From reservist to artist

Hoboken veteran exhibits work at the Hoboken Historical Museum
Vietnam veteran and Hoboken resident Jim Fallon currently has his work on display in the upper gallery of the Hoboken Historical Museum including "Orphans Opus '68."
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Vietnam veteran and Hoboken resident Jim Fallon currently has his work on display in the upper gallery of the Hoboken Historical Museum including "Orphans Opus '68."

Jim Fallon, Hoboken resident and Vietnam veteran, is showcasing his artwork in the upper gallery of the Hoboken Historical Museum.

The exhibit “Heaven, Hell or Hoboken: Monoprints on Combat Paper” is comprised of 15 works of art, themed around the centennial of the nation’s participation in World War I.

Each piece is painted on what Fallon calls “combat paper” which is made from deconstructed uniforms of service men and women turned into a pulp and pressed into paper.

Meet the artist 

Fallon was born in Hoboken, and raised for part of his childhood in the Jersey City Heights neighborhood, but he has deep roots in the mile square city. His great grandfather settled in Hoboken after serving in the Union Army in the Civil War.

“I am the last Fallon in a long line of Fallon’s in Hoboken,” he said.

In 1968 at age 28, Fallon was called to duty and served as a medic in Vietnam in a field hospital unit comprised of Army Reservists from New York. He was sent to staff a POW hospital which also provided assistance to a remote village orphanage, delivering provisions of food, toys and medical supplies.

“The children were always excited to see the truck with the big red cross,” said Fallon reflecting on his visits there.

His time at the orphanage stayed with him, resurfacing years later in a work he titled, “Orphan Opus ’68,” which is included in the show.

It depicts children of the orphanage standing behind the orphanage’s tall iron gates. These iron rods merge to form a piano, bringing in Fallon’s love for jazz music. He was the former owner of the New York jazz club the Half Note.

Fallon explained that children of the orphanage had “no escape” and that he decided to incorporate their fence into a piano because music always served as his escape after the war.

The piece received the 1st place award in the October 2015 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival in Durham, N.C.

Fallon started creating art roughly seven years ago after joining an art class offered by the Disabled American Veterans group at the Veterans Center in Secaucus.

He was serving as a veterans service officer helping disabled vets gain access to programs like art therapy.

“I’ve drawn nothing but stick figures all my life,” he said. “but they were teaching different vets at different skill levels and next thing I knew I realized ‘Wow, I can do this.’ Since then I’ve been successful and sold many pieces and now I have a one man show at the museum.”

Fallon is a disabled veteran like many exposed to Agent Orange in the Vietnam war, which after 20 years showed up as bone cancer.

This resulted in the loss of his humerous bone, which extends from the shoulder to the elbow, being replaced by titanium.

Through therapy, he regained use of the lower part of his arm, and it doesn’t prevent him from making his art. He says it just means he can’t work on an easel and instead paints on a flat surface in his home in Church Towers.

The exhibit

“Heaven, Hell or Hoboken: Monoprints on Combat Paper” got its title from General Pershing’s famous rallying cry to the troops, “Heaven, Hell or Hoboken,” near the close of the war, as Hoboken served as the main port of embarkation and return.

Many pieces in Fallon’s Armistice Day series incorporate images he researched online, such as zeppelins, the Lusitania, and battle scenes from a century ago, as well as from his own service in Vietnam.

One piece, “Harlem Hellfighters WWI,” combines Fallon’s love of jazz music with a homage to the famous 369th regiment that served in World War I as a segregated unit of mostly black and Puerto Rican soldiers from Harlem.

These soldiers not only distinguished themselves in battle, but also during and after the war, when musicians from the unit introduced American jazz to Europe.

The paper, which serves as a backdrop for his art known as combat paper, is created by a veterans group he is part of at Frontline Arts in Branchburg, N.J. that invites other veterans to join in the process of converting their old uniforms into paper.

Fallon said the weekly meetings are about more than just creating paper but provides a safe space for veterans to talk about their experiences.

“We’re not psychiatrists. We just sit around and talk, but it’s really helpful for veterans to talk to other veterans,” said Fallon. “There are a lot of things I’ve never told other people, stories I didn’t tell for 45 years, but when I’m making combat paper I can sometimes tell them.”

The exhibit is on display until Dec. 23 at the Hoboken Historical Museum at 1301 Hudson St.

The exhibit is supported by a block grant from the State/County Partnership program for the Arts, administered by the Hudson County Division of Cultural and Heritage Affairs.

Marilyn Baer can be reached at marilynb@hudsonreporter.com or comment online at hudsonreporter.com

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