The southern hemisphere of the Navy Memorial's 100-foot diameter granite map of the world is framed by 26 bronze reliefs. Set in deep relief, these lustrous 32-inch by 36-inch panels commemorate events in naval history or honor communities of the naval service past and present.
The Navy Memorial appointed a multi-talented artist, art historian and educator, Leo C. Irrera, of Washington, D.C., to undertake the massive challenge of overall design concept, creative development, and coordination with sculptors, foundries and local agencies with approval authority. Mr. Irrera personally sculpted six of the bronze reliefs.
Mounted on twin granite sculpture walls facing Pennsylvania Avenue, the bronze reliefs eloquently affirm the heritage and educational focus of the Memorial. Art authorities have told the Navy Memorial Foundation that this may be the largest bronze relief program ever attempted in American art.
From its inception, it was decided that the sculpture wall of the Navy Memorial would manifest the Navy through depictions of historic naval events and recognition of its various components. This was one consideration; another consideration was the audience‹its make-up and its interests.
The unique location of the memorial, guarantees an audience of considerable size‹local residents and tourists. Some would know a great deal about the U. S. Navy; most would know very little. Some would be sticklers for details; others would just want a good show—perhaps especially children (for whose benefit the sculptures are set on their granite walls close to the ground). There was, however, no guarantee that if indeed the audience looked, it would keep looking. So the overriding objective in the creation of the 26 bronze reliefs was to present a show that would hold the viewer without sacrificing the initial concept.
The president and board of directors of the Navy Memorial Foundation chose the components to be represented‹the objective being to represent the Navy as more than “warships at sea.” Due to the limitation of 26 spaces, many important naval components and events had to be omitted, so the most difficult task up front was the selection of 26 scenes that would best present a comprehensive picture of U. S. Navy people.