There is a little girl’s image in the large Navy mural on display at the Depot through Monday. No matter where the viewer is in the room, her eyes follow in the way gifted artists can make painted eyes follow. Is she waiting for someone to come home? Is she saying goodbye? What is she trying to tell us about the military, about the future? The viewer doesn’t exactly know.

That’s the point.

“There is a lot of symbolism in the painting,” said the artist, Charles Kapsner of Little Falls, Minn. “She’s the only person in the five murals who will be looking at the audience.”

Kapsner’s mural is the second completed piece of five that will represent each branch of the military. They ultimately will hang in the Committal Hall at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery outside Little Falls. Kapsner will be at the Depot each day through Monday, from noon to 3 p.m., to talk about the oil painting.

The mural was about 18 months in the making. And while Kapsner is the artist who painted it, he credits a battalion’s worth of people for its creation. The people pictured all are real folks who sat for the artist.

Kapsner has gone straight to the source, to high-ranking officers and others to learn about the military and the symbols he was incorporating into the work. The funding for the ongoing project is a monumental effort in itself, especially considering it started in 2009, during harsh economic times.

The effort appears to have been worth it.

The mural offers a serpentine look at different eras of the Navy and, if one looks, one will note the subjects come together to form the shape of a giant anchor.  

In the middle of the work, the classically trained Kapsner, who has walked da Vinci’s footsteps by training and painting in Florence, Italy, and other artisan hotbeds, has placed a vast and largely unencumbered blue sea.

More symbolism.

“To better understand the sea and the ocean,” explained Kapsner, who talked to many sailors who told him the same variation on a theme: “You don’t know how big it is till you sail for five days straight and never see land.”

The Army mural, which made a similarly brief stop in Duluth a few years ago, already has been hung in its permanent place. The Navy mural is headed there after its stop in Duluth. Murals of the Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard are next for Kapsner, who is meeting with public school officials soon to see if the murals can be incorporated into curriculums.

“It’s a great opportunity to pay homage to the men and women who have served,” he said. “It’s an educational tool.”