Leonard Justinian, 75, of Fairfax, comes from a long and colorful military background.
“My great-great-grandfather fought in the Confederacy,” he said. “He then married an American-Indian woman and went and lived on a reservation until he died. He’s buried there today.”
In 1955, Justinian joined the U.S. Army at age 17. He was later assigned to a 105mm Howitzer mobile artillery unit based in Rockville, Md.
“During the Bay of Pigs in 1961 we were all told to cancel any immediate plans we might have, and were told that we may be mobilized at any moment to protect the White House,” he said. “I knew then that I had joined the right unit.”
After his military service, Justinian said he settled in the Metro Washington, D.C., area, eventually residing in Fairfax.
“I fell in love with the sister of an army buddy,” he said. “We got married and started a family here.”
Having always been recognized as having artistic talent, Justinian soon went to work at the American Automobile Association as a cartographer. “I drew the AAA maps that everyone used to use back then,” he said. “It was a real artistic endeavor. Sometimes it took 30 plates to make one map.”
Justinian said his artistic abilities had been recognized as far back as 1948, when he was just 10 years old. “I used to draw pictures of horses and sell them to neighbors for 50 cents,” he remembers. “That was a lot back then. You could get 10 candy bars for that.”
While working at AAA, Justinian met a fellow artistically inclined cartographer by the name of Gene Davis.
“Davis was quite a character,” Justinian recalled. “He had previously worked as a sportswriter, covering the Washington Redskins and had also worked as a journalist in the late 1940s, covering the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. But what he later became most famous for were his acrylic paintings of vertical stripes. He was quite an influence on me artistically.”
Justinian eventually retired and today volunteers as an art teacher at George Mason University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. In his spare time, he paints and is working toward a lofty goal.
In 1989, Justinian said he had a dream in which his military background, his artistic talent and Davis’ influence all merged, giving him a unique idea for his artwork.
“In my dream, it occurred to me that I could paint the color patterns of U.S. military ribbons in the Gene Davis fashion of vertical lines,” he said.
Justinian said that soon after his dream, he began referencing U.S. medals. “There are about 200 of them,” he said. “I have painted about 30 of them so far and I now plan on painting them all.”
Beginning on Nov. 10, all 30 of Justinian’s military ribbons paintings will be on display at the Justinian Gallery, 3977 Chain Bridge Road in Fairfax, in an art exhibit titled “Colors of Honor.”
The paintings are painted in both acrylic and watercolor paints, and come in two sizes.
“The smaller ones are 2 ¾ by 4 inches and sell for $800, and the larger ones are 10 by 14 inches and sell for $1,200,” he said. The art exhibit will run through December. A reception with the artist is planned for 1-5 p.m. Sunday.