Veterans Memorial Park: An Artist’s Perspective
- Jeremy Morrison
Artist Randy New remembers the moment of crystallization, the moment his first sculpture for the Veterans Memorial Park came to life. He was visiting the park with his children, brainstorming concepts for what would become the Monument to Children.
New originally thought he might model the sculpture on his son, but during a moment of play his daughter slipped on an Army helmet the artist had brought along to use as a prop.
"She was horsing around and she put the helmet on and I took her picture,” New recalled.
The artist said he ended up including the photo in his presentation of proposals. The image demanded attention.
"They said ‘if you do this, we’ll do it,’” New remembers.
The piece, entitled "Homecoming” and dedicated on Memorial Day 2000, depicts a young girl in overalls clutching a doll. An Army helmet shadows her brow as she waits and watches over the wall — the statue depicts a child awaiting her father’s return from war.
The piece is personal for New, who lost his own father in Vietnam.
"I’m not a military person so I don’t feel comfortable creating soldiers because I didn’t have that experience,” the artist explained. "I was just a kid of someone there.”
New motioned toward an old black-and-white photograph of he and his brother as kids. The siblings stare back through the years, frozen in time and wearing tiny Army jackets.
"It was basically showing what the people at home’s life was like,” New said, explaining the meaning of the piece.
The sculptor next worked on the Memorial Park’s Korean War memorial. Along with fellow artist Captain Robert Rasmussen, U.S. Navy Ret., New produced a work of art to honor all those who served in Korea.
"I did the medic, or what they call the humanitarian figure,” New said.
While Rasmussen focused on more traditional military sculptures — depicting a platoon commander and his radio operator in the heat of battle — New preferred to create something that represented the conflict’s humanitarian aspects.
"He did the combatant side, guys with rifles and hand-grenades. I did a guy that was completely unarmed. He was a humanitarian figure. He was a medic,” New said. "They put my work on one side and his work on the other side of a wall that was suppose to represent the 38th parallel.”
New’s work, The Medic, is rescuing a child. He views that as symbolic of the mission.
Sometimes the artist hears people discussing the park, painting it as a celebration and glorification of militarization as opposed to a collective memorial to the country’s fallen service members. He likes to point them towards his contributions.
""It’s funny, because I’ve created two sculptures out at the Veteran’s Park, and basically did two children. And there’s not a weapon on either one of mine,” New said. "So, people talk about the Veteran’s Park being all war mongering and stuff and I say, ‘Well, look at my sculptures, because there’s nothing on them.”
This is not by accident. It is purposeful. It is by thoughtful design, this representation of the softer layers of war, service and loss.
New remembers working with a group of Korean War veterans when planning the memorial, which would eventually feature his humanitarian medic. A bit of a disagreement had developed over whether the figure would be strapped with a sidearm.
"I said, ‘Well, in my research of it, it says that medics were not even issued a sidearm.’ Since they have the cross, the Geneva Cross in their helmet, they are supposedly protected,” New said. "But this guy told me, "In reality, we did have it because they weren’t abiding by that, they were shooting at us, we had to defend ourselves.’”
The discussion went down to the wire. The artist was prepared for whatever conclusion was made by the group of veterans.
"I actually had a .45, a holstered .45 sculpted in clay ready to go. If they said yes, I’d strap it on, if they said no, take it off,” New recalled. "It came down to that, it came down to a final decision right before it was molded, and they agreed I could leave it off.”
Randy New will discuss his next project for the Veterans Memorial Park, an expansion of the Global War on Terror Memorial, in our next article.
Throughout May, the Veterans Memorial Park Foundation is sharing a series of stories dealing with service and sacrifice. Check back to read about New’s sculptures currently gracing the memorial park, as well as his plans for the Global War on Terror Memorial sculpture. You can see more of his artwork on his Facebook page.
The Veterans Memorial Park of Pensacola depends on the generosity of people like you to provide ongoing maintenance and upkeep for the grounds and the artwork. Please consider becoming a Friend of the Park by setting up a monthly donation. Thank you for your support.
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