Prince George, March 15, 2016—“Vietnam Combat Art”, a unique exhibition depicting artists’ impressions of the Vietnam War, opens at the Prince George County Regional Heritage Center on Sunday, April 3, and will be on display through Saturday, April 30.
The 39 artworks in oil, watercolor, pastels, acrylics, pencil, ink and crayon were created by professional artists on the ground in Vietnam during the 1960s. The original pieces are housed at the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington D.C. and have never been on display anywhere in the United States, but special permission was given to reproduce these pieces, making them available for public viewing.
“The Heritage Center is thrilled to host ‘Vietnam Combat Art’. The exhibition pays tribute to the many men and women who served during the Vietnam War and we hope it will have special meaning to the many retired military in our community,” said Executive Director Carol Bowman. “Almost 100 years ago, Fort Lee was created from Prince George County and ever since, the post has been an integral part of our community’s life. We’re anxious for our soldiers and military families on Fort Lee and living in Prince George and the Tri-cities to see the exhibition and think about this important time in our country’s history from a different perspective.”
The exhibition opening on Sunday, April 3, at 1 p.m., features remarks by Steven E. Anders, Ph.D. With degrees in history from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Dr. Anders served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. He served as the Command Historian for the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps from 1984 to 2009 and Command Historian for the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee from 2010 to 2013.
Army Art Program
The Army’s official interest in art originated during World War I, when eight artists were commissioned as captains in the Corps of Engineers and were sent to Europe to record the activities of the American Expeditionary Forces. At the end of the war most of the team’s artwork went to the Smithsonian Institution, the custodian of Army historical property and art at that time.
There was no Army program for acquiring art during the interwar years, but in late 1942, the Corps of Engineers, drawing on its World War I experience, established a War Art Unit. By the spring of 1943, the War Art Advisory Committee, a select group of civilian art experts, selected 23 active duty military and 19 civilian artists to serve in the unit. The first artists were sent to the Pacific Theater, but in May 1943, Congress withdrew funding and the War Art Unit was inactivated. The Army assigned the military artists to other units and released the civilians.
The effort to create a visual record of the American military experience in World War II was then taken up by the private sector in two different programs, one by Life magazine and one by Abbott Laboratories, a large medical supply company. When Life offered to employ civilian artists as correspondents, the War Department agreed to provide them the same support already being given to print and film correspondents. Seventeen of the 19 civilian artists who had been selected by the War Art Committee joined Life as war correspondents. Abbott, in coordination with the Army’s Office of the Surgeon General, commissioned 12 artists to record the work of the Army Medical Corps. These two programs resulted in a wide range of work by distinguished artists who had the opportunity to observe the war firsthand.
By the end of World War II, the Army had acquired more than 2,000 pieces of art. In June 1945, the Army established a Historical Properties Section to maintain and exhibit this collection, thus creating the nucleus of today’s Army Art Collection.
Vietnam Combat Art Program
As combat in Vietnam escalated in 1965, the Chief of Military History developed a new Army Art Program to document Army activities. As in World War II, the program was set up to utilize the talent of both military and civilian professional artists. U. S. Army Special Services sponsored ten teams of artists to serve four- to five-month tours. For sixty days, the artists traveled in Vietnam, experiencing the war with their contemporaries and documenting that experience through photographs, field sketches, and meticulous notes. They then spent the rest of their tour working in a studio to produce art based on their observations. Ten civilian artists also toured Vietnam in a similar fashion, and their art was donated to the Army.
Today the Army Art Collection holds more than 12,000 works of art. The Army Staff Artist Program was assigned to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, Museum Division in 1992 and has been established as a permanent part of the Museum Division’s Collections Branch.
“Vietnam Combat Art” opens Sunday, April 3 at 1 p.m. Refreshments will be available. The exhibit, on display until Saturday, April 30, is on loan from the City of Roanoke and the Vietnam Commemorative Partners: County of Roanoke, City of Salem, Stonewall Jackson Chapter Association of the United States Army, and the Town of Vinton.
The Prince George County Regional Heritage Center is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. Located at 6404 Courthouse Road in Prince George, the Center is free to the public and is fully accessible. For more information, call 804.863.0212.
“A Soldier” by Sp4c Victory Von Reynolds, watercolor on paper, South Vietnam, 1969.
Von Reynolds enlisted in the Idaho Army National Guard in 1966, and, while serving in Vietnam in the 116th Engineer Battalion, he was selected to be part of Combat Artist Team Vlll from February to June 1969.
“Cheeta Gets a Bath” by Sp4c David M. Lavender, acrylic and pencil on board, Cu Chi, Vietnam, 1966. Lavender graduated from a three-year commercial art course at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida. In October 1966, he was sent to Vietnam as a member of Combat Artist Team II.