Watch renowned artist Andy Yoder’s process as he creates the Highest Honor banner.
by Katherine Rohloff
For artist and Falls Church resident Andy Yoder, 58, the inspiration for his latest art project, a larger-than-life replica of the Army-Navy “E” Award given to the Torpedo Factory during World War II, was piqued by his interest in military history. “[I] found myself drawn to the display of historic photos on the ground floor [of the Torpedo Factory]. This included a copy of the employee newspaper, which has a rendering of the ‘E for Excellence’ banner on the masthead,” says Yoder, who is also an instructor for The Art League. “I felt that an oversized, 25-foot-tall version of the banner hung in the stairwell space designated for the artwork would be large enough to activate the three-story space and bold enough to stand out from its surroundings.”
The banner, sponsored by both The Art League and The Torpedo Factory Art Center, will be titled Highest Honor and will be displayed in the Torpedo Factory Atrium by the end of June. In the meantime, you can observe history in the making by visiting Studio 8 in the Torpedo Factory before Tuesday, May 31, and watching Yoder as he creates the sculpture.
The Army-Navy “E” Award was established in July 1942 and was awarded to slightly more than 4,000 war production factories—only 4 percent of factories nationwide. The award recognized the success of the factory and the sacrifices the individual workers made on behalf of the common good. The award criteria were based on the quality and quantity of production, factory and worker efficiency, the practice of fair labor standards and maintaining an exemplary record of the health and safety of factory employees. If the conditions of the award were met after six months, the company received a star. The Torpedo Factory was awarded five stars—just one shy of the national record—that are represented on the banner.
“Andy came up with the idea to marry the past history of the building with the present,” Erica Fortwengler, director of communications for The Art League, says. As such, the banner will be made up of leftover military hospital garments and materials from Fort Belvoir Community Hospital as well as studio paper and cleaning rags from the factory’s current maintenance staff. Yoder obtained the hospital scrubs through his collaboration with print- and paper-maker Patrick Sargent. “[Sargent] won an online auction for the scrubs to use them for his thesis project at George Mason University, where we both teach. Luckily, he has boxes and boxes of extras, and they just happen to be red and blue, the main colors of the banner,” Yoder says.
Before Yoder can construct the banner, he will make the paper with the help of six Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. In order to do this, he cuts the collected materials into pieces so they can be converted to pulp. Then, he dunks a frame into a tub of the pulp and creates sheets of paper that must be air-dried. As the paper dries, it lightens to the desired hue of blue or red, signaling it’s ready to be dampened and stuck to the other sheets of paper. There will be 900 sheets in total. Then, the six veterans from The Art League Outreach Program, IMPart, will include personal touches by mixing documents, personal letters or newspapers into the pulp; drawing or casting objects and insignias on to the paper; or printing silkscreen-like images.
“Like much of my work, I came up with the idea for this project and then had to figure out a way to make it. I’ve never made paper before, and it’s introduced me to some amazing people. This kind of experience is why I enjoy sculpture and public commissions so much,” Yoder says.