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Minn. painter's mission is to honor U.S. military history

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Charles Kapsner's Coast Guard painting
Saturday afternoon Little Falls artist Charles Kapsner will unveil his newest painting, which is focused on the Coast Guard.
Courtesy Charles Kapsner | vetsart.org

After seven years, Little Falls painter Charles Kapsner is just over halfway through the job of depicting U.S. military history on canvas.

The Minnesota State Veterans Memorial Association hired Kapsner in 2009 to create five 8-by-10-foot oil paintings, each capturing the history and character of a branch of the military. 

He finished the Army painting 18 months later, and another for the Navy in 2014. 

Saturday he'll unveil his latest work at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery Committal Hall, near Camp Ripley. The newest painting focuses on the Coast Guard.

"I'm used to things taking a long time," said Kapsner, who studied fresco painting in Italy, using the same techniques Michelangelo pioneered on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. 

But this project pushed new limits. Each canvas takes 18 months to complete. He starts with a sketch, then uses volunteer models in period military garb to perfect the folds of the uniforms.

Over the course of the project Kasper has accumulated a hefty collection of military tomes, traveled to museums across the country and watched hundreds of hours of history lectures. 

"I was never in the military, but I did a lot of research," he said. 

Kapsner signs his 8-by-10 foot painting.
Little Falls artist Charles Kapsner signs his 8-by-10 foot painting depicting the history of the Coast Guard.
Courtesy Charles Kapsner | vetsart.org

He wanted each painting to hold a narrative for people to feel the weight of responsibility carried by each military branch. He wanted to create monuments, not just art. 

So far, he's getting it right, according to Bill Osberg, a Little Falls veteran who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War who is on project's steering committee.

"Everything in these paintings has a story," he said. "Everything has meaning."

Osberg said the paintings are meant to educate, but also inspire a sense of honor among the grieving. 

Before a Minnesota veteran's funeral, family members gather in the Committal Hall. 

The paintings, Osberg said, are the last thing they see before putting their loved one in the ground. 

"I've seen it first hand," he said. "The honor showing in those paintings kind of helps the family realize that particular person was instrumental in preserving our freedom." 

The project will cost roughly $500,000. The Minnesota State Veterans Memorial Association has raised over half the money, but needs more before Kapster can set to work again in his Little Falls studio. 

If all goes as planned, Osberg said paintings dedicated to the Marine Corps and the Air Force will hang at the State Cemetery three years from now. 

The unveiling ceremony begins at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery Committal Hall.  A crew of Coast Guard members in full uniform will be there. 

Visit vetsart.org for more information.