A Special Painting for a Special Person

I had mixed emotions when I was asked to paint this #commission. The subject: a funeral procession, intended as a gift for the widow. 'Doesn't seem too cheerful, does it? I was able to turn my thinking around, however, because I knew all the parties involved.

In late summer of 2012, Tom Fritz died after a long long battle with cancer and related complications. We had the pleasure of meeting Tom about a year earlier, and enjoyed an evening with his local family, our friends Adam and Josie. We combined friends, food, a campfire and music on "Rocky Top", a beautiful gathering place on the top of our hill. Despite his ongoing health issues, Tom had a remarkable positive outlook. Talking with him quickly reminded me of how important it is to be grateful for all the good in our lives. Tom's wife Janie and I became instant friends, particularly when I learned that she was one of the only people I had ever met who had attended the same college as I did, the now defunct Bradford College. Janie went when it was a girl's junior college, and I went a while later for my B.A. in Creative Arts. The college was in my hometown, so it was always near and dear to my heart - the campus pond was one of our favorite places for winter ice skating. My own college years lacked any time for a social life with my fellow students, as I loaded up on courses in order to earn all my bachelor degree credits in 2-1/2 years. By the time I married on Valentine's Day prior to my graduation, I had only my student-teaching semester left for art teaching certification. Anyway, back to this #painting ....

Tom was a Navy captain, so he had earned the honor of being buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. His burial ceremony was scheduled in April, and it turned out to be a cold, rainy, grey day. The air was foggy. The flag-draped casket was wrapped in plastic sheeting. The horses were reflected in the wet pavement. This atmosphere dulled the tones of everything, contributing to the visual somberness of the procession, and emphasizing the emotional somberness. There was a dignity and pomp to the manicured horses pulling the caisson upon which the casket rests. Three teams of horses are used, each with a rider mounted only on the left horse - in early horse-drawn artillery days, the right horses in each team carried provisions and feed. At the front of the procession, a seventh horse is unharnessed and rides alongside the front left carriage horse to guide him. The horses walk very slowly, and everything is silent, broken only by the clip clop of the hooves on the pavement.

My challenge was to evoke some of the emotions in the #painting that I imagined the day had presented: honor, sadness, love, grief, pride, compassion, closure. I tried to emphasize the overall grey cast to the scene, letting it contrast with the stark blacks in the main figures. Rows and rows of grave markers stretch off in every direction, with larger and varied stones in the foreground. No engraving is discernible, so as not to distract from the procession. The faces on the men are not detailed, since their individuality is not as important as their symbolism. The red of the flag draws the eye to the casket.

As the procession lead to the burial site, Janie noticed a red hawk perched on a nearby tree. This was truly a spiritual moment, since Tom loved red hawks, so it is included in the painting in a subtle way. Thank you Adam and Josie by giving me the honor of painting this for Janie.