Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all. Since my last post I've continued to concentrate on sculpture. Sergeant Kris Battles, our other combat artist, deployed to Iraq in September and returned unscathed mid-November after 2 months with the very first Marine Osprey squadron to be fielded to a war zone. Sergeant Battles and I are now working out of a large and well equiped formal studio, north light and all, aboard Quantico.

My lovely girlfriend Janis and I will be spending Christmas Day with family in Pennsylvania.

My current project is a full figure of a Marine machine gunner. Several critical parts of the work, such as head and hands, are being done in wax. The 240 G machine gun is roughed out in balsa wood and hard wood dowels and will get a coat of wax. The remainder of the sculpture is in plasticine. The final product will be cast in bronze.

I leave you with a Christmas poem penned by a Marine. The poem was originally written by Lance Corporal James A. Schmidt in 1986. I also invite you to visit Major Mike Corrado's On My Watch Tonight YouTube site.

'Twas the night before Christmas; he lived all alone
In a one bedroom house made of plaster & stone
I had come down the chimney, with presents to give
And to see just who in this home did live.

As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see
No tinsel, no presents, not even a tree
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kind
A sobering thought soon came to my mind
For this house was different, unlike any I'd seen
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I'd heard stories about them, I had to see more
So I walked down the hall and pushed open the door
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine
Was this the hero, of whom I'd just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan
I soon understood, this was more than a man
For I realized the families that I saw that night
Owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year
Because of Marines like this one lying here.

I couldn t help wonder how many lay alone
On a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice
"Santa, don't cry, this life is my choice
I fight for our freedom, I don't ask for more
My life is my God, my Country, my Corps."

With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep
I couldn't control it, I continued to weep
I watched him for hours, so silent and still
I noticed he shivered from the cold night's chill.

So I took off my jacket, the one made of red
And covered this Marine from his toes to his head
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold
With an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.

Tho' it barely fit me, I swelled with pride
And for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside
I didn't want to leave him so quiet in the night
This guardian of honor so willing to fight.

Half asleep he rolled over, in a voice clean and pure
Said "Carry on, Santa, it's Christmas Day, all secure."
One look at my watch and I knew he was right
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Corporal Diana L. Kavanek, USMC
This evening ABC World News with Charles Gibson featured a wonderful story of courage, resilience, commitment and what eventually flows directly from It is the inspiring story of Marine Corporals Aaron Mankin and Diana Kavanek. Although I didn't have the privilege of knowing Cpl. Mankin, I have met Diana. Then Corporal Kavanek (she and Aaron are now married)and I returned in the same group of Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) in February of 2005. In an age when the media seems so fixated on young adults mired in adolescenent excess it is heartening to know that ABC News is taking the time to tell this simple tale of genuine heros. Semper Fi!
You can read here more about what Diana did is Iraq. I am re-posting a sketch I did of her.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11 Memory

Six years ago I was three stories up on scaffolding doing restoration woodworking on a Colonial era building called Hungars Parish Church. It was the most beautiful of September mornings; blue sky, dry balmy air with a slight breeze, and the sound of combines harvesting the golden soybean fields of rural Northhampton County, Virginia. At about 0930 a well worn Ford F-150 pickup truck pulled into the church's yard. This rural congregation had no parking lot....just a dirt and gravel entrance off of a countryroad unto freshly cut grass. An elderly farmed called out to us in a thick Tidewater accent (imagine a Canadian with a Southern twang) from a settling cloud of dust that we needed to come down and listen to the radio. At the time I was just a Marine Reservist, a weekend warrior who between monthly drills would grow back his goatee and work at my civilian job with a historic restoration company, Tidewater Restoration. I, like most of you, knew my life had been changed forever.

The only other day I remember this clearly was when JFK was assassinated in 1963. I was in Miss Rau's 5th grade class when a call came over the intercom to send three boys who were cub scouts down to the office. I was one of those boys. The principle, Mrs. Musselman, told us the president had been killed. At first I wondered if it was the president of the school board she was talking about? And if it was, why was everyone in the office crying? Then she told us to follow the janitor outside. He was going to instruct us in how to put the flag at half-staff. It was then we realized she was speaking of The President. That night I remember how, like 9/11, we were all glued to our televisions. And I recall the words of JFK, "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country".

