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posted: 5/23/2014 5:30 AM

Algonquin artist's portraits of veterans on display at Addison library

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  • Algonquin artist Jeanine Hill-Soldner with the subject of one of her portraits of area veterans, Cpl. Patrick Tanner, during a reception at the Addison Public Library.

    Algonquin artist Jeanine Hill-Soldner with the subject of one of her portraits of area veterans, Cpl. Patrick Tanner, during a reception at the Addison Public Library.
    Courtesy of Addison Public Library

By Miles Dobis

Cpl. Patrick Tanner is among nearly two dozen veterans who greet patrons when they enter the atrium of the Addison Public Library.

But instead of mingling with visitors or participating in Memorial Day celebrations, his smile is permanent and his face is frozen with oils on canvas.

Tanner and his fellow vets are featured as part of the ongoing "Portraits of American Veterans" project, an exhibit hosted by the Addison Center for the Arts and created by Algonquin painter Jeanine Hill-Soldner.

The real-life Tanner talked to visitors during a reception on Sunday and his portrait will remain on display until June 2 in the library at 4 Friendship Plaza.

The art project began in 2009 as part of Hill-Soldner's long-running collaboration with the Chicago-based National Veterans Art Museum.

"The project is really meant to show how veterans have moved on with their lives while still carrying the dignity and horror of war," Hill-Soldner said.

The painter long has been fascinated with the connection between the military and the art world. Her father was a Marine Corps veteran who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam and her family traveled to numerous bases as she developed her artistic style.

Hill-Soldner eventually established herself in the Chicago area and began collaborating with the National Veterans Art Museum. It gave her a chance to put her creative abilities to work using her lifetime exposure to military men and women.

"I learned that veterans carry this particular baggage that never goes away, but they are able to move on with honor and dignity," she said.

Hill-Soldner began contacting individual veterans and painting her portraits. She makes the process as private as possible, inviting the men and women to her studio and sharing coffee.

"I also ask them to bring medals or objects from their time of service that means something particular to them and their experiences," she said "I'll try to integrate what those symbolize into the overall painting, so their experiences get a literal representation."

Everything from American flags to old platoon photographs have been depicted in the portraits, which constantly tour public spaces throughout the suburbs. The 23rd addition to the collection is of Cpl. Tanner, a paratrooper who served during the Korean War and who Hill-Soldner remembers as "a wonderful subject."

Tanner was of recruitment age when the Korean War was at its peak in 1951 and found himself unable to land a job after being labeled "draft bait."

"We were essentially unemployable," Tanner said. "And my two other buddies and myself joined the war so we could be the heroes of our neighborhood."

Things did not go exactly to plan; the three were separated during the complicated volunteer process and only reconnected after the war. Tanner was sent to Japan where he trained as a paratrooper and, while he never saw combat, the impact of the war remains with him more than 60 years later.

"The military took two years out of my life," he said. "I got out at 22 and realized I was starting over and that my life was just beginning."

Tanner has since lived in the suburbs, eventually earning his teaching degree from the Chicago Teachers College (now Northeastern Illinois University) and working as an English teacher and district supervisor in Lake Zurich.

His wife Patricia's involvement with the National Veterans Art Museum eventually connected him to Hill-Soldner, and his portrait became the latest in the growing collection.

"The likeness amazed me," he said. "Some of her paintings have had me do double takes."

A reception on Sunday formally welcomed Tanner's picture to the collection and allowed Addison to honor veterans for Memorial Day.

"We are celebrating our 130th anniversary as a village this year and with the alignment of Memorial Day, this is a great way to honor and showcase our veterans," said Annette Leiber, Addison Art Guild founder and organizer for the event.

The portraits will be on display at the library until June 2, when they will moved to Addison village hall where they will remain until June 13.

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