Tag Archives: Great War

Serving with Paint, Paper and Pencils

Weapon? – Check!

Gas Mask? – Check!

Paint Brush? – Check!

Sketch Book? – Wait! WHAT???

Paint brushes, sketch books and charcoal pencils are usually thought of as implements of art, not of war. But a very special exhibit of combat art from World War I currently hosted at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum demonstrates how they can be both. The exhibit, entitled Artist Soldiers, is a collaboration between the Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

While art depicting combat has been around probably as long as there has been combat, what makes this exhibit unique is the featured artists.

877 Dunn

Battle of the Marne by Harvey Dunn; Watercolor and Pastel on Paper, 1918

Shortly after the U.S. entered World War I, military policymakers decided to recruit artists directly into the Army, due in part to similar British and French programs. Visual images in posters, newspapers and magazines would be important for maintaining the morale and support of the American public. British and French military artists had generated some impressive work for their governments in this regard.

The task of recommending specific artists for this duty fell to Charles Dana Gibson, an accomplished artist and illustrator who headed the Division of Pictorial Publicity of the Committee on Public Information. Gibson recommended illustrators, artists who can usually draw or sketch quickly, an important skill for someone working in combat.

882 Townsend

Helping A Wounded Ally by Harvey Everett Townsend; Charcoal on Paper, 1918

In early 1918, eight of these successful commercial artists were commissioned as Reserve captains in the Corps of Engineers and assigned to the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).

It was the first time the War Department incorporated artists directly into the Army’s ranks and sent them into combat areas for the expressed purpose of “making a complete pictorial record of the American Army’s participation in the war”.

Many of the artists already knew each other before arriving in France with the AEF, having studied at the same art schools such as the Art Institute of Chicago or the Art Students League in New York.

The eight artist-soldiers were:

William James Aylward – A successful book, magazine, and advertising illustrator, he grew up around docks and often portrayed maritime subjects. As a combat artist, he focused on ports, of course, but also landscapes.

896 Aylward

Unloading Ships at Bassen Docks by William Aylward; Charcoal and Gouache on Paper, 1919

Walter Jack Duncan – Also a noted illustrator before the war, he often depicted the soldier’s life in rear areas.

George Matthews Harding – During World War I, Harding produced combat scenes incorporating many new technologies introduced in World War I, such as aircraft and tanks. Harding would serve as an official combat artist again during World War II.

Wallace Morgan – Prior to the war, Morgan worked for many of the major magazines of the day, such as Colliers’ and the Saturday Evening Post. He was especially well known for his black and white drawings.

897 Peixotto

Tressing Nets for Artillery Emplacements by Ernest Peixotto; Pen and Ink Wash and Charcoal on Paper, 1918

Ernest Clifford Peixotto – The “old man’ of the group at 48 upon his commissioning, Peixotto worked in France, painting landscapes and illustrating travel books prior to the war. Peixotto stayed in France for several years after the armistice. He taught art in an AEF’s educational program for soldiers remaining in Europe.

J. Andre Smith – Trained in architecture, he actually preferred to draw and etch. Smith was the only one of the artists who received military training before he deployed, having served briefly in a camouflage unit. He also became the group’s commanding officer.

879 Smith

Band concert at Neufchatel by J. Andre Smith; Watercolor and Charcoal on Paper, 1918

Harry Everett Townsend – He returned to the U.S. from Europe in 1914 to draw war posters, then volunteered for Army service. Townsend lost a brother early in the war in a plane crash. He focused much of his work on aviation and other new technologies. Townsend later worked at the Paris Peace conference and taught art at the AEF’s training center.

Harvey Thomas Dunn – He was a daring combat artist who usually worked in close proximity to the front lines.

Upon arriving in France in May 1918, the artists were assigned to the AEF Intelligence Section, Press and Censorship Division. For several weeks after their deployment–as U.S. forces continued to drill and train for combat missions–the artists oriented themselves to Army life, toured the battlefields, and prepared themselves for what was to come.

889 Morgan

The Morning Wash Up Neufmaison by Wallace Morgan; Charcoal on Paper, 1918

They established a studio in the French town of Neufchateau, halfway between the AEF’s Headquarters and the front. There they could complete or refine their drawings into finished pieces. The artists were directed to submit their images to the War Department at the end of each month, along with a report on anticipated follow-on pieces.

Once deployed, they had the authority to move freely around both the forward and rear areas to do their work. While there is no record of any of the artists going “over the top”, they took their mission very seriously. They positioned themselves at the front, lived in the trenches, got wet in the rain, missed meals, and exposed themselves to enemy fire many times in order to do their work.