HBO and producer/actor James Gandolfini have created a documentary called Alive Day. You can go to their site and watch it for free. Please do. Freedom is not free. These are truly the folks who've risen to answer another generation's leader's challenge.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Persons of the Week

On Friday evening myself and three other Marine Corps combat artists were featured as the ABC News' Persons of the Week.

The Skippers

On Friday, 31 August, the two Marine officers who provided the inspiration for "The Skipper" stopped by the National Museum of the Marine Corps and signed the second casting of this bronze. Both have been promoted to major since I last spent time with their companies in Iraq, and are now attending the Command and Staff College at the Marine Corps University aboard Quantico. At the left is Major Ross Parrish, former "skipper" of F/2/1 and to the left is Major Phil Ash, of K/3/1. I served with Major Parrish in Operation Steel Curtain and Major Ash in Ramadi.
Our other artist, Sergeant Kris Battles, will be deploying back to Iraq very shortly for about 60 days. Sergeant Battles will be covering the first deployment of the Marines latest technological wonder, the Osprey. Kris has freshly posted some new and wonderful pieces over at Sketchpad Warrior. Please go check out his work and take a moment to wish him well.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Media Highlights and Project Updates

The exhibition of Fire and Ice: Marine Corps Art from Afghanistan and Iraq has garnered some very nice reviews and media exposure. The James A. Michener Art Museum has two television and one radio piece posted to the exhibit's webpage on their site. So, if you'd like to see me in front of the camera and microphone go to

Sculpture by Charles Sargeant Jagger

At the moment I'm working on two new sculptures. I've been particularly inspired by a WWI British sculptor named Charles Sargeant Jagger. In 1935 he published a "how to" book, which I was able to purchase through His technique involves doing a full unclothed figure followed by dressing it in both uniform and gear.

Last month I attended an ecorche workshop at Studio Incamminati, a Philadelphia fine arts atelier, conducted by painter Robert Liberace. The term ecorche had never crossed either my mind or lips prior to signing up for this incredible class. Ecorche is French for flayed. Robert showed us how to create a figure from the bones up. His working knowledge of the skeleton and muscular system was as expansive as mine was lacking. So....I'm trying to make up for lost time. Here are the two pieces I have in progress.
Figure done in sculpey over wire armature. The sculpey can be heated with a hot air gun and hardened as you build up layers.

240 Gulf Machine Gunner-work in progress, plasticine over a sculpey/wire armature. I built the boots piece by piece, starting with the sole, adding the heel cup, and then the tongue and side panels. Right at the end I'll add the boot laces. The leg at the left will have a drop holster added, hence the flattened pocket. The right leg cargo pocket is hanging low.....bursting with everything from extra food to ammunition and AA batteries.

. Battle Pause in Husayba

Another medium I'm experimenting with is called yupo. Yupo is a synthetic paper that's very adaptable to watercolor. It allows for dramatic "puddleing" effects and its brillant white surface is the ideal compliment for watercolors.

Overwatch, New Ubaydi, Operation Steel Curtain-watercolor on yupo

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Final Process and Finished Product.....In Bronze

Here is the final process and finished version of my first foray into sculpture. The local foundry that cast the piece is renowned for their skill in the lost wax technique. "The Skipper" now resides in the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Conway's office at the Pentagon.

The mold from which the wax casting is created.
The wax figure is touched up. The throat protector had to be molded seperately.

The wax figure coated and ready for the bronze pouring.

Initial bronze version fresh out of the mold prior to the patination process.

Sandblasted and ready for the patina to be applied.

Highly skilled foundry craftsman, RJ, preparing the surface.

Figure ready for the application of the final patina.

Whole figure heated........
Sprayed with acid......
.....and buffed out by hand using scotch bright and steel wool. This process is repeated multiple times.
Patina complete......almost.

Last step........heated paste wax.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

It's Been A While

It has been quite a while since my last post. A lot has happened. Where to start?

