While visiting friends and family in Evans during his two-week leave from Iraq, U.S. Army Capt. Joe Marty expected to see relatives. He had no idea that he would also see 25 tiny faces smiling back at him.
Those 25 faces were displayed on a large poster that depicts the self-portraits of pupils in his niece's kindergarten class.
"I'm extremely impressed with how much a kindergarten class can do," said Marty, a Lakeside High School graduate and Colorado resident who recently returned from a seven-month deployment in Iraq.
The poster was created as a surprise for Marty, said Nancy Gay, his sister, who is the registration coordinator of the Columbia County Board of Elections.
"The kids just did such an outstanding job on this," said Gay, whose 6-year-old daughter, Kaylen, helped create the poster. "It's funny to see their little personalities come in."
In addition to the kindergartners' faces, a portrait of Marty with his family is centered on the canvas.
Gay supplied a photo of her brother's family to Margaret Wesley, Greenbrier Elementary School's art teacher, and she used that image to paint the family portrait, anchored by a large red heart.
Wesley painted in the main details on the painting, she said. The children, draped in T-shirts, colored in the clothing and other small objects.
"Some were more creative with colors," Wesley said. "I thought, 'Why not?' If they want to have red, black or green hair, I don't care. Happy faces are good."
The class pulled out an encyclopedia and included several images from Colorado, such as the map and the state flag, Wesley said.
The poster also incorporates the American flag.
"They really enjoyed doing it," she said, "and it was a totally new concept for them to paint anything like that."
The images on the poster were created with acrylic paint, which is permanent after it dries, Wesley said.
"We did realistically capture the family," she said. "He's a part of it. The fact that little, tiny kids had ownership and involvement in it, with one being his niece, too, I can't imagine that he would not be touched."
The kindergarten class spent a few class periods working together on the floor before the mural was finished, she said.
"It's beautiful," Gay said. "I mean, it's just amazing that there is that much talent in that art teacher at the school and in those kids. It's just phenomenal."
Marty, a 1999 graduate of Lakeside, returned to Iraq on Friday. He said he would keep the poster at his home in Colorado.
"It's really nice," Marty said.
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