4470+ Hometowns (a work in progress)
mixed media on canvas, 24" x 72", 2004 - present
In December of 2003 I visited San Juan Bautista, California and stopped in one of my favorite California Missions. I have been there many times before. On that day, I found one of the side altars had about 100 wallet size photos taped up and mixed among the votive candles. Each photo was a portrait of a young man or woman in military uniform. This was not a memorial for the fallen but an altar to pray for the protection of friends and family serving overseas.
Seeing all those young faces staring back from the photos changed my understanding of the war. The war in Iraq held no personal connection for me. I was aware of the war as another remote and distant event somewhere else in the world. I do not personally know anyone serving in the military. Those photos and the powerful prayers behind them reminded me how real the war was and how affected the communities near the Mission were. Those faces were brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, coworkers, friends and neighbors.
I was seeking a way to respond to the war in Iraq with my art. That visit to San Juan Bautista kept coming back to me. I began to have an understanding of the impact of the war on each city and town. While there is a need to memorialize the individuals who have been lost in war, I wanted to do something different by memorializing the war in terms of a loss to communities. From that came the idea of constructing a memorial of hometowns instead of a memorial of names or faces. The reuse of old maps in my work was a natural fit for what I wanted to create.
In March of 2004 I began this piece. Each American serviceman and woman killed in Iraq has been represented by his or her hometown cut out from a map. It is still a work in progress with over 4,470 hometowns. There are big cities and small towns and everything in between. Communities from all over the United States have been represented in the piece. Many communities have lost more than one person in Iraq. Those cities and towns are represented multiple times.
I have done my best to represent each town and use the CNN website as my basic source. Many Americans, myself included, have grown up in multiple places and might have more than one hometown. Some of the hometowns might be where the fallen servicemen or women grew up, where their family lives or even where they lived before enlistment. Regardless, all the towns represent communities where there has been a loss. If you were to find a town missing on this piece, there was no slight intended.
I have had some opportunity to publicly show the piece. Seeing how people react to the piece always brings out a similar response. One inevitably recognizes cities and towns where they have lived, visited, know people and it immediately gets them. Even if they have no personal connection to the war in Iraq they immediately go away understanding that they probably know someone, somewhere who does.
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