They loom over him, brandishing their weapons, their gaze steady. The sculptor can feel the presence of the heroes he honors in clay and bronze, U.S. Navy SEALs all.
And all of them gone.
"I am an intuitive artist. I believe and I feel that their spirits are in the room when I am working, and that they're helping me finish that work," said Greg Marra, a Florida sculptor who is a man on a mission. He is determined to tell the stories of fallen American warriors.
"I know it sounds crazy, but I feel their presence. That's what happens when you're creating a life-sized image of someone."
Mr. Marra has focused attention on Chris Kyle — a SEAL sniper who was gunned down this year on a Texas shooting range — along with Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, former SEALs killed during the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Also on the ever-expanding list of subjects: Adam Brown, who died in a 2010 battle with Afghan militants, and SEAL Team 6. Mr. Marra intends to immortalize those who took out Osama bin Laden and has picked "Payback" as the title for the grouping.
It's demanding work that requires vision as well as muscle. The artist has produced a 6-foot-3-inch statue of Kyle in bronze and is working on a second version, making good use of the rare crafting and casting techniques he learned in the U.S. and abroad. The forms of Doherty and Woods exemplify valor, the artist said. The rugged, preliminary study of Brown uses a crucifix as a centerpiece.
"I think these men would understand why I am doing this. These sculptures are meant to honor every veteran, every serviceman or servicewoman. I focus on American excellence, and my mission is to make sure that we remember what these people did, and what heroes they are," Mr. Marra said.
"And one thing more. These statues are not muted by political correctness. These are soldiers in combat, these are men who pray," he said. "My granddads on both sides of the family served in the U.S. Army in World War II. I am so proud of that. I myself have not served in the military. But vets have told me that making these statues is serving my country, in my own way."
There is a certain camaraderie for a time between the sculptor and those he seeks to honor. When the works are at last complete, Mr. Marra said, he feels the presence of his subjects depart.
"There's definitely a spiritual dimension to it," he said.
There's also a public dimension and a financial aspect.
News of Mr. Marra's projects has filtered across the nation, but not through the trumpets of a receptive media. Grass-roots networks and heartland talk are spreading the word among those who feel a kinship with the military, a strong defense and the proverbial American way.
"We have a conservative army of 3 million members who hear from us daily. And if there's one issue that doesn't go away with them, it's things like the Benghazi terrorist attack. Why haven't our questions been answered about what really happened? The media is not diligent about covering this," said Todd Cefaratti, founder of the nonprofit TheTeaparty.net.
"One way to get the word out to the general public is to use art, like these sculptures that Greg Marra is producing. It's very powerful stuff," Mr. Cefaratti said. "We support him. We're using a social media platform to help Greg with his funding, to help him promote his projects. And at some point, you watch. The mainstream media is going to notice."
It may be impossible for the press not to notice. Slowly but surely, like the methodical advance of a fighting force, interest grows in Mr. Marra and his drive to preserve the memories of the fallen.
[Corrected paragraph:] "As for our grass-roots support, we are currently working with ... All American Veterans Services, Tea Party Community, ACS Public Relations, and the Tea Party Tribune," said Don Smith, a talk radio host and a public relations maven who is helping Mr. Marra wrangle the complexities of public outreach and fundraising.
The ultimate goals are to fund, produce and situate the statuaries in an appropriate public venue.
Taya Kyle also has lent her support to a statue honoring her late husband, Mr. Smith said.
The young widow and mother of two became a public figure during the memorial service for her spouse in February. The event drew 7,000 mourners and was held at Cowboys Stadium near Dallas and was attended by a spectrum of military personnel from all branches of the armed forces, along with law enforcement officers and motorcycle devotees.
"I stand before you a broken woman, but always the wife of a warrior," Mrs. Kyle told the crowd.
Mr. Marra, meanwhile, continues his determined work in clay and in bronze from his studio in Bradenton. He shares time with his wife, Jana, and their three children, and he continues to draw inspiration from the SEALs and their missions.
"Though I definitely lean right, I try to keep politics from overwhelming these works. Again, my focus is on American excellence," Mr. Marra said. "I discover I need to build a certain statue, so I build it and I raise the money — which can come from the left, from the right. Doesn't matter. What is important is the cause, and that is to honor our military."
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