Artists Make Portraits Of U.S. War Dead

Row after row of photos in a newspaper, each the likeness of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, were the inspiration for an artistic tribute to those who lost their lives in the conflicts.

"Faces of the Fallen," 1,327 individual portraits of the dead produced by 200 artists, opens to the public Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery.

The images, each 6-by-8 inches, are mounted on plain steel rods that reach to near eye level. Each rod includes a label with the soldier's name, hometown and date of death.

Five rows are arranged chronologically by the soldiers' times of death and stretch along a half-circle inside the small museum at the entrance to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. The number of images does not represent all those killed - that figure now is more than 1,600.

Annette Polan, head of the Corcoran College of Art and Design's painting department, said she was moved to create the memorial after seeing all the photos of dead soldiers displayed in a newspaper. She hopes it can have the same healing effect as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall.

Polan, 60, said she wanted to show that every death is an individual, each with their own hopes and dreams and memories. Artists were encouraged to show their own individuality and that of their subject.

A portrait artist herself who has painted Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Polan did nine of the collection's portraits. She assigned the others to artists she knew, either personally or through their work.

The artists worked mostly from newspaper and Internet photos, and some sent by families of the dead.

One particularly poignant portrait was done by John R. Phelps, a Vietnam veteran chosen to design the World War II memorial in Lander, Wyo. He painted his son, Marine Pfc. Clarence Phelps, who died April 9 from head wounds.

The artists, who donated their time and paid for all the materials, plan to give the portraits to the families when the exhibit is over, Polan said.

A large portion of the portraits were done conventionally, in color on canvas, but in other cases artists experimented with the images.

"As you view the image of your loved one, please bear in mind that each artist's hand and way of seeing is different from another's, just as each of our fingerprints are unique," Polan said in a Web site note to families. "All the artists have worked respectfully and from their hearts."

Jason Zimmerman, a Washington artist, said he took a photo, inserted it in a computer imaging program. manipulated it "to make a ghostly kind of image" and printed it on a heavy cotton fabric by ink-jet process.

Another artist molded low-relief images in clay. Another did scratch board drawings. Another did not portray faces at all, just flowers. The dead for whom no portraits could be made, for lack of photos or other reasons, are represented by generic black-and-white silhouettes.

The portraits will be on view at the memorial through Sept. 5. Admission is free. A Tuesday evening reception was planned for artists to meet family members of those they memorialized.

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