McDonald paints a fallen hero
By Lauren Highfill
Army Sergeant Ryan Campbell as painted by KSU alumnus and staff member Shane McDonald
A portrait of Ryan Campbell, a muscular young man with piercing blue eyes, is displayed in a gallery along with more than 50 other similar portraits. Some subjects are shown in their dress uniforms, decorated with multicolored ribbons and medals; some are relaxing in the outdoors with blue mountain peaks behind them; some with smiling pictures of their families and pets in the background. Depicted at happier times, the subjects of these portraits are fallen heroes of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Almost all of them are Georgia soldiers.
This recent exhibit at the National Museum of Patriotism in Atlanta is part of the Atlanta Fine Arts League’s campaign to honor those soldiers killed in the line of duty. Kennesaw State’s visual arts coordinator Shane McDonald (visual arts, 1992) painted the portrait of Ryan Campbell for the Fallen Heroes project. “I was honored to be invited to participate,” said McDonald. “This is a way to bring more attention to the fallen heroes in a positive way.”
McDonald also has a connection to those in the military and their families. “My father was in the United States Navy, and I considered joining the service like he did,” McDonald said, “but since I have taken a different route of community service—by making business and educational contributions—I understand how important it is to appreciate the efforts made by our service men and women.”
During the process of creating the portrait, McDonald communicated with Campbell’s mother, Mary Ann, and sister, who attends Emory University, to find out everything from the nuances of Campbell’s personality to the natural color of his hair. McDonald spent about 30 hours creating Campbell’s portrait, in part, because he and “the AFAL knew that this project would offer something to the families that they would really cherish,” said McDonald.
Mary Ann, who lives in Missouri, will be seeing the portrait for the first time in-person when it arrives on her doorstep in a few weeks. “So far Ryan’s mother has only seen a picture of the portrait on the AFAL’s website,” said McDonald, “but she says she loves what she has seen.” After seeing the portrait online, Mary Ann expressed how she was moved by the sincere quality McDonald was able to capture in her son’s eyes. “After his mother has had some time with the portrait, she plans to give it to her daughter,” said McDonald.
McDonald was touched by the experience and would like to create another portrait in the future. “This is just one way I can contribute and give back,” he said. “The ‘Art from the Heart’ project is ongoing for the AFAL. They’re planning on doing a new round of portraits soon and exhibit them all over Georgia.” In addition to the exhibit at the National Museum of Patriotism, this first set of portraits was displayed at the national headquarters of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Building Authority in Atlanta earlier this year.
According to Geri Zaki, a leader of AFAL's special projects, 70 portraits have been completed through the Fallen Heroes project so far. "At this time, 120 Georgia service men and one service woman have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan," she said. But, the intentions of this project aren’t to focus on the tragedy. “This is a way to give thanks to the families that sacrificed their loved ones who were serving our country in pursuit of the spread of freedom,” said McDonald.