Charles Kapsner wanted every image in his new painting honoring the U.S. Marine Corps to carry a deeper meaning and tell a story.
A wayfinding sign points the way to Tun Tavern, the birthplace of the Marines in 1775. Chapultepec, where the Halls of Montezuma phrase in the "Marines' Hymn" originated, sits in the background. Soil from Mount Suribachi is ground into the paint used to depict the flag raising at Iwo Jima. A Marine in World War II-era uniform helps a Marine in Vietnam War-era uniform, symbolizing healing for Vietnam veterans who weren't welcomed home. A skull and bones represent Marines killed in action. A Marine faces away in the bottom corner with all of the painting's images at his back to show that he always carries his service with him.
The oil painting is meant to focus on the men and women of the Marines, rather than the Marines' equipment, and the four figures in the lower right-hand corner depict real Marines.
"When you do something like this, the most difficult thing is to edit because you cannot tell every story known to man. My goal in doing something like that is to create a work of art and not just a hodgepodge of images that are just thrown in there to be there," said Kapsner, an artist from Little Falls, Minn.
Kapsner's painting will be on display outside Veterans Memorial Hall at the Duluth Depot from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Tuesday. Duluth is the only city where the painting will be displayed before it is permanently installed in Committal Hall at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Little Falls.
Committal Hall is the last place families spend with their loved ones before burial and Kapsner said he's been told the paintings bring them comfort and understanding. The goal is instill a sense of history and inspire families to learn about a family member's military service, he said.
However, the paintings' goal is also to make viewers "keenly aware that without the men and women who served in our military, we wouldn't have the freedom and democracy we have today. I think too much of the time, that's taken for granted," Kapsner said. "I grew up in the Vietnam era and every night on the news, it was the body count so you were very aware that we were involved in a major conflict. I think we got really sidetracked with Afghanistan and Iraq. We're sending tens of thousands of men and women overseas and everyone's partying like rockstars (in the United States) without any real understanding that people are putting their life on the line right now as we speak."
The painting is the fourth of five paintings depicting the military branches that will be displayed at the Little Falls cemetery. Kapsner has already completed paintings honoring the U.S. Army, Navy and Coast Guard. His next painting will depict the U.S. Air Force.
Kapsner began the paintings by creating compositional sketches in 2009. He discovered that each branch has its own culture, history and symbolic elements as he began research. He said he used old photos and paintings to begin to piece together the elements he wanted to include. It took him more than a year to complete the Marines painting, he said.
Kapsner isn't a veteran, but completing the paintings is his way of supporting those who serve.
"This means a lot, that I can use my talent I have to tell the stories of the men and women who have served, are serving and will be serving," he said.
For more information about the paintings, visit vetsart.org.