Warren Woodberry passes his handiwork. 'It brightens up the street, the Toledo writer and artist says.
Under a maroon awning of the Madison Building in downtown Toledo, portraits of men and women are pasted on cardboard displays, beaming through storefront windows on a stretch of Huron Street.
They're a tribute to Toledoans who have served in military conflicts from World War I to the current war in Iraq, says Warren Woodberry, a Toledo author and poet who designed the window gallery in January.
"It brightens up the street. And more than giving people something to look at, it gives them a sense of history and the sacrifices that many Toledoans have made for this country," said Mr. Woodberry, the founder of Holy Toledo Creative Class, a symposium of authors, playwrights, and poets.
The storefront window exhibit, entitled "Thinking of You," features a photographic array of young men and women in their military dress uniforms surrounded by flowers, family mementos, and inscriptions.
Some are black-and-white portraits of stern-looking men who lived in a different era. Their pictures, ennobled by a history of service and sacrifice in both world wars, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and the current war in Iraq, tell a story of Toledo families with a long tradition of military service.
Strolling the sidewalk along the Madison Building on Huron Street, it is hard to miss the look of confidence that Lance Cpl. Wesley K. Kincaid exudes in his buttoned-up Marine dress uniform.
In another window, a portrait of Quentin and Antonia Pattin sits between two green-and-white plastic flower bouquets. The husband and wife are both serving in the military in the Middle East.
Mr. Woodberry, 68, said the idea of creating the window gallery started as an art project to complement the efforts of a writers' workshop he started last year.
Mr. Woodberry paints in the DreamPlex Hotel and Conference Center, joined by his grandson, Xavier Woodberry, 3.
"This is part of our history, and we ought to know it," said Mr. Woodberry recently while seated at a lunch table in Jackson's Lounge & Grill downtown. "This is where it all started."
Mr. Woodberry, who grew up in a Washington Street neighborhood, said he started the project in two windows at Jackson's Lounge & Grill, 233 North Huron St.
He decided to expand the concept, he said, because it became so popular.
"It spread around by word of mouth, and I got so many responses from people," he said.
He approached city officials, who gave him free access and use of the storefront windows of the empty Madison Building.
"I saw it as an opportunity to bring some creativity into downtown and to also pay tribute to Toledoans who have made a contribution to the military," said Mr. Woodberry, who has been collecting pictures and mementos of Toledo veterans and soldiers who are currently serving in the military in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Mr. Woodberry, who returned to Toledo in 2002 after living elsewhere for 20 years, said he saw the empty, cobweb-ridden windows in buildings around the city as "a quick way we can use the spaces we have to get people excited about their downtown."
He is a self-published author who formerly owned a restaurant and ran a youth boxing club in the eastern Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda.
He is a 1956 Scott High School graduate.
Mr. Woodberry said he left Toledo because "I needed to grow as an artist and a writer."
He lived in Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., New Orleans, and New York City.
Then he settled down in the Caribbean with his wife, Yolanda.
Mr. Woodberry complained that the city's leaders and artists have not taken advantage of city spaces to express themselves in simple but meaningful ways.
"If nothing else, let the city take on a downtown beautification project. People will come back downtown if they feel like there is something to see here," he said.
He said it takes him a few days to create a particular display. The families give him pictures and any mementos they would like to include.
Then he puts it all together at no cost to the family.
He has been working on the gallery since January, creating a display at least once a month, he said.
The Huron Street window gallery consists of 10 storefront windows that Mr. Woodberry has completed since he started, but the Madison Building has 23 storefront windows.
Mr. Woodberry intends to use all of them as gallery space for different presentations.
While the window gallery is mostly composed of men and women currently serving in the military, a few historical black-and-white pictures and artifacts hasten memories of a different era, characterized by a call to service.
A short silver trumpet stands in a window stall dedicated to two fallen soldiers.
In an undated black-and-white, full-body profile photo, Louis Kerney, Jr., cuts an impressive image in a regal pose.
He stands in contrast to a smaller black-and-white picture pasted on the same cardboard display.
It is a portrait of a young Pfc. Carlos D. Jelks of Toledo. He died on Feb. 14, 1966, during the Vietnam War.
Below Private Jelks' picture are posted originals of Western Union telegrams, a death certificate, a commendation from the famous Gen. William Westmoreland, the late commander of the U.S. forces in Vietnam, and a letter of condolence to Private Jelks' family from President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Another window stall showcases the Stubblefield family - a Toledo family with a long tradition of military service. A green Army uniform and a flight jacket emblazoned with the name Stubblefield complement an American flag hanging in the background.
Thirty-five portraits of smiling faces in uniforms of different service branches show an array of men and a woman who have made military service a family tradition.
Mr. Woodberry is the resident artist at the Genesis Dreamplex Hotel and Conference Center in South Toledo.
He worries that people may question the motive behind his exhibition.
It is always very hard to make a public gallery display that does not offend somebody, Mr. Woodberry said.
"I hope people can relate to this on their own level," he said. "Let them come forward and see what they want to see."
Contact Karamagi Rujumba at: email@example.com or 419-724-6064.