Art of the American Soldier

That’s the title of an exhibit made up of 250 paintings and sketches done by  American soldiers in the line of duty that has been on view at the National Constitution Center on Arch Street in downtown Philadelphia since late September. The exhibit, which features many works of art from the Army’s archives that never had been seen in public before, will be on view through January 10.

The exhibit was put together with the help of U.S. Army Center of Military History and the National Museum of the United States Army (which is slated to begin construction at Ft. Belvoir in Virginia in 2013).  After the show ends in Philadelphia, it will begin a national tour.

The works on view are part of a collection that the Army has held in storage for decades of some 15, 000  pieces done by more than 1, 300 soldier-artists dating back to World War I. There are etchings, as well as paintings and sketches done in pen and ink, pencil, watercolor, charcoal as well as oil and acrylic paints.

“The Army was truly interested in seeing war through the eyes of the soldier artists, not for propaganda purposes, ” artist and Vietnam veteran Jim Pollock, of Pierre, S.D., who has several pieces in the exhibit, told the Associated Press. “We were encouraged to express our experiences in our own style; we could determine our own agenda and our own subject matter.”

Pollock went to Vietnam in August 1967 when he was 22 years old and had just finished art school. He did four months in country, where he traveled extensively, spending time with 52 units and documenting what he saw with India ink on a sketch pad.

“When I got there, what I expected to see isn’t what I saw, ” he said. “I didn’t see glorious battles or anything like that. I saw body bags stuffed in a Huey helicopter, I saw death and destruction.”

In the field, Pollock said, “the heat was so oppressive the only breeze would be from the bugs flying around. What I tried to do was focus on the individual soldiers, to get past what you can see visually and get to the deeper emotional experience of this hostile environment.”


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