The Things He Left Behind: A Sister’s Emotional Journey to Honor Brother Through His Art

George M. Cox

George M. Cox II

Written by Communications Intern Kalli McCoy

“As a child I was in awe of his eye for color.” Angela Sriram of Baltimore, Maryland recalls the memory of her brother, George, who died in the Vietnam War at the tender age of 25.

Angela, who is spending her time still healing the wounds she bore from her brother’s death, now uses a unique way to memorialize and honor his memory – through his art.

In 1968, George was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. His mother and sister were devastated, believing him too peaceful for war. He always maintained that it was his duty to serve, his responsibility, which he believed in above all else.

Just six months into his service, on September 26, he made the ultimate sacrifice. It took the army nearly a month to find his body.

Before the days of war, Angela remembers  how strong their family dynamic was. After losing their father and other brother, Angela and George, along with their mother, had grown close. They called themselves “the holy trinity,” and would spent time together at the theater, circus, or just eating ice cream and talking. George provided Angela with her allowance, which continued even as he served. Angela remembers a time where she had found the perfect pair of boots, and her brother sent her the money from basic training, remembering that he was “always very loyal to both my mother and myself.”

Despite the typical sibling squabbles, Angela always admired George for his “gentle soul” and his artwork. From him came her appreciation of art and respect of its tools. “I looked up to him,” she says, “and I still have his blue toolbox full of supplies. When I went to graduate school, I used his toolbox for inspiration.” He also loved jazz, which inspired the name of Angela’s collection, Razzmatazz.

“Sonnet to Numbers and Letters” by George M. Cox II

Besides his talent and passion for art, George was greatly involved in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He even attended the March on Washington in 1963. But Angela’s favorite memory of him isn’t about his talent or drive, it’s when he would take her to the Central Pratt library in downtown Baltimore. He would lead her to the children’s section, then go off and do his research, frequently checking in on her to make sure she was enjoying her stay and was not wanting for anything. This is where her lifelong love for books and poetry began, kindled by her brother, who introduced her to Edgar Allan Poe in a book borrowed from that Baltimore library.

Nowadays, Angela has his artwork to help remember. Her favorite, titled “Man in the crowd,” hangs in her family room. It is a reminder of George,  saying, “When it came to art, it was just who he was.” Besides paint, George used photography, graphic design, and multimedia to create his artwork.

After the death of her brother, Angela had to learn how to heal. “I think of my heart as a patchwork quilt, that I put these losses in place and I’m trying to make something beautiful out of our life.”

“Man in the crowd” by George M. Cox II

“When someone dies, I don’t know that you heal from it. I think there’s a space in your heart that becomes empty. If you’re lucky, you’ll find kindness from other people, and you’ll  find something to fill that space. But I believe you’re never the same. You can turn these things into something good, if you’re fortunate.” That’s exactly what Angela is trying to do, turn her loss into something good. She chose scarves as way of “offering a kindness” and embracing others who have gone through tragedy.

Recently, Angela has taken on creating scarves, melding it with some of her brother’s art, to remember him. She said using his art adds a spiritual element to them, and has begun selling the scarves as a way to honor his memory and carry his story and legacy through those who wear it.

Angela will also be donating 10% of the proceeds of the scarves to the building of the Education Center at The Wall. The future Education Center will put a face to the more than 58,000 inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also known as The Wall. It will be a place on the National Mall that will share the stories of those who gave all for their country, and will be located across the street from where her brother’s name is etched in black granite.  Angela became inspired to donate to the effort after seeing her brother’s artwork after such a long time, and a serendipitous conversation with VVMF founder Jan Scruggs, who told her “whatever you send to me, I’ll see to it that it gets to the Education Center”. She was also inspired after hearing someone describe the dash between the date of birth and the date of death on a tombstone, referring to it as a symbol of that person’s life.  For Angela, understanding that dash is so important, for her brother, and for all those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“That’s what I’m trying to do with the project, to fill in the dash. There was a life there, that’s why the Education Center is so important, so that there’s a level of understanding and sensitivity to who those names are. People should know who they were, we should honor their courage and valor.”

Angela is leading a beautiful effort to keep her brother’s legacy alive and is just one person who is helping make the future Education Center a reality saying,  “I want his art out there, and I want to support the Education Center. He believed in education.”

Together, we can help ensure future generations never forget the men and women who have worn our country’s uniform. Through art, Angela is showing that her brother and the other 58,306 names on The Wall are real people, with families and stories that should never be forgotten.

You can learn more about Angela, her brother’s story, and her collection here: 

Manuscript written with a red moon - Copy (2)

“Manuscript written with a red moon” by George M. Cox II