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Gig Harbor sculptor honors Marine Raiders of World War II

'Soul of the Forward and Faithful'

Mardie Rees, Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman and MARSC staff at the “Soul of the Forward and Faithful” unveiling at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. Photo credit: Nathaniel Renouf

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Mardie Rees is a local sculptor, based in Gig Harbor, whose bronze sculptures capture the human form with striking emotion. She's gotten recognition from around the country as a result, including most recently for a piece called "Soul of the Forward and Faithful," a commissioned sculpture that is now installed at the National Museum of the Marine Corps (NMMC) in Quantico, Virginia.

The sculpture was unveiled at NMMC in late 2014 to a grand ceremony which Rees attended. Col. Giles Kyser (retired) emceed the ceremony, and several others spoke, including museum director Lin Ezell, keynote speaker Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman and Rees, who spoke about her inspiration and process. After the unveiling, original WWII Marine Raider, Charles Meacham Sr., shared several stories about his experience as a marine.

Before "Soul of the Forward and Faithful" arrived at Quantico, it was featured in exhibitions around the country, including a three-week stop at Tacoma Art Museum in July 2014, as well as the 2014 U.S. Marine Raider Reunion, and the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

The sculpture was commissioned by the U.S. Marine Raider Foundation and completed earlier this year, just before its time at Tacoma Art Museum. As with most of Rees' works, the piece began as a clay prototype, which then was used to cast a mold to create the final bronze form. The piece honors the Marine Raiders, the nation's first elite corps who fought in the Pacific theater during World War II.

"From an artistic standpoint, this piece was inspired by renowned American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Robert Gould Shaw Memorial and the 54th Regiment located at the end of the Boston Commons, unveiled to the public in 1897," says Rees. "Every time I am in Boston, I go and stand in front of this piece and I am always moved by the expressions on the African-American union soldiers and how I feel the power and sacrifice of what they are about to do. I wanted to try and get that in my work in my own way and "Soul of the Forward and Faithful" was that."

The emotion behind Rees' work comes from her unique ability to connect with her subject matter, which she did for this piece through a thorough process of research down to the smallest details - including the gear soldiers wear in the piece - and listening to stories of soldiers who were there, but also by choosing even her models carefully.

"When I started out I felt that I couldn't just hire 17 or 18-year-olds (even though they were the right age) at the local high school to come and hold a rifle in my studio," she explains. "I felt I needed models with the maturity and the experience of war that would come out in my work. Art is a mysterious process and often by seeking something deeper by the people I choose to model for a work of art, it becomes greater. I heard very personal stories from my two marines (two tours in Iraq), these stories were similar to stories I read of these young guys fighting on the Pacific Islands. Real live people and their stories are the force that compels me to sculpt them as they are."

Even choosing the name for the piece took painstaking work - she discussed the name with two former marines who were integral to her sculpture process, and settled on "Forward and Faithful" because the words connected the WWII Marine Raiders with the Marine Special Operations of today, whose motto is "Always Faithful, Always Forward." Still, even then Rees felt the title lacked something. The final addition of the word "soul" came from a quote she found by historian Robert A. Buerlein about the Raiders: "For the Soul of the elite force unit is its men."

If you'd like to see Rees' work locally, Gig Harbor is the place to be. There is a life-size sculpture in the St. Anthony's hospital main lobby as well as a bas relief at Skansie Brothers Park.

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