For as long as she can remember, former Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) member and military spouse Mary Fielder has been drawn to artwork. In retirement, she’s combined her passion with her years of military service to craft one-of-a-kind pieces featuring military iconography.
“From the time I can remember I’ve always been doodling and artwork,” said Fielder.
Fielder served in the Canadian Army for twenty years, joining at the age of 17 in 1991. She spent most of her career as a medic.
Unlike other Army medics, in between taskings and deployments, Fielder was commissioned by various units to cover the walls with her artwork. Some of her work can be witnessed in the 2 Field Ambulance in CFB Petawawa.
“It’s always been a passion of mine. I love it. To me doing artwork is like to somebody else doing yoga. They can just relax and enjoy themselves and wind down and think about their day while doing something productive,” commented Fielder.
In 2011, she released from the military and her husband and her settled in Bowmanville, Ontario.
After retirement, she had to figure out how to harness her love for art and convert it into paid work.
“People have always encouraged me to pursue my art, but I joined the military. It was my career and until the time I retired I didn’t really have much of an opportunity, other than doing it for the military, to be commissioned to do pieces,” said Fielder.
Luckily, her talents did not go unnoticed amongst her military friends who began commissioning pieces from her. Through word of mouth, she became the person to go to for personalized pieces featuring military iconography. Since then, she’s completed everything from murals to personalized gifts for families.
Each of Fielder’s pieces are created with the help of the vision of the commissioner. She takes the time to discuss ideas and come to an exact image of what a person wants.
“It’s just very personal to these people. It’s not just a picture of scenery or a specific fruit basket it’s very personal to the individual, and again it always seems to incorporate military iconography of some sort,” noted Fielder.
One of her most popular pieces currently is an image designed for women in the CAF. The image portrays a combat boot on one foot and a high heel on the other. The image is tailored to the serving member, with their personalized dog tags as part of the image.
“Because there isn’t much out there that celebrates women in the Canadian Forces, so this piece is really popular,” observed the former CAF member.
Her personal knowledge of military life is reflected in the piece.
“When I’m putting colour to that [combat boot image] it’s simply black that I apply, just lighter in specific spots to get the wearing down of the military boot because I wore those boots myself for twenty years. I know how they wear down. I know where the wrinkles are, I know where they develop and how the bottom of the heel of the combat boot breaks down. So, I can really apply those skills to my piece; whereas, a civilian who’s never worn a combat boot before, for example, wouldn’t know how the boots start to wear and tear. Even the way the laces are tied and tucked into the front, were it not for the fact that I wore those combat boots myself for twenty years I wouldn’t know how to put them on paper, how to display them,” stated Fielder.
Besides the popular combat boot image, Fielder also works on retirement pieces featuring a cap badge that is personalized. The artist likes to incorporate images of the poppy or symbols of Canada, such as the flag or maple leaf, where she can.
The time it takes to complete a piece varies, but Fielder’s artwork can take around eight hours, from start to finish. Fielder starts out with an image by sketching it, pencil to paper, and once the first image is approved by the commissioner, she transforms it into a final piece of work through acrylics on canvas or pencil crayon on heavy duty card stock.
Over the years, she’s sold 50 of the combat boot image and countless other pieces.
The City of Bowmanville along with other offices in the city, have also commissioned Fielder for several pieces.
“It’s quite flattering to drive down King Street in Bowmanville and look around and see my work everywhere,” said Fielder.