Kicking off its annual KOOBOOGA (a good book backwards) event, the White Salmon Valley Community Library displayed artwork inspired by “Danger Close: My Epic Journey as a Combat Helicopter Pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan” by White Salmon local Amber Smith.
The artwork was displayed in the Sprint/Baker Gallery. The works ranged from photography to quilting to hand-carved memory boxes. Each artist present gave a brief speech about their work and what it means to them and how it was inspired by Smith’s journey.
The first artist to speak about her work was Irene Jonas, who made two pastel paintings, one a portrait of a female combat pilot, the other of the Kiowa style combat helicopters used in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Jonas began referencing her painting of the Kiowa helicopters and where that inspiration came from. She asked the audience in the gallery to “first visualize yourself in a group of soldiers on the ground, in a foreign country, in enemy territory and it’s getting dark. Shots are being fired and you don’t know where from. It’s frightening. But because you are a soldier, you will do your duty and keep on task. Then you hear the rotors of the Kiowa, you feel this rush of relief and hope,” Jonas said.
Then she described looking at that moment from the view of the Kiowa pilot in her second painting. (See photo at far left.)
“She knows, she is flying into danger. She is well trained, smart and brave and has the tenacity to get the job done. This is who Amber Smith is,” Jonas said, referencing the author of the book.
The second speaker was the librarian, and organizer of the KOOBDOOGA event, and local artist Ruth Schafer.
Schafer called her piece, “Under One Umbrella” to encompass all women in the military, especially combat pilots. The piece is a mobile sculpture using an actual multicolored umbrella, with garden tiled and shaped helicopters beneath it.
“I think these women, no matter in what capacity they fly, should be together, because their bravery and fearlessness and ability to makes sense out of utter chaos, should be highlighted,” Shafer said.
The third artist, Sarah Burr Arnold, drew what can only be described as a labeled schematic of a Kiowa helicopter. Arnold, with the help of her young granddaughter Genevieve, said she was particularly struck by what it took for Smith to become a combat pilot and the day to day life of a pilot.
“I was struck by what she did to become a pilot and her interactions within this very male-dominated world of the military. What really stayed with me though was the state of constant business she was in and I wanted to convey that in the drawing,” Arnold said.
Another aspect of the artistic process that was important to Arnold was sharing it with her granddaughter.
“It was a way to show her and tell her that women can do anything, from draw and paint, to fly helicopters,” Arnold said.
The last two speakers were Lorna Crawford and Donald Hoffman, who both have close relationships with military service.
Crawford’s husband served as a combat pilot. In the process of retiring, the couple began to go through their things and decide what they were going to keep and give away, Crawford’s husband chose to keep his uniform, which she turned into two mixed media art pieces.
“In the military, uniforms are standard issue. There are no uniforms designed for women. I wanted to honor female members of the military, so I added pearls to the photo of my husband’s combat boots. To me, pearls represent a woman’s strength and wisdom, which I think is seldom recognized with women in the military,” Crawford said.
Hoffman is Navy Vietnam veteran that makes handcrafted wood boxes as gifts for returning veterans.
Hoffman described his returning from combat as having a metaphorical box of demons he carried around with him and that by making a real box, it helped him deal with some of those demons.
“I felt compelled to make these boxes for other veterans. They have a lot of demons when they come home, this gives them a physical representation of where to put them. If one of these boxes helps just one veteran in my lifetime, I will die a happy man,” Hoffman said.
For the month of October, the White Salmon Valley Community Library will be offering events like this, including an opportunity to meet author Amber Smith whose book can be picked up at the library for free.
The event taking place on Oct. 7 will be called “Soaring to Many Heights” and is an opportunity to meet Smith’s parents and learn about the family’s history in aviation.
Smith’s great-grandfather was a World War I pilot, her grandfather was a pilot in World War II, and her father Lane flew as a paratrooper in the Army from 1960-1963. He would later go on to become a pilot for Pan Am. Smith’s mother Betsy was a civilian pilot, flight instructor, and Pan Am flight attendant.