In the nine months of service with the AEF, the artist soldiers produced over 700 pieces. They drew, painted and sketched scenes from the front, rear areas, the use of new technologies, soldiers both on and off duty, landscapes, civilians, in short, all they were exposed to.

878 Aylward

Returning Refugees at Hattonchatel by William Aylward; Charcoal and Gouache on Paper, 1919

For all their efforts, however, the brass in Washington was not always happy with their work. While skillfully prepared, the pictures and their subject matter were not always easily transferred to home front use in boosting morale. But they do provide a challenging and thought-provoking contemporary rendering of the daily life of American soldiers and French civilians in 1918.

Following the war, all the artists continued their successful art careers. The War Department transferred about 500 of their works to the Smithsonian Institute which displayed them at various times through the 1920’s. Since then however, the paintings have not been exhibited very often, making this a rare opportunity to see a portion of these unique and historic works.

887 Harding

American Artillery and Machine Guns by George Harding, Charcoal on Maison, 1918

An accompanying exhibit entitled Soldier Artists displays some impressive photography of stone carvings created by soldiers while living in the underground trenches, along with other World War I period artifacts from the Smithsonian collections.

Both exhibits are currently on display until November 2018.

While you are at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, be sure to visit the permanent exhibit on World War I combat aviation.

* * *

ROUTE RECON

The NASM is located at the intersection of Independence Avenue and 6th Street, Southwest. There is no onsite parking, but there are several commercial lots nearby. The nearest Washington Metro stations are the L’Enfant Plaza Station on the Yellow and Green Lines and the Smithsonian Station on the Blue and Orange lines. Both stations are about a two block walk to the NASM.

MESS CALL

The Wright Place Food Court offers a variety of fast food meal options from Boston Market, Donatos Pizza and McDonald’s.

* * *

Featured Image: The Prisoner by Harvey Dunn, Oil on Canvas, 1918

The Library of Congress Opens its Books on World War I

I WANT YOU

James Montgomery Flagg, 1917 Lithograph, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

You know the look.

Intense. Almost a scowl. With piercing eyes that follow you around the room.

The man’s right index finger points directly at you, leaving no doubt who he is looking at. The long goatee, blue coat and top hat give him away.

He is your uncle, of course, and you know what he wants.

You! In the U.S. Army! NOW!

Artist James Montgomery Flagg’s image of Uncle Sam is probably the most iconic American illustration to come out of the World War I era.

This poster and many other artifacts from the First World War can be seen in the recently opened exhibit Echoes of the Great War at the Library of Congress.

Video Kiosk

View World War I imagery on video kiosks such as this throughout the exhibit. The Library of Congress digitized over 26,000 feet of period film for Echoes of the Great War, some not seen in over 100 years.

The Library of Congress regularly presents exhibitions based on its extensive collections of all types of print and recorded media. Echoes of the Great War is the Library of Congress’s commemorative exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I. The impressive assortment of posters, newspapers, letters, diaries, maps, videos and other articles assembled by Library of Congress curators for Echoes of the Great War bring the issues and experiences of the World War I era down to the human level.

The exhibit is neatly organized into four separate sections, corresponding to the period of neutrality, domestic mobilization, operations in Europe, and how the U.S. navigated the challenges of the war’s aftermath. The first section entitled Arguing Over War explores the Wilson Administration’s policy of neutrality and how German unrestricted submarine warfare contributed to its demise.

ExhibitIThe section also highlights an important relief operation less well known today, the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). Taking advantage of U.S. neutrality, the CRB procured, transported and distributed 11.4 billion pounds of food to 9.5 million civilians living in German-occupied Belgium and Northern France saving many from starvation. It was chaired by a young mining engineer then living in London named Herbert Hoover.

Waste No Food

The U.S. did not have mandatory food rationing during WWI, but the government encouraged voluntary food conversation through posters such as this. (Waste No Food. Wash.DC, U.S.D.A., ca. 1917. Broadside, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress)

The second section Over Here examines how the United States effectively prepared for this new, global war and met the associated challenges of mobilizing the economy, expanding the military, and balancing the various demands of the public while trying to maintain public support of the war effort.

Posters vividly tell the story of this section, depicting the need for Americans to enlist in the military, buy war bonds, conserve food and work more efficiently.

The U.S. military in combat is the focus of the third section, Over There. In this section the diaries and letters take on a special poignancy as civilians, Marines and soldiers of all ranks including General Pershing and Lieutenant Colonel George Patton explain their personal experiences in combat as well as their daily routines.

