November 11, 2021 marks not only 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 contest and decides which image will be displayed across the United States honoring those who have served. in the US Army.
This year the 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. His senior thesis project, a children’s baseball picture book, later became Tavares’ first book, Zachary’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 doing my senior 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 an entire book. I still do it almost 25 years later.
Tavares’ winning illustration depicts a single soldier marching in front of the tomb, honoring both the anonymity and the 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 Jeff Gottesfeld, a former student of Colby.
Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was published in 2021 by Tavares’ longtime publisher, Candlewick Press. He and Candlewick have been supporting the United Through Reading organization for several years to help connect military families who are separated — by military deployment or posting — through the shared experience of reading together.
In addition to this honour, Tavares’ work was selected for the Society of Illustrators Original Art 2021 exhibition, which features original artwork from the best children’s books of the year, determined by a jury of top illustrators, art directors and publishers.
Knowing that his artwork will be seen at 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 a commemorated “unknown soldier”.
“You’re talking about soldiers who were killed in wars, and I guess it’s a bit complicated to explain how there are unknown soldiers,” Tavares said. “[Gottesfeld] tells the story from the perspective 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, marching down the 21 ceremonial steps.
“Every time they do a changing of the guards, the place is packed, and they have an audience. But they are also there at 2 a.m. and at 5:30 a.m., often they are there alone,” Tavares said. .
This year also marks the first time in almost 100 years that the public is allowed to walk in the tomb square and lay flowers in front of the tomb, during a special two-day event, which means that people will be able to approach the tomb, which was not possible before authorized only to sentries of the 3rd American Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard”.
“When I was working on the book, I spent time with the guards at the tombs, and I remember trying to write down their names so I could recognize their names in the book,” Tavares said.
“They were all very hesitant to tell me their names, and I was struck by that. They are so dedicated to what they do, focusing on the grave.
“So I like the idea that there’s this poster that I did, that a lot of people are going to see – but my name isn’t on it, and a lot of people won’t know I have it. I hope it goes with the theme of what tomb guardians do.