- Associated Press - Saturday, May 23, 2015

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (AP) - It’s a project that first took shape in 2008.

And before it’s finally completed, it will likely absorb 10 years of Charles Kapsner’s life. But he doesn’t mind that a bit.

The Little Falls artist has been commissioned by the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery Memorial Association to create five 8-by-10-foot oil-on-canvas paintings, each depicting the history of a different branch of the military.

The Army and Navy paintings are complete and hang in the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery committal hall near Camp Ripley. He is now at work on the Coast Guard painting. And he will have it on-hand to provide an in-progress look at where he’s at as part of the annual Memorial Day Outdoor Service at the cemetery Sunday afternoon.

“It’s exciting to be able to allow people to follow along and see how the project is going,” Kapsner said. “When you have a project of this scope, you always have people who wonder if it will ever get finished. This allows people the chance to see the progress we’re making.”

The theme of the event is “Honoring Women of the U.S. Military.” Carla L. Tappainer, 1st vice commander of the Apple Valley American Legion Post 1776, will be the guest speaker.

The service begins at 1:30 p.m. with instrumental music from the Richfield Symphonic Orchestra and continues with a parade of flags at 1:55 p.m.

Those attending can also visit the committal hall in the Administration Building to see the first two of Kapsner’s works, as well as the Coast Guard painting, which he hopes to have completed by late fall. Depictions of the Marine Corps and Air Force will follow.

The total cost of the project is $485,000. Fundraising is ongoing. Each painting takes extensive research into the people and scenes depicted, and Kapsner uses veterans as live models while selecting period-correct clothing and other details.

“These paintings pay tribute to the men and women of the service,” Kapsner said. “They show how they served and why they served. They’re not about all the military hardware. I want to talk to people and allow their stories to be told.

“Each branch of the service has its own distinct culture. So each painting is very different.”

Kapsner said the Coast Guard painting is one he’s looked forward to doing, shedding perhaps new light on the branch of the service whose duties may be the least familiar to many.

“When I was first approached about this project back in the fall of 2008, I was driving through western Wisconsin and the vision for this one was playing in my head. I’m not sure where it even came from,” he said.

“The Coast Guard has bases all over - on the Great Lakes and even the rivers. And 9/11 is depicted because since then, the Coast Guard has had expanded duties when it comes to guarding control of our harbors. They’re doing that now in a much more intense way from even how they’d done it in the past.”

David Swantek, director of the cemetery, said those visiting to lay loved ones to rest have noticed and appreciated the paintings.

“All our committal services and burials take place in that space, so people experience them,” Swantek said. “It’s not like they are off in another building that people may or may not go to.

“What we’ve seen is that people really do look around at them. And you can tell they’re studying what they depict. They may not verbally say much because they’re there for different reasons. But there’s no question they get noticed. And that they get noticed way more than just a passing glance.”

Kapsner said working on them has provided him with an even greater appreciation for the passion and dedication required for service in each branch of the military.

“I think for the first time, it’s made me truly understand what patriotism is,” Kapsner said. “We all have the patriotism bone in us. But to see a 90-something-year-old veteran get up out of their chair to stand for the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ makes you see what it’s really all about. They served this country. They fought for it.

“These paintings are really all about their stories and their times. I’m the storyteller. I gather the information and put it all together. But it’s all about them.”

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