Diary

A page from the diary of  Sergeant Major Claud Charles Hamel, USMC, who served at Belleau Wood. He writes about visiting Dr. Boone’s aid station and meeting wounded Marines. (Claude Charles Hamel. “Diary of Claude C. Hamel, Formerly Regimental Personnel Sergeant Major Fifth Regiment U.S. Marines AEF, April 1917 to August 15, 1919”, June 22, 1922. Bound typescript memoir. General Collections, Library of Congress)

 

An early test of U.S. forces in World War I was the Battle of Belleau Wood, fought in June 1918 when the U.S. 2nd Division, comprised of both Army and Marine Corps elements engaged the Germans in a forest near Paris.

Lieutenant Joel T. Boone, U.S. Navy, was serving as Medical Officer for the 6th Marine Regiment and operated an aid station during the battle. In his diary on display, he describes the first night of the battle as “a Perfect Inferno”. Dr. Boone would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his service in caring for the wounded and preparing patients for transport, even when the aid station was hit by enemy fire.

One month later, he earned the Medal of Honor for treating Marines under direct fire and risking his own life to collect medical supplies. Dr. Boone would later win six Silver Stars and become the most decorated medical officer of any branch in U.S. military history.

The artifacts found in the final section, World Overturned, reveal the post-war U.S. as it sought to keep the peace, expand democracy, welcome veterans, and absorb the other societal changes which were hastened by the war. There are maps with hand drawn overlays of new countries in Central Europe and the Middle East, posters extolling employers to hire veterans, and a picture of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt awarding Dr. Boone his Medal of Honor.

Nobel Prize

President Woodrow Wilson’s 1919 Nobel Peace Prize (Medal, case and scroll box. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress)

There is also an original draft of President Wilson’s “14 Points” address to Congress, where he laid out is ideas for a lasting post-war peace. Wilson believed that democratic values in place of autocratic monarchs, self-determination of peoples and the collective action of a League of Nations would help prevent future global conflicts. He would forcefully argue his 14 Points at the Paris peace negotiations following the war and win the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

You can always learn something by visiting a library and this is especially true when visiting Echoes of the Great War at the Library of Congress. At the end of the exhibit is a video featuring the exhibit’s curators, advisors and consultants discussing their contributions and what they learned while researching this project.

Echoes EntranceIn order to preserve what is on display, some items will be rotated out every seven months so Echoes of the Great War is worth visiting more than once before its scheduled closing in January 2019. The Library of Congress also put details of the exhibit, including photos and information on what is currently on display, teaching aids, curator notes and other resources on their website so you can still view many of the items, even if you cannot travel to Washington.

* * *

Tucked away in a separate room behind Echoes of the Great War is another exhibit worthy of a visit. This exhibit commemorates Thomas Jefferson’s sale of his personal library to Congress in 1815. Jefferson made the offer after the original holdings of the Library of Congress were destroyed by fire in 1814, when British forces attacking Washington, D.C. burned the U.S. Capitol. In 2015, the Library of Congress marked the bicentennial of the purchase of Jefferson’s collection by putting many of the original volumes on display.

JEFFERSON

Visitors examine several original volumes from Thomas Jefferson’s library conveyed in 1815 as the beginning of a new Library of Congress.

Throughout his life, Jefferson had accumulated more than 6,000 books on a wide variety of subjects. Jefferson believed members of Congress would benefit from access to such a broad collection. Through the years, his idea of the Library of Congress possessing the widest collection of materials for Congressional reference has taken hold. Today the Library of Congress holds more than 160 million items, making it what many consider to be the largest library in the world.

The Library of Congress’s main building is named in honor of Thomas Jefferson and is a worthy destination for anyone visiting Washington. The building was built in the late 1880’s and the interior is filled with beautiful carvings, mosaics and stonework. The Library of Congress offers tours on the half hour. Tours originate on the ground floor and last approximately 1 hour. Arrive around 10 minutes early to view a short video on the Library of Congress.

* * *

Route Recon

Echoes of the Great War is found in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, located at 10 First Street, SE, Washington, DC, 20540. The closest Metro stop is Capitol South on the Orange, Blue and Silver Lines. Upon arriving at the station, use the main exit and walk approximately two blocks north on First Street SE. The Jefferson Building will be on your right, opposite the U.S. Capitol on your left. An alternate stop is Union Station on the Red Line. From Union Station exit the main entrance and cross Columbus Circle to First Street SE. Proceed about a half-mile and you will see the Jefferson Building on your left. Union Station’s public parking garage is also a good option if you are driving to the Library of Congress.