Amy Whitaker, an Oklahoma wife and stay at home mother of 3, had that very same feeling of helplessness, all too familiar in a state with a proud military tradition and, unfortunately, a high rate of war casualties. She had long contemplated ways to salute those fallen soldiers when an idea came to her. The soft, elegant pencil drawings, something she began as a hobby only a couple of years ago, could be one small way to give back.
"My hope is to draw all the Oklahoma soldiers we have lost to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but only if their family wants to participate," she says. "I feel that it’s a positive way to share a talent God gave me with others, in a way that honors and remembers their loved one and perhaps brings a little peace, comfort and joy to their lives."
Talents DiscoveredWhitaker has never had any formal art training. Formerly in advertising and marketing, she has a degree in Journalism and Business Communications from the University of Kansas and an MBA from the University of Central Oklahoma. Not until she returned from a trip to Africa with her father did she pick up a number two pencil late one night and begin to draw. A photograph of a beautiful African girl had intrigued her, and the lines and shadows quickly poured upon the page. An unknown talent, not to mention a satisfying hobby, had emerged.
From there, Whitaker started drawing personal portraits of family members, from her children to her recently deceased parents. She honed her craft with the delicacies of a child's smile and the precise wisdom of a wrinkled cheek. Though she tried her hand at other mediums such as pastels and oil, there was something about the stark effect of pencil that captured her creativity.
"I find pencil to be more powerful and dramatic than images with a full range of color," she says. "Black, white and gray do not carry the emotional values that other colors have and I believe that it’s easier to capture the spirit of the subject."
Using a Hobby to HonorAfter drawing portraits of several Oklahomans and their pets, Whitaker read a newspaper article in late summer of 2008 detailing the tragic death of "Georgina," a giraffe at the Tulsa Zoo that died after problems with a pregnancy. Georgina had been a Tulsa Zoo fixture for over 20 years, and her death inspired Whitaker to craft a large piece for donation to the zoo.
Perhaps it was the notion of celebrating her parents' lives and Georgina in pencil drawing that led Whitaker to the idea of memorializing soldiers. Her sorrow for those she calls "our fallen heroes" led to a desire to draw the service men and women lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. She considered it for several months.
"I pushed the idea out of my head because I thought it to be an overwhelming undertaking and commitment," she says. "But, the thought kept entering my mind. If the families are patient with me, I’d love to learn more about their loved one."
Memorial Pencil PortraitsA typical 11” x 14” portrait takes anywhere from ten to thirty hours for Whitaker to complete, and Masters House Art and Frame at 223 S. Broadway in Moore has volunteered framing services to the effort. Families of soldiers can request a free portrait through Whitaker's website, and she plans to post the drawing as she works.
Though she has no family members serving in the military nor has she lost a relative in Iraq or Afghanistan, Whitaker is motivated only by sympathy and gratitude, a desire to offer something in recognition of those who have given everything.
"I would like to honor them, thank them and tell them how proud I am of them," she adds. "Our soldiers are keeping our world safe for my children and our future, and I am grateful and indebted to them.
No, the pain for the families of our brave, fallen service men and women will never go away. And feeling helpless, as we do in the face of tragedy and loss, is a terrible condition indeed. However, it can also inspire us to discover our unique abilities, and utilize those talents to pay tribute.