'Faces of the Fallen' Extended at Women's Memorial Until May 31
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Apr. 17, 2006 "Faces of the Fallen," a compelling exhibit featuring more than 1,300 portraits honoring America's servicemen and women who died fighting the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq, will stay on display at the Women's Memorial here until May 31, officials said.
Annette Polan, founder of the "Faces of the Fallen" exhibit on display at the Women in Military Service to America Memorial in Arlington, Va., takes time to read a note left by a portrait of a fallen servicemember. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
More than 230,000 visitors were drawn to the memorial since the exhibit opened in March 2005, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, the president of Women in Military Service for America, said. That set a one-year record for the number of people visiting the memorial, she noted, calling the exhibit's impact on the memorial "incredible."
"That was a very welcomed thing for all of us, because when people come, they not only see that exhibit, they also see the other exhibits about women in the military," said Vaught, who spearheaded the campaign that raised more than $20 million to build the memorial that opened in 1997. "A few people told me that when they went home they told their friends and relatives that the Women's Memorial was the single most impressive place they visited."
The memorial is across the street from Arlington National Cemetery's main gate.
She said the Faces of the Fallen exhibit has generated heartwarming and touching letters and notes from visitors. The most heartwarming letter, she said, came from a lieutenant colonel who met the father of a fallen servicemember in the exhibit.
"He told her that it was the first time he had felt that an adequate tribute had been paid to his son for his sacrifice," Vaught said.
"It's a tragedy, and you can feel the spirit looking at the portraits," said Annette Polan, founder of Faces of the Fallen. "For each portrait, there's a whole community of lives that will never be the same - spouses, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends."
She said some people leave notes and letters by the portraits that are like conversations: "I saw your mother last week, and we had a cup of tea together."
Noting that more than 200 volunteer artists from across the country created the portraits, Polan said the artists worked from sometimes poor quality digitized photographs from the Internet.
The artists produced the portraits in an assortment of media: pen-and-ink drawings, watercolors, oils, textiles, relief and collage, and sculpture.
Probably the most famous portrait in the heartfelt exhibit is that of Army Cpl. Pat Tillman, 27, who gave up the glamorous life of a professional football star to become an Army Rangers He was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. Natasha Mokina painted his portrait.
Other heroes include the only Medal of Honor recipient from Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, 33, who was killed on April 4, 2003. Artist Kathy Berg Emery painted his portrait.
Polan said among the nine portraits she painted is the first serviceman killed in Iraq, Marine Corps Maj. Jay T. Aubin, 36, who died on March 20, 2003.
The exhibit opened without having portraits of some fallen servicemen and women. Some portraits are still not available, Polan noted. "We haven't added to the total number since the exhibit opened," she said. Silhouettes are used for missing servicemembers, and the silhouettes are replaced with portraits as they're received. Silhouettes have also been used for eight portraits that families didn't like.
"We're going to ask artists in each state where the exhibit travels to paint portraits of all the servicemen and women from their state who have been killed," Polan said. "The portraits would stay on permanent display at the museum in that state."
Face of the Fallen was named as one of the top five gallery exhibitions for 2005 by the Washington Post, said Polan, who teaches at Washington's Corcoran Gallery. She also teaches seminars on the contemporary art scene in New York and Washington. Polan said creating the exhibit was a gut reaction for her. "My mother had died at the age of 81 a few months before I got this idea, and it was a difficult time for me," she explained. "In trying to deal with my own grief, I decided to reach out to others. One way I have of getting through difficult times is working. If you feel like you doing something for somebody else, you will not think about yourself so much.
"I wanted to create something permanent that would honor all the men and women who lost their lives and offer some kind of support to their families," she said. "It was a task too big for one person to do, nor should one person do it."
The idea to create Faces of the Fallen came to her one morning when she saw four pages of thumbnail photographs of servicemen and women who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Washington Post.
"I intuitively thought this is something I can do to help others and also deal with my own sense of loss through working," she said. "I didn't really know where we'd show the portraits, I just knew I would show them. I've been incredibly lucky in contacting the right people at the right time to help me do this."
Polan said she made it clear to artists she contacted that the exhibit was not a statement for or against the war. "This is a honor, a memorial so these lost lives wouldn't be forgotten,' Polan said she told the artists.
John Phelps is a professional artist who painted the portrait of his own fallen son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps, who was killed in Iraq at the age of 19. Otherwise, Polan assigned portraits arbitrarily to the various participating artists, in chronological order by date of death.
"A lot of the artists have developed relationships with family members of men and women they portrayed," Polan noted. "Artists are an intelligent group of people who often don't have a public voice. This has given them an opportunity to speak up through their artwork."