LITTLE FALLS — Artist Charles Kapsner was understandably at least slightly nervous as the canvas bearing the work that has absorbed more than of the last year of his life was lifted into the air.
Steadied by hand and with the aid of ropes, the painting depicting the history of the U.S. Army settled into place Friday morning inside the committal building at the grounds of the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery near Camp Ripley.
Kapsner said he hopes the paintings will provide a greater appreciation for the past and entice people to look into their own family histories.
“The main purpose of this is to pay a tribute to the men and women of the service, what they have done and what they continue to do to preserve our freedom and democracy,” Kapsner said. In addition to that, Kapsner said he hopes the paintings also create a sense of what the nation’s whole history is about. “That’s the biggest thing I’d like people to contemplate.”
When the project is completed, years from now, there will be five paintings in the hall representing the history of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard/Merchant Marine. Sketches of all the paintings line a hall in the building.
But Friday was focused on getting the first canvas in place. The committal hall was recently repainted in a red to better showcase thepaintings. A cherrywood frame, fabricated by Brainerd Hardwoods, encased the 8-foot-by-10-foot canvas. All told, the art work weighed an estimated 150-160 pounds.
For Kapsner it’s strange walking into his studio without the painting. He finished the work three weeks ago. Soon he’ll turn his attention to his next painting of the Navy.
The Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery Memorial Association commissioned Kapsner of Little Falls to design and create the five oil paintings. Live models and authentic uniforms from the Continental Army of the nation’s birth to its great wars are helping to tell the story of veterans who sacrificed to support freedom and democracy.
The project, funded by tax-deductible donations, is expected to cost $495,000 and take four or five years. Kapsner considers each painting to be an allegorical piece, telling a story and using those symbolic figures to examine greater truths. Kapsner, who conducted extensive research for the project, has been working on the canvas in a studio created in a maintenance building at the cemetery. Friday Kapsner said with the experience and lessons learned with the first painting, he expects work on the others to be completed more quickly.
Dave Swantek, cemetery director, has been instrumental in support of the effort. Friday Swantek said when the project first began they never expected to be as involved in the process from being there as canvas was stretched to hanging the completed piece.
“It’s incredible,” Swantek said as he looked at the painting. Life-size images of soldiers appear so life-like, they are nearly three dimensional. Swantek said it’s been an education both in American history and in how an oil painting is created from start to finish.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.