The museum had case after case of military medals on display. I had never really taken the time to appreciate all of the different medals. I saw the ones we all know, The Purple Heart, The Bronze Star, various achievement medals, service medals, marksman medals and so on. There are literally hundreds of medals and new ones are added occasionally. The medals mark achievements, sacrifices and service. As I stood browsing the cases I thought about how wonderful it was that servicemen and women are honored for their duty in this way.
This idea began to spiral inside my head and I thought about ordinary citizens experiencing the trials and tribulations of every day life. I had just lost my father in the late spring of the same year. I thought about how difficult that experience was, and that as hard as it was, there wasn't a medal for that. There wasn't a medal for nursing a sick family member, raising a child, enduring a divorce or painful break-up, nor was there a medal for surviving abuse, a serious illness or overcoming any of life's many difficulties. In this world of trophies for sports participation and service awards for career work, there was no object that marked earning your stripes for emotional life experiences.
It's strange how my artistic ideas begin. In that moment, I felt like one of life's ordinary wounded warriors. I thought about people and the everyday common valor, exemplified in each life, well-lived. I made a note of those fleeting thoughts in my phone notes and there it sat, and sat and sat.
Fast forward to the summer of 2011 and a trip to London, England. If you've ever been there you know that England is all about it's Royals. We did the tourist thing and visited the various castles, cathedrals and monuments. One of the places we stopped was the famous Tower of London, home of the Crown Jewels and site of the beheading of many of the wives of Henry VIII. There they also have a military museum full of British medals. I was immediately reminded of my idea.
Now when an idea for artwork keeps coming back like that, eventually you have to act on it. During the summer of 2012 the work on the medal series known as Common Valor finally began. By this time I had a number of sketches of various ideas. Those first four medals were a part of my Sticks and Stones and Bits of Bone solo show at Mansfield University in August-September. The first three actually were made of those three items, the fourth with barbed wire. Recently I've completed four more in this series: Collateral Damage (shown above), Wounded Heart, Mourning and Finding Direction. I believe there will be more. This idea just keeps growing. Each of these medals explores a certain dynamic of the human condition. Each is meant to commemorate an important event in our lives as we maneuver through this one human life. They honor struggle, commitments, loss and overcoming. They are made with respect for the militaries and service men and women of the world that have inspired them. They are meant for the people of this ordinary life who carry inside of us a common valor and serve as a reminder of the hero inside all of us.
Eight of these medals will be part of FORWARD at Exhibit A in Corning, NY which opens on March 2nd. I hope you will join us for the show and see my homage to the hero inside all of you.