Photo Information

Caroline Carlson holds up a portrait with Maj. Gen. Melvin G. Spiese, the Deputy Commanding General for I Marine Expeditionary Force, during a presentation with Spiese. During the presentation Carlson explained what prompted her to paint the portrait of Sgt. Cole, a military working dog killed in Afghanistan.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Mark Garcia

One woman uses portraits to help grieving families

20 May 2011 | Lance Cpl. Mark A. Garcia

A local painter unveiled her newest portrait of a fallen warrior during a small ceremony here, May 16.

Caroline Carlson presented the painting of Sgt. Cole, who was killed in action in Afghanistan, to Maj. Gen. Melvin G. Spiese, the deputy commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force. She painted the portrait to help comfort the grieving family and friends of the fallen hero.

And while Carlson has done several of these types of paintings, this portrait might be her most unusual.

Sgt. Cole’s full name is actually Bo’s King Cole JH, and was a military working dog killed in action. Sgt. Cole was on a patrol when an improvised explosive device detonated and killed him.

While this was her first portrait of a military working dog, the Mountain Center, Calif., native has been painting portraits for 20 years. It was not until 2006 that she started painting portraits of fallen service members. Since then she has offered her artistic skills as a way to help comfort grieving families. She does it for free.

Carlson first decided to start painting these portraits after she heard a pastor on the radio. The pastor, Ryan Krause, had previously been in the military and was talking about a book he wrote where he described some of his experiences on the battlefield. Krause also spoke about how he counseled soldiers during and after their time in combat.

Carlson said she spoke with Krause. His stories and passion for helping service members inspired her to do something.

“I thought painting would be a good place to volunteer my services because I’ve been a posthumous portrait painter for many years,” said Carlson.

Carlson said all the portraits she paints are meaningful and unique in different ways. However, she said some of the portraits affect her a little more emotionally than others.

“The pictures where you see the soldier in their environment in Iraq or Afghanistan are very hard because that’s where they died,” said Carlson. “You know that it was taken very close to their death, and it can be more difficult to paint those [portraits].”

Carlson said she tries to accommodate the families by listening to their desires on what they would like the portrait to look like.
“The most meaningful part is working closely with the families of the soldiers to compose a portrait that touches their hearts in remembrance of their loved one,” said Carlson. “Most often this means collaborating on issues of clothing, facial hair, or setting. It is not uncommon for me to use several sources of reference to achieve this, resulting in a unique portrait that for the family truly sums up their loving memories.”

While Carlson has only done a handful of portraits she usually spends 12 to 20 hours on each painting depending on the size and the paints used.

Carlson said she will continue to look for people she can offer her services to.

“To me it is a calling,” she said.