Steve Alpert, Proudly She Served artist and Executive Director, visited the Pentagon this week and viewed the newly displayed portrait prints of the Proudly She Served Project. Steve shares his thoughts about the project and the displaying of the portrait prints at the Pentagon...
There they are! All twelve of the women shining bright and colorful like precious jewels. The light in their eyes pierce the air. Jewels frozen forever in a moment in time on the wall at the 3rd floor apex between corridors 1 & 2 in the Pentagon.
The large portrait paintings of ten woman who have worn the uniform and two women who still wear the uniform are brightly displayed! My curator friend, Air Force Veteran Albert Jones, who led the effort to display the portraits, is not only an artist himself — a painter — but is the brilliant creator and designer of art displays flung all over the far reaches of the sprawling art gallery known also as the Pentagon.
The expansive and never-ending well-lit corridors with the shiniest of floors of the Pentagon are filled with paintings, exhibits and other displays, honoring the service of all of our military branches, by artists from all over the world. And now, our Proudly She Served women portraits take their place in our military history in these hallowed halls.
For me, having dedicated three years of my painting life to making these portraits and the honor to work with our Project Director, Naval Aviator and tireless women veteran advocate Linda Maloney. If it were not for Linda, none of this would have been possible. Credit is due to Linda for organizing the Proudly She Served portraits and working to bring our project to the world. It is one thing to make art, it is quite another thing to bring art into the world for people to experience. So to you Linda, I can say much, but the bottom line is: I am grateful.
To me, experiencing the portraits all together on one wall with thumbnail bios was almost too much to take in. Devoting three years to bringing the women to life in oil paint…man, that was a lot of work. But, it wasn’t work in the sense that many people use that word. Many people characterize the word, “work” to mean drudgery as in, “Yeah, and that’s why they call it work!” No, this was not work in that sense. It was a joy to get to know these women, their selfless sense of giving service and lack of acknowledgement in general. It was my honor and pleasure and I hope these paintings will change that as much as art can influence thinking and perception. Women who serve, and serve proudly need to be acknowledged in a special way. Linda and I want to fill this need with Proudly She Served.
As I stand before the images of these women, I see the flaws in each painting, what I might have done better, and I also see what I got right. My goal is to make the women alive, for the viewer to experience the tragedy that some of the women have experienced, and definitely to witness their triumph’s, their toughness, their resolve, and their softness, too....their inner and outer beauty. I want to tell their stories, to identify and honor their souls. Each have a special story to tell that we all can learn from and be inspired by.
I met each women in person except Louise Rand, Nicole Cimino Knowles, and the late Bee Haydu, who turned 100 years old when I began her portrait. Shockingly, Bee passed while I was working on her portrait. Kind of fitting that Bee’s portrait was the final painting, #12. Bee’s passing at that specific time was a powerful influence on me and how I thought about the painting. It is difficult to define this but I felt Bee’s presence in my studio for a few days— okay I know how crazy that sounds — I’m just reporting on what happened, I cannot explain it more than that. This kind of thing is not taught in any kind of art school. When I sent the final image of Bee’s portrait to her daughter Diana, Diana wrote back to me that she was glad I got to spend time with her Mom. I had not told Diana what my experience was. How about that?!
Truthfully, I was not able to stand there and take in the display for an unlimited time which I wanted to do. A civilian must have an escort the entire time spent in the Pentagon. I was on Al’s time and Al Jones is a man in constant motion and is always wanting to show me his new exhibition, which I of course I always want to see.
So, a few photos… I gave Al my iPhone ready to shoot and wearing my beautiful and trusty A-2 flight jacket, took my spot next to the images. I felt like I wanted to project a serious look on my face— I don’t know why — but Al busted me and yelled, “Let’s see the teeth!” Okay Al. I got my teeth out there! A sense of real accomplishment and satisfaction washed over me as the smile I forced became truly joyful.
This was not just another day. This was a moment that was screaming, “This is REAL, Dude, here they are, all the hours days, weeks, months, years… it is all right here! Shut up and smile!”
We should all be smiling!