DIA recognizes Glenwood potter and fallen soldiers | PostIndependent.com

DIA recognizes Glenwood potter and fallen soldiers

Kathryn RichertSpecial to the Post Independent
Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson

As the death toll mounts in Iraq, Annette Roberts-Gray’s ceramic studio overflows with more rows of porcelain vases. More than a year and a half ago, Glenwood Springs resident and potter Roberts-Gray started sculpting vases for each of the fallen U.S. soldiers in Iraq, customized with the name of each soldier, date of death, age and branch of service. Roberts-Gray no longer has to worry about storing all of the vases in her tiny ceramics studio because Denver International Airport (DIA) is displaying her “In Memory: Memorial Vases” in their “Best of Colorado Artists Show,” which runs until Jan. 31.Almost 400 out of the over 800 translucent white vases she’s made so far are on exhibit at the main DIA terminal on Level 6. Her work can be viewed along with that of 70 other artists scattered throughout the terminal and concourses. Roberts-Gray was chosen from almost 400 other applicants.

She said she is grateful the casualties won’t be forgotten with her vases standing as a reminder to the 30,000 commuters who walk by them daily at DIA. “The vases were something I wanted to share,” Roberts-Gray said. Roberts-Gray started the project because she felt frustrated that men and women were dying and there was nothing she could do about it.Pottery was something she could do. “It’s just a small thing,” Roberts-Gray said, “But it is a nice tribute for the families (of the victims).”This is her third showing of the pieces and Roberts-Gray is preparing for her final show before she sends the vases to the soldier’s families. Because the vessels are crafted by hand, each is slightly different, which is important to Roberts-Gray. She said she does not want the soldiers lumped together by a number.

“I knew I could make these a lot faster if I made a mold, but to me it sort of lost the individual feel to them,” said Roberts-Gray. “Some are taller, some are shorter some are chunky, some are slim. I like that they are all different like all of the soldiers who died.”When Roberts-Gray began the project last March, her goal to make one vase for each victim was not as daunting a task as it is today. There were fewer than 1,500 U.S. casualties then and Roberts-Gray said she thought the soldiers would be returning home soon. “I thought it was a doable thing,” Roberts-Gray said.She ordered 2,000 pounds of clay, which she said was more than enough at the time. However, as the death toll climbed she started doubting whether she could finish the project. About a year into the endeavor, a father of a soldier who died in Iraq traveled to her studio to express his thanks for remembering his son as an individual. Roberts-Gray said the visit inspired her to continue the tremendous task.Now, however, the death toll rises to more than 2,500 and there is still no clear exit strategy out of Iraq.

“It’s discouraging to watch the number get higher and higher,” Roberts-Gray said.As she watches the number of fallen increase and her pottery clay diminish she said she is forced to re-sculpt her plan. Roberts-Gray doesn’t have the time and resources to create one vase for each victim anymore. Instead she will probably be forced to do them only on request from the families of the victims. Completed or not, it is a valiant effort by Roberts-Gray who said modestly, “It’s a labor of love.” Side Bar:To find out more about the Memorial Vases Project contact the artist at memorialvases@hotmail.com

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