Saratoga Springs National Guard Soldier will be part of National Museum of the United States Army
LATHAM, NY (12/12/2018) New York Army National Guard Capt. Kevin Vilardo, a Saratoga Springs resident, will be a permanent part of the National Museum of the United States Army when it opens to the public outside Washington, D.C. in 2020.
Vilardo was one of six New York Army National Guard Soldiers who served as models for a life-sized Soldier figure that will be part of an exhibit in the museum.
There will be a total of 63 figures populating exhibits when construction on the museum finishes.
Vilardo, who works full-time at New York National Guard headquarters in Latham and also serves as a troop commander in the 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry in Niagara Falls, posed for a figure during a Nov. 13 visit to a Brooklyn company which specializes in making museum quality figures and sculptures.
Studio EIS (pronounced ice), the Brooklyn company that specializes in making these museum exhibit figures, would normally hire actors or professional models as templates for figures, said Paul Morando, the chief of exhibits for the museum.
But real Soldiers are better, he said.
"Having real Soldiers gives the figures a level of authenticity to the scene," Morando said. "They know where their hands should be on the weapons. They know how far apart their feet should be when they are standing. They know how to carry their equipment."
Actual Soldiers can also share some insights with the people making the figures, Morando added.
Vilardo joined the New York Army National Guard as an infantryman in the 2nd Battalion 108th Infantry in 1998 after serving in the Marine Corps for four years.
In 2011 he made the jump from non-commissioned officer to officer, and went from Sergeant 1st Class to 2nd Lieutenant.
The museum is under construction at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The Army Historical Foundation is leading a $200 million dollar campaign and constructing the 185,000 square-foot building through private donations. The Army is providing the 84-acre site, constructing the roads and infrastructure, and the interior exhibit elements that transform a building into a museum.
The museum will tell the story of over 240 years of Army history through stories of American Soldiers.
The figures of the six New York National Guard Solders -- Vilardo, Maj. Robert Freed, Chaplain (Maj.) James Kim, 2nd Lt. Sam Gerdt, Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Morrison, and Sgt. 1st Class Nick Archibald--will populate two exhibits from two different eras.
Vilardo served as the model for a World War Two Army combat camera photographer on D-Day, the invasion of France in 1944. His figure will be standing in a landing craft taking a photo of Soldiers climbing down a cargo net into the landing craft.
The landing craft is so big that it, and three other macro artifacts, were pre-positioned in their space within the museum in 2017 - the museum is being built around them.
The process of turning a Soldier into a life-sized figure starts by posing the Soldier in the position called for in the tableau and taking lots of photos. This allows the artists to observe how the person looks and record it.
Vilardo posed crammed into plywood construction which was supposed to replicate the corner of a landing craft. He had to pose with a camera up to his eyes while photos were taken.
The photography portion of this process was the most unnerving part for him, Vilardo said.
"I'm not one to like my picture being taken and to have really close photography of your face and hands was a new experience," he said.
"It was fast, it was professional. They had a vision of what they want the exhibit to look like," Vilardo said.
Next, a model of the individuals face is made. A special silicone based material is used for the cast. The model's nostrils are kept clear so the subject can breathe.
The Soldiers were told what their character was supposed to be doing and thinking and asked to make the appropriate facial gestures.
"It was funny because I have a scar over my lip and when they did the cast you could see the scar," Vilardo said. "It would be fun to go to the museum and look and see if the scar is still over the lip of the Soldier."
Once their facial casts were done the Studio EIS experts cast the rest of their body. The Soldiers put on tight shorts and stockings with Vaseline smeared over body parts and posed in the positions needed.
Props helped them maintain the position for the 20 to 30 minutes it takes for the casting material to set.
Next the artists will sculpt sections into a complete figure, dress and accessorize, and paint precise details on the face and skin; crafting it to humanistic and historical perfection.
These lifelike Soldier figures will help visitors understand what it looked like on D-Day, Morando said.
The New York Soldiers got their chance to be part of the new, state of the art museum because of Justin Batt, the director of the Harbor Defense Museum at Fort Hamilton.
He and Morando had worked together before, Batt said.
Morando needed Soldiers to pose and wanted to use Soldiers from New York to keep down costs. So he turned to Batt to help find ten people. Batt in turned reached out to New York National Guard Soldiers assigned to Fort Hamilton.
The museum was looking for Soldiers with certain looks, heights, and in some cases race.
For the D-Day scene they needed Soldiers of certain height and weight who would look like Soldiers from the 1940s.
The six New York Guardsmen taking part in the figure making were perfect, Batt said. Not only did they look the part but also they all have tremendous military records, he added.
Being part of the National Museum of the United States Army is an honor, the National Guard Soldiers said. While their names won't be acknowledged on the exhibits, it will be great to know they are part of telling the Army story, they all agreed.
Vilardo, who has a seven-year old daughter, said she was pretty excited when he showed her photographs of him being turned into an exhibit figure.
"I told her it would be just like "Night at the Museum", he said referring to the Ben Stiller movie about museum exhibits coming to life, "and that we could go visit anytime."
The National Museum of the United States Army is a joint effort between the U.S. Army and the non-profit organization, The Army Historical Foundation. The museum will serve as the capstone of the Army Museum Enterprise and provide the comprehensive portrayal of Army history and traditions. The Museum is expected to open in 2020 and admission will be free. www.thenmusa.org
Page Last Modified: Dec 13, 2018