First, my original blog,, was blogjacked. As my previous post announced, thanks to a BBC link, my site's viewership went stratospherically off the charts. This, it turns out, was a mixed blessing. Someone decided that perhaps they could make a little extra fun money off of Fire and Ice. So they hacked in, changed the password, and made it theirs, sort of. There is no content at my old site, just a variety of links which I suppose are earning someone about three cents a month. Blogger was good enough to locate my content and repost it to with a new password.
Myself and Janis at the Michener opening.
Since the last posting I've been occupied primarily with all the preparations for the opening of my current exhibit at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The show, aptly titled Fire and Ice, opened the evening of July 7 with many friends and relatives gracious enough to come and share the festivities. I was honored to have, among the guests, the mother of Lance Corporal Nicholas G. Ciccone. She came to the show to see for the first time the portrait I did of her late son.

The artist with Mrs. RoseAnne Ciccone, mother of LCpl. Nicholas G. Ciccone

My Mom was in attendence as well. She's the lovely smiling woman in the center of the picture.

Several media venues in the metro Philadelphia area have done features and reviews of the show. WHYY, the Philly NPR station, did a five minute piece you can listen to at their website. The Broad Street Review did a review, as did the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Allentown Morning Call.

In my next post I'll bring up to date on my first sculpture, "The Skipper". The piece is finally cast and turned into the National Museum of the Marine Corps Art Collection.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Art, Misery and the Marines

“How to Be Miserable”

In my younger days dodging the draft, I somehow wound up in the Marine Corps. There’s a myth that Marine training turns baby-faced recruits into bloodthirsty killers. Trust me, the Marine Corps is not that efficient. What it does teach, however, is a lot more useful.

The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.

This is invaluable for an artist.

Marines love to be miserable. Marines derive a perverse satisfaction in having colder chow, crappier equipment, and higher casualty rates than any outfit of dogfaces, swab jockeys, or flyboys, all of whom they despise. Why? Because these candy-asses don’t know how to be miserable.

The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt and humiliation.

The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.

-- Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle. New York: Rugged Land, LLC (2002).

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Welcome BBC Readers...We've Topped 100,000 Visitors!

This weekend the BBC was gracious enough to host a slide show with a sampling of my artwork, and a link to this blog. My 'sitemeter' has gone off the scale with visitors. It is very interesting to read the wide variety of comments being left here at Fire and Ice. I want to assure all of you that I do read the comments and appreciate the earnestness and honesty informing the thoughts of the overwhelming majority of folks who've taken the time to leave a word or two. I want to invite those of you who may take exception to my political views to at least take the time to view artwork and photographs scattered throughout 125 postings.

Sometime this Saturday my viewership topped 100,000 and I want to recognize this milestone. I started this blog in September of 2005 merely as a way to keep family and friends informed of my adventures, and to have a place fellow Marines could go to see more of my artwork. It became so much more than I could have imagined and has led to things such as being featured on the BBC. It is somewhat ironic that the very first 'combat art' I ever sketched was a drawing of a sailor and a Marine aboard the USS Guam Christmas Eve 1990, during Operation Desert Shield, listening on a small shortwave radio to the BBC.

Listening to the BBC, Christmas Eve 1990

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Maybe Islam Is Right About Pork

It's been quite awhile since I dragged my soapbox out and had a good rant. Here goes it.....

High up on my list of useful idiots is commentraitor Bill Maher. A couple weeks ago, after a rather lame bombing attempt on the life of Vice-President Cheney at the Bagram Airbase, he opined and lamented had Cheney been assassinated many lives would be saved. I have in the past commented here at Fire and Ice that the goals of Terrorism and Islamofascism are almost purely strategic in nature...namely making it on to the nightly American news with scenes of mayhem and carnage, and or deeply informing and influencing the words spewing from the mouths of pundits. Tactically they cannot defeat our troops going toe-to-toe, but strategically they can, and have eroded the fighting elan of our national will. Suicide bombers and their handlers know that tactically their murderous missions are exercises in futility. GIs will continue to walk the mean streets of Kabul and Baghdad, and locals will return to market places and mosques. The attack in Bagram on Cheney was tactical, however folks like Maher manage to turn these criminal events into strategic political victories. I leave it to you dear readers to decide who's demise would perhaps result in a lowering of terrorist instigated deaths. It's doubtful if Al-Qaeda et al is trying to influence Cheney's thinking with their suicide bombs.....influencing Maher and his ilk is another thing all together.

