Veterans Museum director Michael Telzrow (left) and artist Andre Ferrella at the opening of the exhibit.
A new exhibit commemorating soldiers who have died in the Afghan and Iraq wars opened Tuesday evening at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
Aptly named The Rise of the Fallen, the exhibit contains 101 surreal, almost ghost-like portraits of the service people from Wisconsin who have died in these arenas since 2001. Designed and arranged by the artist Andre Ferrella, the exhibit is meant to be a pathway of healing and comfort for families who have lost loved ones.
Composed of portraits that have been somewhat altered on a computer and set inside a Plexiglas frame, the exhibit creates a unique aura where the dead seem to almost come alive.
"I'm so much more grateful for this than just a list of names and addresses," said Jean Scott-Honig, a Wisconsin local who came to see the opening. "This really is just a completely different experience. I feel like I am almost meeting them. This is a better of a way to say thank you. It's just so much more complete. To see their eyes, their faces, their features."
Spanning a wall toward the back of the museum and held firmly in place by Velcro, the portraits are set side-by-side and put in no particular order. Alongside the exhibit hangs a diagram telling which name belongs to each picture.
"It's been kind of a melancholy experience setting it up," explains Jeff Kollath, the exhibit's curator. "We started out with 99 on our list, then it got to 100 and then 101 just two weeks before we actually put the exhibit up. So the fact that we had to add two before the process even began really made the project hit home."
The portraits, which Ferrella has termed Spirit Boxes, are meant to represent a person's soul. Using a combination of shadow and light, he paints a unique picture of one's face, focusing in on the eyes while allowing the rest of the face to fade out. The technique makes the portrait appear almost alive, as if someone were peering through a thick slab of ice.
"It feels like this really does capture their spirits and that their spirits really do carry on," Harvey Honig, another observer at the opening, noted. "I'm very grateful to them and I feel very grateful to Andre in keeping their memories alive."
Though the exhibit is somewhat nontraditional in nature, Michael Telzrow , the museum's director, feels it fits the museum's mission.
"I think this is a real special way to acknowledge and commemorate the sacrifices and contributions of Wisconsin's veterans," he says. "You can't help but look at the images of those men and women and not walk away with something."
This is the first instillation of The Rise of the Fallen, a project that Ferrella hopes to take nationally one day by making a Spirit Box for everyone who has died while serving abroad in Afghanistan or Iraq.
The project was commissioned by the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, and though plans are in their initial stages, there has been some talk about taking it on the road after the four-month-long exhibit is over.