Robert William Hoyt is one of the 4,400 names of fallen Iraqi soldiers inscribed on leaves, part of an on-going installation by artist Jane Hammond.
Hoyt’s name is memorialized on a maple leaf like the ones his mother used to send him when he was in Florida with his father.
Hammond’s installation at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke is unique in that the war is still going on and the end of both the war and project are unknown.
“It came to me in a dream,” Hammond said about the inspiration behind the installation, “Fallen.”
The dream came to Hammond in the fall of 2004, when the war in Iraq was the focal point of the nightly news.
“I don’t think it’s insignificant that I had the dream in the fall,” she continued.
Describing walking through the woods among the fallen leaves of autumn, Hammond said she realized there was writing on the back of the leaves and somehow knew it was names.
Hammond’s process comes in three major steps.
First, she gathers the names of the fallen soldiers from the Department of Defense and double checks spelling with their local databases.
Hammond then begins collecting the leaves and finally puts them together.
She began collecting leaves in Connecticut, but through her travels to various universities and galleries across the country as a visiting artist, she has leaves from 20 to 25 states. In fact, some of the leaves came from the Appalachian Trail.
She picks up the leaves in the fall, resulting in the variety of colors in the installation.
Pointing to a vivid green leaf, Hammond said, “That may not look like it was picked in the fall, but that’s what fall in San Antonio looks like.”
Fallen leaves, however, are fleeting in their viability, so Hammond quickly scans them and uses the printed digital images in her work. With a complex process of printing and painting to make the leaves look like their real counterparts, Hammond and various helpers intricately cut the prints, following every natural curve and line.
There are other ways Hammond ensures the realistic appearance of the leaves.
Stems are dipped repeatedly in matte medium causing a thickened look. A variety of items, such as tennis balls, ping pong balls and pens, are used to curve the flat, printed images into the shapes of leaves.
Hammond has put as much thought into the message of her piece as the process of her work, noting that the hardest part is signing every leaf.
Whether it is visible or not, each leaf has a name, and seeing all of them laid out soldifies the magnitude of 4,400 people.
“I’m always 20 or so behind,” she added. “I didn’t want to make the leaves ahead of time; it seemed wrong.”
The names go beyond those who have died in direct combat and include those who were evacuated to Germany, those who died in accidents in Iraq, and those who died on U.S. soil, no matter how long after their return.
She described it as “the full price of war.”
The piece, consisting of leaves from a wide range of colors and species, is centered in a large white room.
Seeing all the names yet being unable to read each one on the individual leaves reflects the loss in the war — individual lives sometimes overshadowed by the number game.
Hammond makes the piece aesthetically pleasing as well as poignant.
Leaves of contrasting hues complement each other as similar species are spread out through the display.
“Fallen” will be one of the Taubman Museum of Art’s newest exhibitions, opening on Friday, Sept. 24.
With new exhibits opening biannually in June and September, Director of External Affairs Kimberly Templeton called it “perfect timing.”
Nestled in downtown Roanoke, the museum’s new building is an architectural wonder that opened its doors in November 2008.
Sunlight bathes the atrium as Rafael Hurt mans the front desk. Hurt said a variety of people frequent the museum.
“It’s anything from international people who are visiting the Roanoke area to locals,” Hurt said.
The exhibition will continue through Jan. 9, 2011.
College students on a tight budget can visit the museum during its Thursday “Art at Night!” event when admission is free.