AMHERST — Two Amherst artists say the U.S. flag-raising on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima is an event that continues to be worthy of our attention and respect 66 years later.
“It’s the most reproduced photo in history,” Mike Sekletar said. “It’s such an iconic image and has different meanings to people, but we feel it speaks to freedom and victory.”
Sekletar and fellow Amherst artist Ryan Shannon began their 20-foot by 35-foot artwork a few days ago on the side of a Park Avenue brick building owned by attorney and Councilman Frank Janik, D-at large.
After repainting the side of the building in light gray, the artists roughed in an outline of the six men crouching, standing and raising the American flag over Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima. The two men are now starting to fill in the figures from the top down in grays, black and white.
“Adding color would just detract from it,” Sekletar said. “The shadows and grays to be found in black and white are just more meaningful.”
“It’s really hard to judge detail when you’re right up there next to it (the wall),” Shannon said. “It’s tough to keep everything in the proper perspective, especially hands. Hands are the hardest thing to paint.”
They figure they will spend a few weeks completing the mural, but they will need hours of time to accurately recreate the hands that were laid over each other on the flag.
“Capturing the shadows there will be really tough,” Shannon said.
Photographer Joe Rosenthal’s Feb. 23, 1945, photo came during the brutal five-week struggle between American and Japanese forces over the small island and its three airstrips. The flag was erected by five Marines and John Bradley, a Navy corpsman who was awarded the Navy Cross for earlier heroism when he tended to a wounded soldier under heavy enemy fire. Three of the men who took part in the famous flag-raising died, along with some 6,800 Americans and nearly 22,000 Japanese.
The idea for the mural first came to Sekletar a year ago. He got the approval of the city’s design review board and Janik, and then went to the city’s veterans organizations, which have readily supported the effort.
“It’s a tribute to all service people past and present, but we feel this era is especially meaningful to the community,” said Sekletar, whose father, John, was a machinist aboard the USS Saratoga aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War.
Officials from the Amherst American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts were not available for comment Monday.
Sekletar’s previous local work includes an 8-foot painting of Elvis Presley inside Ziggy’s Sports Bar & Grille farther down Park Avenue.
The painted flagpole will extend above the roofline of the two-story building with a real 14-foot aluminum flagpole and a 5-foot by 8-foot American flag that will be continuously illuminated by a spotlight and old-fashioned triple-globed street light in an adjacent parking lot.
A local Sherwin-Williams store donated paint and brushes to help the pair get started. The artists have a goal of raising $6,500, which they say would cover costs of paint and materials, as well as provide a small commission for themselves for the work.
“We’ve had a few private donations so far,” Sekletar said. “We’re basically getting started.”
A plastic tip jar is strategically attached by a rope to the scaffolding the two men work from.
A bank account also has been set up for the “Park Avenue Mural” at the Amherst FirstMerit branch on Cleveland Avenue for anyone who wants to make a donation, Sekletar said.
Anyone who contributes $500 or more will receive a framed 12-by-16 print of the mural. There also will be a plaque near the mural recognizing major donors.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.