Posts Tagged ‘World War II artists’

Amazing adventures in Washington DC Part One: We visit the Army Art Archives and see my father’s WWII art


Anzio Beach by Edward Reep

Above:  bombs fall in the harbor at Anzio Beach in World War II as Edward Reep paints on the spot.

To start at the very beginning we’d have to go all the way back to WWII.  My dad enlisted in the army as so many people did in what is now called the Greatest Generation.  My father, however, was an artist, and while he was trained as a soldier and an officer at Camp Roberts and Fort Ord in California, he was asked to be a war artist.  This meant that he fought the war with paintbrushes as well as guns.

In a previous post, where Ben Clarke recalls how my dad saved his father’s life by rushing onto the battlefield and rescuing him, you can read what it meant to be a war artist.  That’s not what this is about.

This is about the amazing chance my husband and I had to see all the paintings and drawings my dad did in Italy, which are now property of the Department of the Army.  The story gets a little convoluted here and I’ll spare everyone the details. Suffice it to say that through a series of coincidences, odd circumstances and luck, we made contact with the Army art archivist in Washington D.C. and were able to see her during our visit.

We rented a car and drove to Fort Belvoir and again realized how grateful we are to live in Bakersfield, California where the air is bad, the literacy rate is low, but the traffic is light and it’s easy to get around.  But it was nostalgic to visit Fort Belvoir because my parents were married there in Chapel #6 in 1941, and in the ’70s we drove to Fort Belvoir and took our picture outside of Chapel #6.  Today, the fort has been restructured and that little chapel is no more.

So.  The art.  It was a thrill to be in a state-of-the-art building full of art that was not just art but primary source historical material.  It is truly priceless.  The army cares for its art meticulously and with reverence and respect which was comforting and reassuring. The real thrill was seeing my dad’s work.

This work has been reproduced in books and lent to various galleries across the country for shows but for the first time we saw it all and it is spectacular.  In the same way that a black and white photo is oddly more realistic than a color photo, even though the world is in color, a painting of the war can seem more realistic and emotional than a photograph.  Seeing the body of work all together was emotional, and knowing it was my father’s work elicits feelings I can hardly articulate.

My pictures are distorted because the paintings were flat, but I’ll show some anyway and explain.

The Bath

This painting is very well known and popular.  This particular soldier wanted a hot bath and had gasoline dripping over an open flame to heat water.  My dad was afraid it would blow up any instant!  The painting was shipped home during the war, shown in New York, and Eleanor Roosevelt came to the exhibit. She paused in front of this painting, which was captured by the Movietone News.  When my dad’s parents went to the movies in Los Angeles, they were surprised and so proud to see Mrs. Roosevelt, whom they greatly admired, looking at their son Edward Reep’s painting!

These are all from the Italian front.  The soldier bathing is in Anzio.  These soldiers are on a normal patrol, if anything can be called normal in war, and the army archivist mentioned how interesting she found it that artists could capture the natural beauty that existed among the horror of war.

The Italian winters were harsh.  Tents and guns were painted white to blend in with snow.  Supplies had been stashed and buried with cans put on sticks so they could be located, but the cans were painted red.  My father feels this is one of his finest war paintings.

This painting is of the front line.  Dad said that since seeing the movie All Quiet on the Western Front, he had wondered what the front line was like. He described the final scene where the character Paul is back on the front lines and sees a butterfly, a thing of beauty.  He stands to see it better but is too exposed and is shot and killed.  And here it was.  The Front – a line with white tape stretched across it, mines on the other side. Allies on one side, Germans on the other.

This very powerful drawing is of a mule train in the Apennines in Northern Italy.  It was cold and wet; the mud was 14 inches deep and very sticky.  Dad fell face down and almost could not free himself.  He thought he was going to die there.  Finally, he managed to free one nostril enough to breathe and then was able to calm down and work himself out.  He had to draw and not paint because the watercolors would freeze overnight and melt in the mornings.

The leading art critic of the time called Dad one of the six best pen and ink artists of his day.

These are only a few of a large and remarkable body of work.  My husband and I consider this visit a highlight of our adult life and a privilege.  How lucky we are – how lucky I am – to have this history as part of our lives.

