November 11, 2021 not only marks Veterans Day, but also the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia.
Each year, the National Veterans Day Committee of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs holds a nationwide poster competition and decides which image will be displayed across the United States in honor of those who have served. in the US military.
This year’s theme was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and an award-winning illustration by Matt Tavares ’97 was chosen for the official poster.
Tavares lives in Ogunquit, Maine, grew up in Winchester, Massachusetts, and majored in studio art in Bates. Her main thesis project, a children’s picture book on baseball, later became Tavares’ first book, Zacharie’s ball. Published in 2000 by Candlewick Press, it won the Massachusetts Book Award in 2000 and launched Tavares’ career as an author and illustrator.
“I feel like my graduation thesis at Bates was kind of a dress rehearsal for doing what I’m doing now,” Tavares said. “I have to go through this whole process and do a whole book. I still do it almost 25 years later.
Tavares’ winning illustration depicts a single soldier marching past the grave, paying homage to both the anonymity and dignity of the monument. Tavares created the image and others for Twenty-one Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which was written by Colby’s alumnus Jeff Gottesfeld.
Guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was published in 2021 by longtime Tavares publisher Candlewick Press. He and Candlewick have supported the United Through Reading organization for several years to help connect military families who are separated – by deployment or military posting – through the shared experience of reading together.
In addition to this honor, Tavares ‘work was shortlisted for the Society of Illustrators’ Original art 2021 exhibition, which features original art from the year’s best children’s books, as determined by a jury of top illustrators, art directors and publishers.
Knowing that his artwork will be seen in Veterans Day celebrations across the country is a “huge honor” for Tavares. The illustration is aimed at children, but the simplicity of the image echoes the solemnity of the idea of commemorating an “unknown soldier”.
“You talk about soldiers who have been killed in wars, and I guess it’s a little complicated to explain how there are unknown soldiers,” Tavares said. “[Gottesfeld] tells the story from the point of view of the first unknown soldier, so it’s very powerful and poignant, and told in a personal way.
Tavares wanted to show a more private moment with the tomb keeper than usual, depicting the soldier at sunrise, alone, walking the 21 ceremonial steps.
“Every time they change the guards, the place is packed and they have an audience. But they are also there at 2 am and 5.30 am, often they are there alone, ”said Tavares.
This year also marks the first time in nearly 100 years that the public has been allowed to walk the Tomb Square and lay flowers in front of the Tomb, in a special two-day event, which means people will be able to approach the tomb, something previously only allowed to sentries of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard”.
“When I was working on the book, I spent time with the tomb keepers, and I remember trying to write down their names so that I could recognize their names in the book,” Tavares said.
“They were all very hesitant to even tell me their names, and I was struck by that. They are so dedicated to what they are doing, focusing on the grave.
“So I kinda like the idea that there’s this poster that I made that a lot of people are going to see – but my name isn’t on it, and a lot of people won’t know that I have it. I hope this fits with the theme of what the grave keepers do.