LITTLE FALLS — Unveiling a painting of naval history took on an emotional tone Tuesday at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery.
Outside the committal hall, crews were setting headstones. People walked quietly through the rows of grave markers on one of the first warm days of this spring. Bugle strains could be heard from nearby Camp Ripley, marking the end to the day.
Inside the committal hall, a throng of people gathered to celebrate the culmination of several dreams as the massive painting was installed. It is the second completed painting of artist Charles Kapsner’s multi-year journey to depict military legacies, family contributions and individual sacrifice.
The likeness of 24-year Navy veteran Ray Stumpf was striking in the foreground.
As Stumpf sat for the painting, adding his likeness and humanity to the image along with other models, he hoped it would be of comfort to his family when they visit the committal hall after his death.
He was diagnosed with colon cancer in July of 2010. When he couldn’t continue with the teaching profession he loved, he was able to sit for the painting and contribute to the extensive research that went into creating the images on it.
Stumpf died Nov. 3, 2013, at his home with his family at his side. He was 57.
As he started to talk about his model and friend Tuesday, Kapsner said this would be the moment he’d be challenged to keep things together.
“The friendship that came with that was something that I’ll never forget as long as I live,” Kapsner said. “He’s here now to take care of everyone, that’s the most beautiful part of this project. ...I am honored and proud I am doing this for everyone.”
A few feet away Barb Stumpf was wiping away tears.
Looking at the painting overhead, where her husband’s image sits looking out over the waters and a naval legacy, Barb Stumpf said Kapsner didn’t just capture her husband’s physical resemblance.
“He captured Ray’s spirit,” she said. “It’s just beautiful.”
Will it help the family in their grief at his loss as he hoped?
“It’s a gift that is going to keep going,” Barb Stumpf said. “I think it will. It’s definitely him.”
Surrounded by friends and well-wishers, Barb Stumpf was embraced in hug after hug.
Kapsner said they didn’t realize until the painting was settling in its place that Stumpf’s image in the painting looks toward his final resting place.
Being involved in the art project to honor the service branches was a way Stumpf said he could continue to contribute, to add value and to enjoy the time he had. He called the cancer his “oddly wrapped gift” as it provided an opportunity for him to give back and document history he helped create by serving his country.
Stumpf was already giving back as a middle school teacher in Little Falls.
As the cancer was running its course, Stumpf donned his Navy uniform and sat for Kapsner in the artist’s studio. Even coming from different perspectives, the two became good friends in a short time.
“They just bonded,” said Stump’s wife, Barb.
During sessions, the men talked about growing up in Little Falls. Each appreciated the other’s abilities, talents and dedication. Now the two are forever linked in the painting hanging in the committal hall, one of two now complete and on display. When finished, five paintings will hang in the hall depicting the history of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
“Two down, three to go, I guess is how to look at it,” Kapsner said.
The project represents the past, present and future.
A Memorial Day Ceremony on May 25 is planned at the site. More than 5,000 veterans and their families are buried at the cemetery.
Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery Director David Swantek said 100 years from now thousands of people will be able to see what is just beginning with the first two paintings at the committal hall.
Veterans cemeteries are more than a final resting place, they’re a monument.
“A monument to veterans’ service, to dedication and sacrifice veterans have made for this country for the freedoms we all enjoy,” Swantek said. “These paintings are a huge extension of the monument here.”