When people see Cpl (Retired) Mary Fielder’s art, they can’t tell if it’s a photograph or painting. The former army medic’s goal is to make her work as realistic as possible while capturing the wishes of her client.
Her subject matter is unusual but familiar to those in the military – the iconic symbols of medals, trade badges, unit crests, awards, dog tags, decorations, photos, and other military mementos.
“It’s all about the detail,” she says.
Her work is often commissioned by military members and veterans to create a piece similar to a shadow box of their memorabilia. After an in-depth one-on-one meeting, she sketches out their medals, badges, and name tags in pencil at her in-home art studio in Bowmanville, Ont. Once the sketch is approved, she spends about 60 hours completing the 11” x 17” piece.
“When I sit down and draw and then look at the finished product I get an endorphin release and sense of pride. The end reward is really when I get the messages from people who tell me how happy my artwork has made them; that’s what makes me the most happy.”
The other reward is staying connected to Canada’s military community.
She joined the army at age 17 in 1991; her parents had to sign the forms because she was so young, she says. During her career she was deployed with 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group to Bosnia as part of Operation Palladium in 2003 and 2004. She spent time at 22 Wing North Bay, Canadian Forces Station Alert Nunavut, and Canadian Forces Health Services Centre 8 Wing Trenton. But her career – 30 years in the army – ended after falling both at home and in the workplace. After a thorough physical and tests, she was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a group of inherited disorders that affect a person’s connective tissues, primarily skin, blood vessel walls, or in Fielder’s case, joints.
While her condition cut short her military career, it opened the world of art. She says it’s been good medicine.
“For me, art is probably one of the most therapeutic things I have found in life,” she says, adding, “As for how I became an artist, I like to tell people I was born with a paintbrush in my hand. I’m self-taught, and have been creating art using various mediums for as long as I can remember.”
Her first iconography art project that involved medals was personal. It depicted the military career of MCpl Paul Franklin, a friend and fellow army medic who lost both legs in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan.
“Heartbreaking. I will never forget the day it happened.”
Not all her pieces are done in shadow box style. She also does custom artwork.
For Reunited, she worked with an HMCS Fredericton sailor returning from Operation Reassurance after the fatal CH-148 Cyclone helicopter crash that killed the six crew members in April 2020.
The painting is of her hugging her two children upon returning to Halifax. There is a white discoloration on one the children’s calves.
“As I was painting, I got emotional and cried, imagining being separated for seven months from my children. One of my tears landed on the painting. At first I was panicking because I thought I had destroyed my work but when I contacted the sailor to tell her what happened she said the tear drop made it even more special.”
I really enjoy my involvement with the Steel Spirit because it has connected me to so many fellow artists who are also former military, medical workers, or emergency services. For me, keeping that connection to the military community is vitally important.”
Veteran and artist Cpl (Retired) Mary Fielder
Virtual art gallery
Cpl (Retired) Mary Fielder is a member of the Steel Spirit Art Gallery. The gallery was founded by former paramedic Barbara Brown in 2017. It showcases the unique artwork of military, police, firefighters, paramedics, hospital practitioners, and other first responders.
To see more of her artwork visit her website www.armytoartist.ca
For more on the Steel Spirit Gallery visit their website www.thesteelspirit.ca