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Remembering Fallen Soldiers

Vita Plume will never forget when she moved from Canada to take a faculty position at NC State. It was two weeks before the 9-11 attacks and the start of the war on terror.

Plume, whose Eastern European family was torn apart by World War II, felt apprehension. What would it be like to live in a country at war?

“I learned that life will go on—it did for me and many others—but it didn’t for all the soldiers,” she said.

A loss close to home, a family friend from Canada, made her reflect. Capt. Jefferson Francis, a doctoral student and father of a 6-month-old baby, dropped out of the Ph.D. program to become a soldier. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2007 at age 36.

“He chose to serve his country and give his life,” Plume said.

Vita Plume with Fallen Soldiers exhibit
Vita Plume spent hours creating the images of each soldier's face for the Fallen Soldiers exhibit.

Ghostly Gallery

As the 10th anniversary of 9-11 approached, Plume, an associate professor of art and design, wanted to find a way to focus attention on the human cost of the war.

She created Fallen Soldiers, a collection of more than 300 woven portraits of U.S. and Canadian soldiers who died in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s dedicated to Capt. Francis.

Each panel contains only the eyes and initials of a soldier. Dye gives the faces, some sharp and some almost unidentifiable, a ghostly look.

“I spent a lot of time with each of them,” Plume said, describing the time-intensive process of weaving, stitching and applying dye. “When I put them up, it’s almost overwhelming, the mass of them. But each face is distinct.”

Familiar Faces

A student who’s helped Plume select portraits for the project told her mentor it hit home that most of the fallen soldiers were about her age.

“The power of art is that it can cause us to see in a new way and challenge us to think about these things,” Plume said.

The portraits represent about 2 percent of the more than 6,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan since 2002 and approximately 90 percent of the Canadian casualties in Afghanistan.

A key to the exhibit gives the full name, rank, place of birth and date of death for each person, including fallen soldiers from Raleigh, Wilson and Fayetteville.

The careful chronological organization of the work allowed Plume to help one Canadian visitor locate the period in time when his next-door neighbor was killed—and find the panel with his friend’s face.

Fallen Soldiers will be on exhibit through Nov. 19 in the Brooks Hall Gallery. The opening reception is today (Nov. 10). beginning at 5 p.m.

The exhibition is supported by the NC Arts Council, Cotton Inc. and the Department of Art + Design. Plume continues to add panels and is seeking new venues for Fallen Soldiers.