On another day, while channel surfing, I again came across Maher being interviewed by the equally useful idiot, Keith Olbermann. Maher was lamenting the Bush Presidency, which he characterized as a failed six year experiment in stupidity. He insisted that the next president had to be 'bright'. Now I'm absolutey certain that somewhere in his vast storehouse of genius opinions and lexicon of brilliant commentaries Mr. Maher has spoken with great eloquence about all the threats endured by democracy itself during the past six years. It's interesting that he is now advocating governance only by the bright.....this actually has a name, and it's not democracy, it's called an aristocracy. I wonder if Maher is contemplating an electorate limited to only the bright as well? (We certainly don't want the NASCAR guys voting in another numbscull now do we. No, what we need are only the uber-bright to vote, perhaps like the Yale students who burned copies of the Bill of Rights and the Ten Commandments on Ash Wednesday, and then marked their foreheads with the ashes.) Jim Crow laws did the trick for close to a century in the American South. Maybe it's time to revisit the concept.....let's call them Bill Maher got what on your SATs? Sorry, you can't vote. Or how about an IQ data base? 120 or higher gets to vote.....everyone else gets tickets to a monster truck show.

Congress passed a bill last week to basically defund the war in Iraq and set a withdrawal date. Apparently the bill was also heavily laden and lubricated through the system with generous portions of pork. Speaking of pork, a popular ABC talkshow, The View, has been getting a lot of attention due to the comments by one of it's commentators, comedian Rosie O'Donnell. Who knew she secretly acquired PhDs in History and Political Science. Perhaps Islam is right after all....pork in it's various forms may be the source of our fall from grace on the world stage.

Two other interesting things I came across recently are; 1. the insatiable appetite the Chinese and the Russians have for deforesting vast stretches of virgin woodlands (remember this next time you're at IKEA), and 2. The concerns the Olympic Committee has expressed about the pollution in Beijing and the effect this could have on athletic performance. I find these two issues interesting in light of the push by certain parties to aggressively confront global warming. Perhaps an inconvenient truth they need to address is only democracies are even remotely interested in doing anything substantive about environmental issues. Makes me wonder why these same folks are so keen to find fault with actively spreading democracy. Unless of course they assume that the best model of governance for the inforcement of enviromental initiatives is something a little more on the dictatorial side.

Finally, Iran is releasing the British sailors and Marines it illegally seized 13 days ago with great fanfare. (The Bush Administration needs to find out who their PR firm is. Churchill is no doubt rolling in his grave.) Syria is claiming to have brokered the Iranian release of these hostages. These are two nations we GIs know all too well are behind much of the chaos in Iraq. I liken this episode to a bank robbery where the bank begs the robbers to not only keep the money, but to deposit it in a high interest account. One thing our enemy can and do bank on is the predilection of some folks living over at the fourth estate to spend a little time marching in or closely behind the fifth column.

I hope all of you have a lovely Easter weekend. Janis and I will be heading up to my Mom's in Pennsylvania for an Easter Sunday feast with family and friends porking out guessed it, ham!

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Sergeant Jeremiah Workman and Colonel John W. Ripley

I spent the better part of yesterday in the limelight doing a painting demonstration at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in the Global War on Terrorism Gallery. Dozens of visitors stopped, asked questions, oo'd and ah'd and generally fed my already over-stuffed ego.

The real treat for me however was seeing my old boss, Colonel John W. Ripley USMC (retired). Colonel Ripley, following his retirement from active military service, took on the helm of the Marine Corps History and Museum Division and sheparded us through the process that resulted in the National Museum of the Marine Corps becoming a steel and concrete reality.

He was waiting to take out to lunch one of the Marines who works at the museum, Sergeant Jeremiah Workman. What do these two stellar Marines share in common? They're both recipients of the Navy Cross, an award second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. Amongst Marines the Navy Cross is virtually equal to the MOH. This is especially true in Colonel Ripley's case. On Easter Morning 1972 then Captain Ripley almost singlehandedly stopped the entire North Vietnamese Army dead in its tracks by blowing up the Bridge at Dong Ha. The phrase "Ripley at the bridge" is as well known to Marines as the Chosin Reservoir and the Iwo Jima flag raising.

