Mourners find an oasis of rest at Patriot Plaza | arts and entertainment

It is a shaded place of solemn reflection, lined with palm trees and tombstones and covered in steel and glass. Here, sitting on a stone bench and sheltered from the elements, you can block out the whole world for a few moments of respite.

Patriot Plaza, the 2,800-seat amphitheater at Sarasota National Cemetery, was built to be an oasis in a sea of ​​sorrow. It was meant to honor veterans and celebrate their lives, and it was funded by philanthropy with art as the main ingredient.

The Patterson Foundation, a charity endowed in 1997, funded the Patriot Plaza with a budget of $12 million – plus $2 million for art – and it was later gifted and dedicated to the administration of the national cemetery. . Linda Gould, a retired US Army colonel and community consultant for the Patterson Foundation, says the Patriot Plaza is the first of its kind.

“What makes this unique is that it was the first time in the United States that the federal government allowed a charitable foundation to use its money to pay for improvements to a national cemetery,” Gould says. “There are improvements on other cemeteries, but this was the first. And now it’s being bred in Alabama and Georgia.

Ed and Nancy Gates are essential parts of the Patriot Plaza tour guide team. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)

Today, the American flag is visible from all over the square, and it is usually at half mast.

Twenty-five thousand veterans have been buried since Sarasota National Cemetery opened in 2009, and every weekday an average of 15 funerals are held here. The cemetery has 16 employees who help administer and maintain the 295-acre facility, and there are approximately 30 volunteers who help interact with the public.

The plaza also has a team of tour guides who lead school groups around the facility and teach them about the art that surrounds it. One guide, Ed Gates, says he loves the time when he is able to communicate with young people about the importance of service. Gates, during a recent visit to Patriot Plaza, recounted his encounter with two middle schoolers.

He taught them some basic training commands and specific salutes for Marines and Army soldiers, and he wasn’t sure if they really understood him or not.

“At the end of the presentation, they leave for their bus and they thank you for doing the tour and everything,” Gates says. “These two girls as they walked away, they were like, ‘No, you do! I thought, ‘What are they doing?’

“Then they turned around in unison and said, ‘Mr. Gates,’ and they gave me a big, ‘Ooooh-rah!'”

safe at home

Patriot Plaza, built by Hoyt Architects, was only opened to the public in 2014.

These two eagles are part of the Home sculpture in the Patriot Plaza. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)

The plaza’s eastern entrance welcomes visitors with a pair of sculptures by Ann Hirsch, a teacher at the Rhode Island School of Design.

This installation – titled Home – takes up space on two curved walls that funnel you into the plaza, and they’re both cast bronze and meant to evoke a bird’s nest.

Here, on the north wall, two bald eagles sit on curved branches. One, an older eagle, shelters and protects the young eagle, which may be about to leave the nest.

On the south wall, there is another nest of branches but without birds in it. The south wall is adorned with a quote from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Both walls have branches from the artist’s native New England worked into the sculpture, and Gates explains how she created it.

“It’s an artistic process over 300 years old; it’s called the lost wax process,” says Gates. “Imagine a very large, solid tube of hard wax. The artist essentially chisels the artwork out of the wax. All the images and delineations you see are in this wax. There’s a team of people who work with the artist – when the artist has finished their job – who basically come in with a molten metal that they spray on the wax.

“Before the wax begins to melt and destroy the artwork, the molten metal is immediately cooled with a spray bottle of cold water. It’s a very old process and is still used today. “

The same process was used to create the imposing sculptures at the western entrance to the square.

Pablo Eduardo’s Guardian Eagles watch over the entrance to Patriot Plaza. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)

Tufts University graduate Pablo Eduardo sculpted two gigantic eagles to watch over Patriot Plaza.

The majestic birds of prey – seven feet tall and 12 feet wide – are called The Guardian Eagles.

The sculptures are oriented laterally, meaning that one watchful eye is pointed towards the plaza and the other is looking towards the tombs.

The seals of the five branches of the armed forces – Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard – are affixed to the wall.

Gould says the display never changes, no matter what happens in the future.

“One of the questions we often get from visitors is that there is now a sixth armed force with space command; will there be another seal added? The answer is no,” she said.

“The artwork and imagery dates back to the Civil War on the Outer Ring and World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Art at all levels is static from from 2012. Anything that happened after 2012, we don’t update or change.”

Night to day, here and elsewhere

As you sit in the amphitheater, your eyes are immediately drawn to the stone grandstand and 80-foot mast. But if you look down the scene, from left to right, you’ll see a beautifully colored mosaic.

The 50-foot-long piece – titled Night to Day, Here and Away – is meant to remind visitors that they share the same sky with loved ones who may serve halfway around the world. The artist, Ellen Driscoll, is a professor at Bard University, and she wove both the ever-changing skyline and symbolic emblems depicting unit citations and medals.

Close-up of Ellen Driscoll’s Patriot Plaza mosaic. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)

You can find ribbons including Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, Silver Star and others in the mosaic, and it also outlines laurel leaves and stars; Blue for the military and gold for those who die in service.

The mosaic is especially meaningful to Gates and his wife Nancy, who are Gold Star parents. Their son, the late Russell J. Gates, was a Navy aviator who flew combat missions during the Persian Gulf War and died in October 2000.

Gates, after explaining some of the elements, eloquently describes the artist’s intent.

“If you notice a restart on the left here, look at the sky. It’s dark,” he said. “As you move towards the center, it becomes a lighter color. It’s daytime. As you move towards the right end of the artwork, it’s dark again.

“We are here, we are a military family. We may have a son, daughter, sister or brother or uncle or aunt serving their country overseas. We get up in the morning, we have the freedom. Maybe these people stand for freedom. Maybe they had a bad day. Maybe they had to fight in battle. Night after day. Here and there.”

Driscoll’s artwork also serves to balance the whole place. His mosaic — which started life as a 15-foot watercolor — has also been transformed into a pair of 20-foot-tall spiers. The arrows repeat the theme, but this time they stretch the story upwards.

“Remember,” says Gates, “This artist started with a 15-foot watercolor. Each of these little pieces of glass was inlaid manually. Needless to say, it took a while.”

There is also another feature near the grandstand that draws a lot of attention.

Larry Kirkland’s installation Witness to Mission examines military themes throughout history. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)

It is a five-pointed star called Berghaus Star Projection which signifies the global reach of the US military. There’s a star on the map to delineate Sarasota, and there’s one more in Washington DC, where the Commander-in-Chief resides.

Mission Witness

The north pedestrian path leading to the plaza features an artistic monument highlighting the many ways ordinary people have experienced service throughout American history.

The exhibit consists of a series of 22 marble pedestals, each containing a photograph and a brief description of the service.

The 49 photos arranged on the pedestals address military themes such as conflicts, technology, funeral rituals and celebrations.

Interestingly, if you stand between two plinths, you can see a service experience from different eras. One plinth, for example, depicts a soldier wearing an ancient prosthesis, and the one facing him shows a modern version.

This exhibit was designed by artist Larry Kirkland, as is the Testimonials exhibit that borders the pedestrian path.

Each of these eight-foot-six-inch-high marble slabs — and there are 16 of them — contains a service-related word and a personal testimony from service members or military family members. The slabs are all unfinished; in some cases they have a jagged edge, or maybe they look like they’ve been through a battle. It’s all design, says Gates.

“We live in an unfinished world. We still have work to do to be perfect,” says Gates. “Each of the tablets has a section that looks like it’s been torn out. It’s not perfect. We’re imperfect. It’s the empathy that the artist conveys.”

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