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Jim Brothers, a renowned sculptor who completed many of the National D-Day Memorial’s statuary pieces both prior to and after the dedication in 2001 has passed away after a long battle with cancer. He was 72 years old.
Brothers was recognized as one of the nation’s premier artists and his work has been exhibited throughout the United States, Canada, France, Spain, Germany and Japan. Frequently called on to create public works, Brothers’ monumental sculptures can be found in such cities as Los Angeles, Kansas City, Hartford, Connecticut and Seville, Spain.
Brothers was always fascinated and humbled by the World War II generation. In an interview in 2000 for VFW magazine, Brothers said, “The World War II generation earned a better world for its children. We owe these people.” Brothers was only 4 years old when World War II ended.
April Cheek-Messier, president of the National D-Day Memorial noted, “Brothers devoted his time and talent to ensuring that the next generation would not forget the contributions made by those who served and sacrificed in World War II. He left an important legacy for all of those who visit the Memorial. His sculptures tell a story with such emotion that no words are necessary.”
Brothers earned his BFA from Phillips University in Oklahoma, worked as a commercial illustrator, taught high school art, and later pursued a master’s at Kansas University.
In a 2006 interview, speaking about his sculpture of General Dwight Eisenhower at the D-Day Memorial, Brothers stressed that he wanted to capture the reality of what Eisenhower faced that day before the assault was launched.
“On June 5 in the morning he was the most powerful man in the free world, bar none, because he had the fate of the free world in his hands...For that one day he was probably the most powerful and the most human he would ever be, and could be,” Brothers said, noting that he had already set the wheels in motion for the attack when the picture was taken.
“He did not want to address the troops. He knew for sure he was sending many of these paratroopers to their death.”
But he did want to visit with them, knowing the harsh reality of what the next day would bring. That led to the discussion of fly fishing with some of the troops.
“This was one of the hardest things he had ever done,” Brothers said of Eisenhower, who would later go on to become the 34th president of the United States.
Brothers said his association with the D-Day Memorial has led to relationships with people from all over the world who served in that battle, in World War II or in the military. “They’ve become some of my best friends,” he said of those he’s met.
He would meet regularly with a group of those who served and regularly had visits at his studio from those who’ve come to know his work.
He said his goal has been to speak to the common man, and to invoke the emotions they feel. He was working on two more pieces that will become a permanent part of the Memorial soon.
Brothers had said that working at the Memorial had helped him realize his purpose, and allowed him to leave a work that meant something to others.
In addition to sculptures at the National D-Day Memorial, Brothers also created a statue of Eisenhower that resides in the U. S. Capitol. His sculpture entitled “Flight” was selected to be placed at the Bolling Federal Building in Kansas City as a memorial to the teachers and children killed in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Whatever the subject, Brothers was always able to capture the action and emotion of a moment in time.
During the last few months Brothers was busy making sure that the D-Day Memorial’s latest sculpture would be ready.
“Homage” is a symbolic piece, emblematic of communities across the country who nurtured those who went away to war and grieved for those who never returned. Homage will also honor the Bedford Boys who served and sacrificed on D-Day. Bedford has the solemn distinction of sustaining the highest per capita D-Day losses in the nation. The new sculpture will be installed and dedicated at the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014.
Cheek-Messier noted that the passion in Brothers’ sculptures was evident. “In every piece the past is brought to life with an underlying grace and dignity that makes us proud of our history. We will miss his energy, passion, talent, and friendship most of all.”