Linda Maloney and I began the Proudly She Served project seven years ago. We soldiered on through the pandemic, the country shut down the day after we met with Senator Tammy Duckworth on Capital Hill.
Dawn Halfaker’s portrait was the initial painting many months even before Linda and I were introduced to each other. I had no idea that Dawn’s portrait would lead to this project that did not have a name yet.
Dawn and I were introduced to each other by a mutual friend who said we had to meet and that something would come from it but he did not know what. Our friend’s instinct proved oh so right. I met Dawn for lunch and found her to be very compelling, and asked if she would allow me to make her portrait. I had no idea what I would do with such a painting, but mid-way through the making of her portrait it occurred to me that I should embark on a series of portraits of women veterans, that they were unheralded and deserved and needed attention.
Again, another introduction, this time to Linda Maloney I hounded Linda, herself a veteran Naval Aviator who had engaged with many women veterans having written a book, “Military Fly Moms” and had created a side business, the Women Veterans Speakers Bureau. Linda finally caved and said she was in. Truth is, I didn’t really have to do much arm twisting.
And so we began, making it up as we went along. Building the aircraft as it rumbled down the runway. Yes, there would be portraits in oil paint, yes there would be a book and then yes there would be some kind of event at the end of the rainbow. We had no idea whatnthat would look like but we would create two separate gatherings on the same day in Manhattan, my deepest thanks to Adrian Guglielmo, an angel on our shoulders who did the footwork with both locations in June of this year.
Linda and I finally landed on having twelve portraits. Linda had suggested most of the women portrait subjects we selected.
We knew we wanted to publish a book that would include the paintings, bios, and personal essays by myself about what the experience was like in creating each painting. Through social media we found Navy veteran Sarah Woodfin who beautifully and lovingly penned the biographies.
Tuesday, 13 June was the day we would have the special event, in two locations in Manhattan. Our friend and advocate, Adrian Guglielmo arranged for both locations; The New York City Chamber of Commerce Library in mid-town, and then to the cavernous Barnes & Noble downtown in Tribeca.
The luncheon featured four of our portrait women, Arabia Shanklin, Karen Meeker, Kim Brooks and Nicole Knowles who traveled with her husband from Washington State. Linda kicked off the event, and then I introduced the portrait women who spoke about their experiences in the service and with this project.
It was unlike any other event I have ever attended. If I had to use one single worked to describe the event, I think I would choose the word, “heartfelt.”
We gathered again at 6:30p at the Barnes & Noble bookstore downtown where Angel Hughes joined us. But what made this second event unique was that we had all the original paintings on display on easels. The audience was surrounded on both sides by the paintings, which created a special experience.
The NYC Commissioner for Veteran Affairs, James Herndon spoke most eloquently, and then again each women took the mic and told about their experiences. Most notably. Colonel Karen Meeker, Chaplain US Army — still on active duty — gave a stirring rendition about Harriet Tubman and her courageous exploits as a stark example of the courage of women who contributed to the history and service to our nation.
When each woman spoke this time, it was as if they had stepped out of the paintings and told their stories. After the speeches, we transitioned to signing books. Enthusiasm and appreciation for our women veterans was electric.
For me, this was the culmination of all the volunteer work Linda and I had put into the project. And thinking about the team of people we who contributed so much to the success of the project; Madison Sanders our Executive Assistant, web and graphic designer Mick Wieland, PR specialist Bob Rinklin and many others who joined along with us.
From the very start, Linda and I felt that women veterans were very much an under-served and under-heralded. We wanted to be a stand for women veterans and shine a light on their courage, competency and accomplishments as an inspiration not only to all women, but to everyone.
This day in particular was a watershed moment for Proudly She Served and a fitting conclusion to all the years of creative thought and toil. Linda is a very talented organizer and connector whose acumen for getting-it-all-done is second to none.
Linda did all of this while holding a full-time job, ferrying her two sons to swim practice, and selling her house. Her oldest son Ethan recently qualified for the US Olympic Trials.
For myself, painting twelve portraits fueled by the courage of all the women one after another after another was a huge undertaking especially considering I was called to endure a major medical situation for the better part of one of those years. Truthfully, I borrowed much courage and spirit from the portrait women to muscle through that particular year. It was three years+ of consistent focus and dedication to make the paintings. One painting at a time, my talented studio mate Gigi Chen would transfer the image to canvas. I picked my way through each portrait, plus making a portrait of Tammie Jo Shults and Linda Maloney as well, so really fourteen in all.
Not to mention the portrait of Senator Tammy Duckworth that I did not like at all and needed to be completely re-done which I did a year and a half later. Fifteen.
What I can say is that the kaleidoscope of portraits had an effect on me that I can best describe as, “maturing.” As an artist, this was an exercise leading to a certain understanding of creating portraiture. I wanted each painting to be as unique as each women is in life. I love the simplicity of the Nicole Malachowski painting, the solemnity of the Karen Meeker portrait, the intensity of tragedy and triumph of Dawn Halfaker, the courageous Kirstie Ennis, the wisdom of Bee Haydu, the whimsy and pluck of Miyoko Hijiki, the pride in Kim Brooks, the effervescence of Arabia Shanklin, the positivity of Angel Hughes, the strength of Nicole Knowles, and the triumph of Senator Duckworth…each painting was a unique journey that was pure terror until the moment when each woman became “alive” on the canvas. After that moment when they came alive, it was pure fun.
The deep satisfaction on 13 June’s event was overwhelming. There they were and there we were and there were the beautiful books representing the fruits of all our creative and administrative creativity; the paintings, their stories, in the book and the crowdfunding to fund it.
Almost two months later, not all of this has truly sunk in for me, not yet anyway. It is too much for the reflection Proudly She Served to digest so soon. For me, life continues to happen fast and other projects have taken my attention, and Linda’s. I must mention that in all the years Linda and I became a team, we worked together hand-in-glove. We became close friends. Together we solved thousands of problems making decisions small and sweeping. Our vision was always in alignment, the glue being the desire to herald women in uniform. Truly, our working relationship has been one of the very best I have ever enjoyed.
That special day of 13 June lives in a cherished place in my psyche. My hope is that we will be able to re-create this special experience with a corporate sponsor.
Until such time, I can re-live the entire experience of the last six years in the culminating experience of that special day. Having forged friendships with so many of the portrait women continues to bring me strength and serenity. The Proudly She Served experience continues to bring me a deep satisfaction of accomplishment. Knowing we touched many lives in many ways, maybe that is the ultimate in satisfaction.
May we all remember the women who have served and continue to serve in uniform, who show such courage in the pursuit of their own dreams.
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