art Gallery in Columbus. Opening night is 5 to 8 p.m. today, followed by an encore reception from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, coinciding with the Historic Homes Tour. The show is free and open to the public.

"This picture is my tribute to the Soldiers who were killed at Fort Hood ... and the ones who died in all wars," said Fedorova, a human resources specialist with the 203rd Brigade Support Battalion at Kelley Hill. "One of the killed Soldiers was a pregnant girl. Being a mom of two girls myself, I can deeply understand the pain of the families who lost their kids.

"The shooting was a complete shock for everyone. I was upset about it, and I wanted to do something peaceful for it in honor of the victims."

Images of the Madonna are pictorial or sculptured representations of Mary, the mother of Jesus. They are considered central icons of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Fedorova said she asked PFC April Burns, a Soldier from the Brigade Special Troops Battalion on Kelley Hill who's expecting a baby, to pose for the photo she took Nov. 19.

"I wanted to make a very clean, simple image of the Madonna which would be easily recognizable and close to other Soldiers," she said.

Burns said she's done modeling work before but never in a religious context.

"I think it turned out really nice," she said. "It makes me feel good that she wanted to use me as a model to represent these fallen Soldiers. It was a special experience. It was fun, and she's a really good photographer."

The photo shoot took place the same day authorities discovered a potential threat on Kelley Hill. Then, after learning Nov. 22 that SSG Briand T. Williams, a 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team Soldier, had been killed in Iraq - leaving behind a pregnant wife - Fedorova said she decided to take her picture to Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago, where she's a member, and have it blessed by the archbishops.

"The threat at Fort Benning kinda showed that the danger might be at the place where you least expect it," she said.

The cathedral was one of the first Christian Orthodox churches built in America and home to the famous Mother of God of Tikhvin icon for more than 60 years. Father Sergei Garklavs saved the icon from the Nazis during World War II and brought it to America. It was returned to Russia in 2004.

"Traditionally people get blessings for a child, wedding, a house or any other events in their life," Fedorova said. "I chose Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral because it is a really unusual cathedral and I wanted to make the blessing very special ... The Tikhvin icon is recognized for its tremendous power to protect against enemies. So I wanted to make this image of a Soldier-Madonna and bring some of this protecting power to our troops."

Fedorova was born in Moscow and moved to the United States in 1996 with her family, settling in Chicago. She earned an undergraduate degree in fashion design and technology from Moscow College of Merchandising and Design. Later, Fedorova graduated from Chicago-Kent College of Law with a degree in international law.

She worked for several years at large corporate law firms in the Chicago area before converting her passion for photography and art into a part-time profession. So in 2005, she developed ELF Image Studio, an online collaborative devoted to making digital art.

Fedorova, who joined the Army almost two years ago, has a home studio in Columbus and continues to pursue artistic photography in her spare time. She occasionally uses 3rd HBCT Soldiers and activities as subjects.

"I like being in the military. It's kinda different," she said. "(In the legal field), I didn't like being attached to office all the time. The Army gives me more variety. Some exercises are not the most pleasant ones, but it gets you out of the office and gives you much more flexibility."

Fedorova is a Joseph House Art Gallery member and her photography and paintings can be seen there on a regular basis, she said. She'll have a second work displayed at the "It's a Wonderful Life" exhibit - a 24-by-36 photograph of a horse named "Wiwida" that she visits at Poplar Place Farm in Hamilton, Ga.

This weekend, exhibit visitors can order pictures from Fedorova's portfolio.

Following the event, she said she wants to donate the "Fort Benning Madonna" to the installation, perhaps to a chapel, so it can be viewed as a permanent icon of comfort for Soldiers.

"I hope that it would help our troops to stay safe and come back to their families," Fedorova said. "It's about love and peace and compassion toward Soldiers who are losing their lives in the war fighting to protect the peace."

Page last updated Fri December 11th, 2009 at 10:27