These two gentlemen were gracious enough to let me photograph them. One of the great joys of being a Marine is experiencing the constancy of the Corps that transcends time and place, and having the opportunity to stand momentarily in the shadow of giants such as these two men. It is a truism that people of this calibre are humble even to the point of embarrassment over the fuss made with regards to their heroics.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Inspiration

Captain Ross Parrish USMC-Commanding Officer F/2/1

Captain Phillip Ash USMC-Commanding Officer K/3/7

I finally tracked down pictures of the two captains who served as the inspiration for "The Skipper". I served with Captain Ross Parrish's company, Fox 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment both in Operation Steel Curtain, and in Hit for the December 15th general election and its lead up. Captain Phillip Ash is the CO of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, and I spent time with his Marines in Ramadi. These guys are the marrow of this nation.

The plasticine bust was handed over to the Wegner Foundry here in Fredericksburg this past Friday. In about a month the piece will be cast, after an rather involved process of creating a mold, working up the wax version that comes from the mold, and the final "lost wax" method of pouring a bronze bust. Once the bronze piece is created an additional process takes place creating the final patina. Sculpture is very collaborative. I'm on to my next piece.

Another reason I've been off-line this past month is due to having fallen in love. Yes, the old Gunner is head over heals in LOVE. Over Christmas my daughter and Mom were giving me a hard time about my I signed up for with the moniker of Jarheadmike. In very short order I met my sweetie, GIJanis, a Sergeant First Class in the US Army Reserve who spent 18 months in Iraq. She's got a blog of her own called American Commentary.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Our Current Debate

I have tried to stay away from commenting about the great debate occuring in both Houses of the US Congress with regards to the War in Iraq and the "surge". In war there are two concepts which, though intimately linked, are essentially different and at times in direct conflict with each other. One is called tactics and the other strategy.

In previous posts I have spoken about how the "I support the troops, but not the war" mentality says in effect "I support you tactically, but I oppose you strategically". Our enemy, both in Iraq and elsewhere, is not trying in any way, shape, or form to defeat us tactically. They are trying to defeat us strategically. They cannot stand toe to toe with us on the battlefield and win. However, they can defeat us in the realm of perception.

The stragegy of our enemy is simple.....use terror with impunity against any and all targets.

To vote against the surge, to vote to leave Iraq without stabilizing it is a vote in support of our enemies strategy......terror. We will be saying simply this, terror works. Building schools, rebuilding infra-structure, organizing and carrying out free elections, liberation from brutal dictators, etc, is a failed strategic position.

Finished......The Skipper it is, sculpture #1 is done! I showed it to the curator of the Marine Corps Combat Art Collection, Charles Grow, on Friday and he was very, very happy with the result calling it Rodinesque. He just about made me swear a sacred oath to not touch it! (I have a nasty habit of not leaving well enough alone.)

Charlie is himself a combat artist, having covered Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Haiti, Somalia and Operation Enduring Freedom. He's also an accomplished photographer as well. There is no higher accolade for me than his thumbs up. He's asked me to contact a foundry here in Fredericksburg and start the process of getting it cast in bronze.

The piece, as I worked on it over the past couple weeks, became a haggard rifle company commander. Over the years I've tended to focus almost exclusively on sergeants and below, the grunts. But I've also carefully observed the late twenty-something captains who carry the burden of command with weary grace. The young Marines are lovingly lead and often painfully mourned by their commanding officer, the "skipper". Skipper is a term both respectful, and filled with warmth. It's the un-official moniker for a Marine captain.

As you look at these photos of the piece try and imagine it without the white plaster support. When it gets cast it will only be the plasticine portion.

*Click on images to enlarge

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Trying My Hand at Sculpture

For the past few weeks, between working on the upcoming Michener exhibit, I've researched and began trying my hand at sculpture. Here's a series of images showing the progression of my first piece, from armature to about two thirds completed. I'm using plasticine to create the initial piece with an eye towards having it cast in bronze at a local foundry. The finished bust will stand about 16 inches high and show an exhausted Marine just in from a patrol with a wicked bad case of "helmet hair"

Our two other artists, Major Alex Durr and Sergeant Kris Battles, are hard at it in their respective studios. You can check out Battles' work at Sketchpad Warrior and Major Durr at .

Step 1: Create armature attached to a lazy Susan

Step 2: Flesh out armature with newspaper and masking tape

Step 3: Cover newspaper form with plaster cloth

Step 4: Apply initial layer of plasticine facial masses and plains

Step 5: Establish basic features and likeness

*Double click on images to enlarge