"Children are hopes" -- Novalis
I began work on the above illustration in 1999 through the advice of my then agent. It was all over the news at the time, that an immigrant family had named their newborn "America" in hopes of not being deported. The baby's parents desperately wanted to give their child a better life than the one they had fled. My rep thought it would be a great way to capitalize on the event and draw attention to my art. I am a follower of directions and immediately began work on the illustration. Shortly after that, I parted ways with my rep, realizing we didn't share the same vision for marketing my work. I didn't abandon my drawing, though. I finished it knowing the baby wrapped in the flag wasn't specific to one child but symbolized all of America's children.
"See, there's the land of America...which you have to defend. But there's also the idea of America. America is more than just a country, it's an idea." -- Bono
True, our nation's physical beauty is vast. And although magnificent, it's not what makes America, America. My ancestors didn't leave County Cork, Ireland during the potato famine to find a more striking landscape. What brought them here were the intangibles. They were under the thumb of English landlords and came to a new world that promised freedom for their families. Freedom meant opportunity and most of all hope. And like their sons and daughters, it must be cherished and protected at all costs.
"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same." -- Ronald Reagan
On June 9th, a boy from the village of Mokena, Illinois, where I live, was killed in Afghanistan. Private Aaron Toppen was only nineteen and died serving the country he loved. He left behind a mother, sisters, a girlfriend and countless others. With him he took a piece of all our hearts. He was laid to rest in a casket wrapped in stars, stripes and the love of our community. In my mind's eye, I can see his spirit joining the ranks of a heavenly guard appointed to keep watch over our children. Once a soldier, always a soldier.
Aaron Toppen's mother adjusts a medal before her son's Turning Blue Ceremony.
Mokena welcomes Aaron home.