Tag Archives: National Air and Space Museum

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Experience the Great War Above the Trenches at the National Air and Space Museum

The list of ‘Must Sees” for most Washington, DC visitors includes the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). It is one of the city’s most visited attractions, welcoming over 6 million people each year. It is easy to understand why. It is near the Mall, admission is free and the extensive collection of all things that fly attracts people of all ages. There are literally thousands of items on display, as well as a planetarium, an IMAX movie theater and flight simulators.

Some of the best military-themed exhibits within easy walking distance of the Mall can be found at NASM. In 1991, NASM opened Legend, Memory and the Great War in the Air examining the budding role of aviation during the First World War. The exhibit contrasts the romanticized view of the experiences of World War I pilots with the starker reality of combat aviation. The exhibit entices you to enter with a bright red movie theater façade, complete with flashing marquee and similarly colored Pfalz D.XII fighter aircraft suspended overhead.

pfalz

This Pfalz D.XIII Fighter is painted bright red for its Hollywood movie role.

Inside the theater, a short, looped film explains how Hollywood adapted stories of World War I pilots for American audiences. Nearby a child’s bedroom exhibit features books, games and toys from the post-war period celebrating the glory, bravery and derring-do of World War I flying aces.

Turn the corner and a somber reality sets in.

The lighting fades and the sounds of combat emerge. Ground combat and life in the trenches are portrayed. The focus shifts to a more detailed examination of the roles pilots and aircraft would play during the war as observers, fighters, bombers, and conducting photo reconnaissance missions. Three early battles in the war, Tannenburg, the Marne and the Somme are briefly examined where the warring parties learned both the great potential and many pitfalls of deploying aircraft into combat.

During the Battle of Tannenburg and the Battle of the Marne, respective German and French commanders successfully countered enemy troop movements detected by aerial observation. During the Somme however, the British learned the limits of using aerial observation. While pilots could detect troop movements, they would not assess the morale, or the level of training of the enemy units detected below. British commanders also experienced the difficulties of coordinating simultaneous air and ground operations.

albatross

Albatross D.Va Fighter – The German military built over 4,800 Albatross fighters of all types during World War I. Only two are known to exist today. This Albatross D.Va fighter on display and one other at the Australian War Museum in Canberra.

For the aviation enthusiast, the highlights of the exhibit are likely the Smithsonian’s restored vintage WWI aircraft. In addition to the Pfalz D.XII fighter, other German aircraft include an Albatross D.Va, and Fokker D.VII fighters. There is a Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe fighter from the United Kingdom and a French Voisin Type 8 bomber.

fokker-dvii

Fokker D.VII fighter – Two mannequins representing a pilot and ground crewman inspect the Fokker D.VII fighter. Developed to counter more advanced Allied fighter aircraft, the Fokker D.VII fighter was introduced to front line squadrons in April 1918. Some historians and aviation experts considered the Fokker D.VII to be one of the best fighter aircraft of World War I. The plane was so highly regarded the final Armistice required the Germans to surrender all Fokker D.VII fighters.

There is also a SPAD XIII fighter. This French made aircraft was known for its sturdiness and ability to perform during dog fights. Multiple air services flew the SPAD XIII’s because of its excellent reputation and performance. In addition to the French, it was flown by the British, Italians, Belgians and Russians.

spad-xiii

The SAPD XIII Fighter. The number “20” on the side is the aircraft’s identification number, assigned by the aero squadron.

As the U.S. entered World War I with no combat ready aircraft, the SPAD XIII was also used by U.S. fighter squadrons of the American Expeditionary Force. The SPAD XIII on display was assigned to the 22nd Aero Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Service.

It was piloted by Lieutenant A. Raymond Brooks who named the aircraft “Smith IV” after his sweetheart’s alma mater. Lt. Brooks won one of his six aerial victories in Smith IV; other squadron pilots achieved additional victories. After being sent to the United States for a Liberty Bond tour in 1918, Smith IV was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1919.

There are no American made aircraft in the World War I exhibit, but a de Havilland DH-4, manufactured by the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company can be found in the “Looking at Earth” exhibit, downstairs in Gallery 107.

dh4

De Havilland DH-4. This U.S. made bomber and observation aircraft would continue to serve the U.S. Government many years after the war.

As the U.S. was preparing to enter the war, the military began looking at various Allied aircraft designs that might be adapted and built in the U.S. The DH-4 was modeled after the British de Havilland bomber and the DH-4 would serve the U.S. Army Air Service in the same capacity. The first models began conducting combat missions in August of 1918.

The DH-4 on display was a prototype, flying many flights and experiments to test the aircraft’s design. Although it never saw combat, this DH-4 is fitted with the standard military compliment of combat equipment: six 25 lb Mark II bombs, two DeRam DR-4 cameras, two fixed, forward-firing .30-caliber Marlin machine guns, and the observer’s position is armed with two flexible .30-caliber Lewis machine guns.

dh4-mannequin

SMILE! A mannequin demonstrates one role of the de Havilland DH-4, as a photo reconnaissance aircraft.

Because the NASM is such a popular destination, it can become very crowded in the spring and summer. Planning ahead can save you some valuable time. Use the “Visit” section of the NASM website to see what is currently on display, learn about the day’s special programs, get helpful tips, and buy tickets in advance for any of the IMAX movies or the planetarium. It is important to remember visitors must pass through metal detectors to enter the NASM and certain items are prohibited.

If the NASM Mall location leaves you wanting to see more about aircraft and space exploration, the NASM has a second complex, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located about 28 miles from downtown Washington near Dulles International Airport. Several Smithsonian Institution museums, including NASM, offer extended hours during the spring and summer. You can find more information at: http://www.si.edu/visit/hours#ExtendedHours

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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.