While at The Met last weekend, I happened upon a display that really caught my attention. It was a sobering display of paintings of Canadian soldiers – sobering in many ways, but mainly because I quickly realized that all of them had died while serving in Afghanistan.
This project began when artist Stephen C. Gaebel painted a portrait of Trooper Mark Wilson from my city of London, Ontario as a tribute to him after his death in Afghanistan in 2006. Gaebel felt inspired to create a portrait of each and every one of the men and women who gave their lives while serving in Afghanistan and set out to do so. At first, he thought that maybe the government would choose to place them on display in our capital or in the war museum but then he had the opportunity to meet with Mark Wilson’s family and his mission changed slightly. He then knew that these portraits needed to be given to the families of the fallen soldiers.
These portraits are painted with oil paints on 18 by 24 inch panels of maple. The lettering on them is all done by hand. Gaebel says that he was not politically motivated to create these paintings – it was simply a reflection of his pride in being Canadian and the humility he felt looking at the faces of those who gave their lives for our freedom. He receives no financial assistance from the government and refuses to accept any payment from the families for creating these paintings. These are a true labour of love and respect and the financing for them comes directly out of his own pocket. Recently he has begun selling prints of his Canadian wilderness landscapes in order to help fund the project and enable it to continue.
If you would like more information about Gaebel’s project or about purchasing some of his prints, please visit his blog at http://www.fallencanadiansoldierproject.wordpress.com