WASHINGTON – Staff Sgt. Kristopher J. Battles has been to Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s carried a rifle,worn body armor and all the gear that thousands of Marines have used in the past decade. But he also wields a unique piece of gear: a sketchbook.
Battles is a member of the Marine Corps Art Program. The program,dating to World War II,sends combat artists out to provide images from the frontlines,often in the most inhospitable of regions.
“They don’t send you to places that look like the brochure,” Battles said. “You’ve got a rifle,armor,all the regular gear,but you’ve also got a sketchbook and camera.”
Battles and other combat artists use their sketches and produce artwork of various materials,including watercolor,oil paint,pencil and ink or sometimes just the sketches themselves. Battles is the only full-time Marine artist,and another is in the reserves.
Two of Battles’ paintings and two of his sketches are on display in a new exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum. “Fly Marines!” will allow the public to view 91 works of art from the Marine Corps Art Program,detailing the Corps’ 100 years of aviation.
While the exhibit focuses primarily on aviation,Marine aviation has always been focused “on the Marine on the ground,the grunts,” Ben Kristy,aviation curator at the National Museum of the United States Marine Corps,said. “More than any other branch,our aviation is about assisting,whether that be by transport,supply,close air support,medical evacuation,whatever. That’s what Marine aviation is about.”
Kristy said the exhibit would show “the cost of war,” to Marines.
“Not everybody comes home. And some of our pieces really hit on the emotional side of that aspect,” he said.
Even with the emotional toll of some of the images,reactions to the art by former Marines is overwhelmingly positive,Joan Thomas,art curator of the National Museum of the USMC,said. The two museums collaborated to put the exhibit together.
“Combat art is what the artists actually see when they’re boots on the ground. And the Marines that contact us go,‘Yea that’s what I remember,those guys in that picture in my unit,’” Thomas said. “And then of course,we get requests for copies of the images themselves.”
She said the museum often sends digital copies of artworks,and sometimes the artists send copies.
The exhibit opens Saturday at the National Air and Space Museum and will be on view through Jan. 6,2013..
Reach reporter Frank Bumb at [email protected] or 202-326-9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.