You can learn more about the war art program and combat artists, or about my dad Edward Reep’s art and experiences in the war  here- A Combat Artist in WWII

or here – They Drew Fire



World War II art and random thoughts


Combat Artists in World War II

I’ve been keeping track of some random observations the last few days.  First, though, I’m heading out of town for four days.  Yep, in the middle of The Never Ending Move, we have to head south to the San Diego area.  The Oceanside Museum of Art (scroll down to Painting World War II on the link) has an exhibit opening tomorrow about WWII, painted by California-style watercolorists.  My dad was a war artist and we loaned one of his paintings to the museum for the exhibit.  I’ll put in a very bad photo (Know why it’s bad? Because right before we moved I ran around the house shooting snapshots of all our art – I wasn’t trying to take good photos, just get a record.) and then explain it.

My dad, Edward Reep, painted this in 1944 on the field in Anzio, Italy, on the Mussolini Canal.  Soldiers had come out of their foxholes at the canal surrounding the beach, which was guarded by two men with 50-caliber machine guns at night.  Six or seven yards from the foxholes was a mine field with a path through it separating the Americans from the Germans. These men knew the way through the minefield, and on this particular night, as they returned from patrol in the early hours of the morning, they were leading a cow.  Dad was up early, away from his foxhole to paint, and he asked the men what they were doing with the cow.  They replied they were going to have steak for dinner.  A few hours later the cow, having escaped her fate, came running wildly back into the mine field seeking the way home.  My dad described her running with udders swinging to and fro. Not knowing anything about mines, the cow blew herself up, and shrapnel (as well as pieces of the cow) just missed Dad.  He narrowly escaped death that day and he said he shook for a long time after that.  He collected some of the shrapnel, which shaved branches right off the bushes next to him, and still has the pieces.

Anyone who is interested should purchase or rent the DVD They Drew Fire.  This documentary about WWII combat artists was produced by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Brian Lanker, and it is amazing.  Basically, Lanker realized that most of the WWII artists were dying (my dad is almost 92) and if anyone wanted to learn from them, they’d better do it now.  If you go to the PBS site I linked, you can read more about it, see photos, read quotes (my dad is quoted on the first page), and probably purchase the DVD.  My dad is one of the artists featured in the documentary.


In the post on William’s visit, I got the order wrong.  I had us on the wine patio at my daughter’s house in the morning.  Not so – it was in the late afternoon and we were drinking wine.  What we did in the morning was have coffee with Chris McKee.  She’s Mike Murer’s mom, and Mike is my student who died recently of a heroin overdose.  Mike was a year ahead of William, but they both participated on my Headliners team (current events competition).  I think Chris and William enjoyed talking to each other.  Any connection is a piece of Mike, who has left immeasurable sadness and spaces that can’t be filled behind.

Random thoughts

Talk about going from the sublime to the profound to the mundane.  From World War II combat artists to death to silly random thoughts.  But we have them.

My friend Wendy came by a couple of mornings ago to see how the house was developing.  I realized that I was wearing old jeans that I refused to give up even though they were several sizes too big and full of holes. The term “bag lady” came to mind.  After Wendy left, the jeans went in the trash.  Enough is enough.  I kept the shirt though – the under $5 shirt I bought at Walmart maybe 10 years ago?  It just does not wear out.

I went to Target to find little gifts to take to San Diego.  We’re staying with my son-in-law’s sister, and she has three young children.  I bought some little beach bags, shovels, towels, got home and realized I had two pinks and a blue.  Each of my three daughters has two girls and a boy.  But Leanne has two boys and a girl.  Back to Target for exchange.  Imagine – not everyone has two girls and a boy.

The cats are playing so much more in this house.  They like it!  All of the old toys have been unearthed and they bat those little balls with bells inside all over the place.  Lily has lost her collar again, however.  I’m not replacing it this time.  Tiger has the same collar she started with; Lily has lost at least five.

Things are going up on the walls at home – finally!  My bedroom has reached a satisfactory state of clutter and I feel at home.  Pictures in a couple of weeks.