Gordon Gerling hoped to kindle a spark — to inspire the right person to paint a historic memorial for veterans.
By contacting Charles Kapsner, a Little Falls native known for his frescoes, drawings and oil paintings, Gerling said, “More than a spark, I discovered I’d lit a blowtorch.”
Gerling, a former state legislator from Little Falls and Air Force veteran, recognized a specific need at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery north of Little Falls.
“I wanted something that portrayed how democracy has been preserved and protected,” he said, “something educational to help future generations understand our history and the role our military played in maintaining freedom and democracy.”
With Kapsner’s artistry and the enthusiasm of local and state veterans’ leaders, Gerling’s vision is becoming reality. The Veterans Art Project — five original oil paintings, each 8 by 10 feet, depicting the histories of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard/Merchant Marine — will be permanently installed at the Committal Hall of the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery.
Faces of freedom
The first painting tells the story of the Army from 1775 — the founding of the Continental Army — to the present, Kapsner said. A Vietnam-era solider kneels in the front center.
Also among the 22 figures depicted in the painting are: Washington crossing the Delaware, a cannon team with Molly Pitcher, the first woman ever compensated by the U.S. government for military service; a World War I doughboy; soldiers from World War II, the Korean War and Desert Storm; and a homeless veteran, pointing to issues faced by some of those returning from war.
Minnesota’s unique contributions are included, Kapsner said, in Fort Snelling, a black-and-red uniformed Minnesota militiaman carrying a historic Civil War flag, a Red Bulls symbol, and, discussing democracy with Thomas Paine, Gerling, wearing modern clothes.
“An eagle staff affirms Native Americans,” Kapsner said. Minnesota will be represented in each painting, as well as various ethnic groups and women.
The details in the painting, down to the uniform buttons, are accurate. Kapsner, who loves history, has sought out top military sources, immersed himself in research, traveled to museums, consulted collectors, hired re-enactors and posed models in period uniforms.
“This project takes in all aspects of my 35-year career,” said Kapsner, a member of St. Mary Parish in Little Falls.
“The paintings tell a story with serious implications for everyone — all of us know or have been touched by someone who’s been in the military,” he said. “The project pays homage to men and women who’ve served and the sacrifices they’ve endured.”
Extensive research, initial sketches and drawing the whole composition consumed nearly one year, and Kapsner began the actual painting of the canvas only a few months ago. Most of the paintings will take eight to nine months each, start to finish, he said.
The partially-completed first painting will be displayed at a May 29 Memorial Day program at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery north of Little Falls (see sidebar above), with small oil sketches of the complete series hanging on other walls of the Committal Building.
After May 29, the painting will be moved to Kapsner’s studio, and his goal is to complete it by early fall.
The project will cost about $495,000 and take four to five years. It has received more than $100,000 so far and all monies go directly to the project.
Memorial Day programWhen: Sunday, May 29; 1:30 p.m. patriotic songs played by Richfield Symphonic Band; 2 p.m. program, with retired Major General Larry Shellito as main speaker.
Where: Seven miles north of Little Falls on MN 371, then west on MN 115 (Camp Ripley junction). Follow brown signs to cemetery; traffic will be directed.
Category: Memorial Day