Phillip Seyller is a U.S. Army Veteran who served in Vietnam. He was drafted for the 63rd battalion and said he served one year, nine months, 29 days, 18 hours, 38 minutes and 36 seconds from 1969 to 1970.
His is one of the faces represented in Algonquin artist Jeanine Hill-Soldner's Portraits of American Veterans project, which she presented Sunday at the Algonquin Area Public Library.
The project is a work in progress. Hill-Soldner started in August 2009 and has 16 portraits completed and one nearing its end. She expects to have 20 finished by the summer, a large enough group to use in a future traveling tour.
All of her portraits are 30" x 40" oil paintings on stretched canvas with red painted frames and a still life foreground of objects meaningful to the individual veteran. Some are painted with their medals or photos from their times of service. One is holding a quilt; another, a stuffed penguin.
The portraits tell the stories of war through the individuals who fought them, giving Hill-Soldner the opportunity to learn about new people and also further connect with her father, who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam before dying of prostate cancer in 1993.
"My project is a healing project," Hill-Soldner said.
At first, Seyller didn't want to be one of the subjects. He said he was extremely hesitant to put himself in the spotlight for his service.
"I know guys who went through a lot worse," Seyller said. "Why talk about me?"
Seyller's wife Wendy spent a year convincing him to participate, hoping it would help him open up and, through talking about his experiences, heal.
Brief background stories accompany all of Hill-Soldner's portraits, produced by Frances Mai-Ling who has been involved with Hill-Soldner since the beginning, designing graphics and editing the text to tell the story she began in paint.
Seven portraits, including Seyller's, have been on display in the Algonquin library since January and will be taken down at the end of the month.
It is part of a national endeavor called the Vet Art Project, started by Chicago artist Lisa Rosenthal. According to its mission, the project is based the belief that we must talk of war to think of peace, and an understanding that it is our veterans who will lead the way."
For more information about the project, visit soldnerfineart.com or vetartproject.com.