On November 3rd 2014, ‘Project Heroes – Canada In Afghanistan – The Stories And Faces Of Sacrifice’, was revealed to the world, an artistic endeavor of great magnitude that honors Canadian soldiers fallen during the Afghanistan War. Six years ago, three Alberta artists decided to create a collection of portraits of fallen soldiers of that conflict. This ambitious project required research, time and personal finances to connect with the families, devoted focus without remuneration while working on other art commissions, and a lot of heart.
Susan Abma, Cindy Revell and Shairl Honey are talented artists who equally earned well-deserved recognition through their unique styles. These three artists set their minds and talents to a project that would honour a long list of soldiers, “in a way that was significant and lasting.” Before the first brush stroke the artist assigned to that particular portrait had to establish contact with the soldier’s surviving family members to get their permission of course, then to obtain personal photographs and mementoes, and hear stories that would reveal the soldier’s character and personality to help bring life to the portrait.
Susan Abma is a Leduc County resident near Millet. Cindy is in Strathcona County, while Shairl lives in St-Albert. For the past two and a half years of their six-year journey, the artists were fortunate to be able to paint in a bright, spacious studio at the Philip Debney Armoury in South Edmonton, a space graciously provided by the Military. In a recent CTV interview, Susan revealed that Project Heroes took longer than anticipated. Half of the project is completed and the three artists will continue to paint the fallen soldiers while the exhibit is touring to nine major Canadian cities and a few more in between. Eventually, the entire collection will be brought to Ottawa where it will be donated to a major military or government locale, yet to be determined.
Susan was quick to point out that Project Heroes would not have come to fruition without the tireless support of a large group of volunteers. Writers, translators (as the exhibit is mostly bilingual), planners and many others have selflessly contributed towards this impressive art exhibit that will be viewed by thousands of Canadians. Project Heroes will travel from coast to coast after its Edmonton visit that will conclude on December 31st.
A collection of portraits and stories of soldiers, supported by photos, letters, poetry and videos clips, Project Heroes was created with the collaboration of the soldiers’ families and shared with the artists to ensure that their beloved soldier’s personality would be portrayed with heart and authenticity. A ten-foot manufactured maple tree will host a large yellow ribbon representing the 158 fallen soldiers portrayed in Project Heroes. Inside the tree, a speaker will play bird songs while a discreet fan will give a life-like feeling, blowing gently on the tree’s leaves.
Project Heroes also includes a strong educational and historical component as four large murals, one being fifteen feet wide by nine feet, will honour soldiers who have been wounded, physically or emotionally, in frontline posts in the Afghan War as well as Canada’s role in the Korean War, WWI and WWII. The project will also honour soldiers who passed away post-war from suicide and PTSD and the families who sacrificed so much through their soldier going to war.
Project Heroes is a non-profit endeavour, entirely funded by private and corporate donors. The cost of art supplies, framing, free prints to be given to the families, crating and shipping and the cost of the exhibition itself were covered by these generous donors. However, the costs have not stopped and Project Heroes is gratefully accepting new donations to support the exhibit’s Canadian visits and ongoing maintenance.
Held at the Prince of Wales Armoury, Project Heroes will put War into perspective aided by families who selflessly and candidly shared all they could about their beloved soldier. Susan Abma, Cindy Revell and Shairl Honey have created a proud tribute to ‘Canada In Afghanistan -The Stories and Faces Of Sacrifice’. Project Heroes will help Canadians remember them.
Pictured: Susan Abma, one of three Project Heroes artists, with the portrait of Sgt. Greg Kruse. Photo by Dominique Vrolyk