The Painting Progress


July 24th 2022

It has been months since I have seen the painting, so much has transpired in my grieving process. I am at a point in this process where the painting brings me great happiness.  It really does feel like I am asking Charles to capture the best of my dad.  That time and the layers that it takes to create this painting are as important as the finished product.  Someone asked me why didn’t I just have him help me create the layout and then just take a photo. My answer is simple, my goal was not to have an image that captured a pile of his things.  My goal was to create something with other people that expressed my complex and vast love for him. I wanted something that reflected that I saw him, that his life mattered, that what he gave up in Vietnam was real, and that it was immeasurable.  He gave the very best of who he was to his country and came home to be abused and forgotten. I can’t imagine what that must feel like. I wanted something that said I saw him take what remained and make the best of it, never giving up on his children and wanting them to be safe, healthy, and happy. I wanted something that showed my respect for him, his values, and his dedication.

It had to be like our relationship, layered, compounded over time, detailed, and beautiful.

This was never as simple as a photo. I felt like something new needed to be built from the ashes of his pain. Growing up in a home with so much PTSD pain gives you your own PTSD, it is part acquired PTSD and part your very own creation.  A hybrid of sorts. The way my PTSD works is that it only remembers the bad and traumatic things that happen. So, when I look back on my childhood and growing up with him as a father, I can recall the worst of him. It is why we barely spoke for years in my twenties and why we struggled in our conversations at times. In my early forties I did some forgiveness work and let all the past, that I was remembering go.  While that improved our relationship and could not change that my neurology and brain had never kept any of the good times of my childhood. They are missing from me and can’t be brought back. And right now this journey of the painting and telling our story of growing up in a forgotten hero’s home is my way of finding and adding in the new memories of the best of him.

There was far more to him than the pain and I grew up knowing and being too close to the pain. This painting is my journey to honor the best of him.

On Friday, my husband and I stopped by the Charles Kapsner studio, north of the Minneapolis area, on the edge of a forest, and took in the progress of the painting. The layers are amazing. Parts of the canvas have no paint and parts of it have many layers. The detail in the flag right now, just pops out at you and the background has so many shadows and curves. It is better than a photograph.  Charles is using some of his best brushes as it requires that for the types of paints.

The more he adds paint to the canvas the more I want others to enjoy this when it is complete.  This is a very unexpected effect of this process.  It started out simple with Charles mentioning that he would like to enter this into a few shows when it is done.  It is one of his most detailed pieces.  In talking to Charles I can tell that he is going to have great pride in this piece when it is done, as he should.  When he talked about doing those shows I didn’t think much about it and took in the logistics of it, that meant that I wouldn’t have the painting in my house for a while longer.  O’well.  As the project progresses, I am now wanting to share it with many others in any way that I can.  I want people to have a chance to connect with it, to hear the story of its creation, the man it represents, and my own grief journey. If it can be an instrument for change in someone’s life I want that.

The other great bonus of visiting Charles studio right now is the other painting he is creating next to this one.  It is for the women in the national guard.  I first saw it when it was just a drawing on the canvas and now to see it come to life in so many ways. While it is being created, I can see that it is a living breathing creation. It changes each time I see it and not always in the way Charles had said it would the last time I was at the studio. Because of this painting, Charles has many people from the military stopping into the studio to check on the painting’s progress, to sit for him as models or just to visit.  He says that they all enjoy keeping up on the progress of my father’s painting and enjoy hearing the story. That brings me joy and some type of affirmation being that praise and engagement are from the military community.  I believe that if my father were alive, that praise would be well received and valuable to his soul.

This was not your typical drop-in from me.  I also needed a photo of some part of the gun that is in the back of this painting.  As my brothers and I will be needing to divide these items up when we meet and I forgot to get a photo of this when I brought it to Charles.  So, I am not sure who made it. I know it is his 12-gauge shotgun that he used regularly in my childhood to fight off the blackbirds from his wild rice research plants. He would take me out to the rice paddies on weekends to help him hunt, catch frogs and run around like a free child.  These moments at his work are some of my happiest with him.  He loaded a lot of firewood into this old green truck with the stick on the floor and seats that had springs you could see and no seatbelts. That is why I picked that gun for the painting. I know he doesn’t want to be remembered for the weapons he had to use to kill other people. He was an amazing marksman and taught me to shoot when I was young. Before Vietnam, he loved to hunt and shoot, after the war all of that had a different meaning. He limited himself to what he shot and owned. This is the gun I most recall seeing him use.

I was able to get a photo of the stock and the trigger. I think we can identify it from that.

We still had one more new thing to do that day. Go to the framing shop and pick out the frame for the drawing. Charles knows that when it comes time to get this piece framed, it is not going to be the cheapest thing and we want to do it right. So it would be wise of him to introduce me to his person, Tony.  So off we go to Little Falls and this beautiful old building, one block off of main street to Tony’s on 1st Ave Framing Shop.  The space is so inviting right away when you walk in.  Tony is exactly what I expected. Humble, smart, and a friend of Charles.  It was fun to watch them talk and do business. Charles has some of his drawings hanging on the walls at Tony’s business and they look gorgeous in the light there.

Tony helped Tom and I pick mats and frames for a couple of other items we had that needed framing.  A checly of the ballerina Katie and checly of the Lindburg painting. That went pretty quick, as both Charles and Tony had done those before and had a good idea of what to go with.  Then we took out the drawing, now that was a whole other matter.  It was done on a forty-year-old piece of paper that was a medium light green. Working with the green was a chore.  We took out so many mat samples and realized that we needed to get a couple of frame samples to help limit the mat options.  There was one frame that really went well with the paper, so then it was just a matter of matting. About thirty minutes later we had the final combo picked.  I won’t get the drawing until the painting is done.  I will have to think about where the drawing will go once the painting comes.  Charles was very helpful with this process.

I have a real fondness for the drawing.  It was the first visual of the project that Charles created. The birth of a creative venture and project.