March 2017

The National Museum of the Marine Corps Is Looking For a Few Good Artists

Volume 100, Issue 3
Combat artist LtCol Alex J. Durr’s painting in commemoration of those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The painting was part of a display during the activation ceremony for Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, July 1, 2009.
LCpl Damien Gutierrez, USMC

Since the 2006 opening of the National Museum of the Marine Corps (NMMC), with its 210,000 square feet of space on a 135-acre campus, the museum that is dedicated to preserving the history of the Marine Corps has begun expansion efforts to further enhance the Marine experience for its half a million visitors annually. The museum’s final phase has begun and an additional 117,000 square feet of space will be added to complete the building’s original circle, which will be open later this year. One of the highlights of the addition will be a permanent art gallery and proper studio space to showcase the work of the Corps’ combat artists over the years.

The NMMC’s art collection includes 9,000 works from more than 350 artists. The vast majority of art was created by uniformed Marines who were also talented at drawing, painting, or sculpting.

When he wasn’t busy leading Marines and fighting the Germans during World War I, Captain John W. Thomason, an artistically gifted infantry officer who was awarded the Navy Cross, created an exceptional collection of field sketches.

Although the Corps didn’t have a combat art program during WW I, the groundwork laid by Thomason continues to define what is expected from Marine combat artists: they must see what they paint, draw, or sketch.

During WW II, Brigadier General Robert L. Denig served as the director for the Division of Public Relations and was tasked with keeping the country apprised of what Marines were doing to advance the fight against the Japanese. Denig aggressively recruited writers, photographers, cinematographers and artists to don the uniform of the Corps and document Marines across the globe on film, in print, in photographs and in various other artistic mediums. At one point during the war, more than 70 combat artists were part of the Corps’ combat art program. Three of the artists went on to have extraordinary careers after serving: John Clymer, Tom Lovell and Harry Jackson.

The combat art program went fallow after WW II but enjoyed a brief resurgence during the Korean War. It was during the Vietnam War that the program was fully revitalized.

General Wallace Greene, 23rd Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed that the combat art program be re-established and dozens of Marines and civilians artistically documented leathernecks in the air, at sea and on the ground in Vietnam. Since then, combat artist Marines have documented operations and training from firsthand observation and memory in every clime and place including Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.

The overwhelming majority of Marine artists during the last 50 years have had standard military occupational specialties (pilots, communicators, infantrymen, logisticians and engineers) while also taking on the additional duties as combat artists. This operational model assured that a rich array of visual statements from a wide spectrum of perspectives was gathered.

For the majority of the ongoing global war on terrorism, two activated reservists, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mike Fay and Staff Sergeant Kristopher Battles, served as combat artists during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Their efforts were augmented by support from other reserve Marines including Lieutenant Colonel Alex J. Durr and SSgt Joseph DeRidder. More recently, Colonel Craig Streeter, an active-duty colonel, has participated in the program. All of them have moved on, however, and there is a need for new talented Marines to serve as combat artists and to tell the Corps’ rich story through visual arts.

One active-duty Marine has recently stepped up and offered to participate in the program. Sergeant Elize McKelvey met with the NMMC art curators who were very impressed with her talent and skill, which was evident in the artwork she created during her recent deployment with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. With her command’s permission, Sgt McKelvey will begin supporting the combat art program in some capacity in the near future with a collection of acrylic paintings.

The Call for Artists

Looking forward, the NMMC will be expanding and diversifying the visual voice represented in the art collection. The museum is looking for artists who can draw or paint from life—ideally, the artists will come from both the enlisted and officer ranks. The artists should have a host of operational experience from which to draw (pun intended).

Interested Marines should submit a recent portfolio of 20 works that depict figures and equipment along with an artist’s statement (what do they want to accomplish and how long will it take) and at least two letters of reference. Active-duty, reserve, and honorably discharged veteran Marines are eligible to apply for one of the museum’s billets which include four billets for reservists in the grades sergeant to lieutenant colonel.

And, for those who have spent time with the Marines, whether it was in Vietnam, Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere, and have memories that are just waiting to be painted or sculpted, the NMMC would like to hear from you.

Email Charles Grow, Deputy Director, NMMC at Charles .grow@usmcu.edu.

Help continue the combat art mission … “Go to war; do art.”

Charles Grow is a retired Marine captain and combat artist and currently is the deputy director of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.