The horrors of war have often been captured by cameras, and these iconic images have appeared in history books. But photography was not the only medium used to document what was happening overseas. Sometimes a camera was not around or could not be around. This is when combat artists came in.
The new art gallery in Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center currently features the work of combat artist T.L. “Stoney” Harby, titled “Faces of War: The WWII Combat Art of T.L. ‘Stoney’ Harby.” The gallery opened on Nov. 9 and will last until Dec. 11.
According to Harby’s son, Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology Gregory Reinhardt, Harby, who passed away in 2011, served in the Marine Corps for four years. Reinhardt said that Harby’s job was to draw what was taking place during World War II.
“The essence of combat art is [that] it takes place in war time,” Rheinhardt said. “The armed forces have had combat artists, but they have also had combat photographers, and there’s a big difference between the two because combat photographers freeze a moment. … But the artist isn’t bound by that time stoppage.”
Reinhardt said it was important to pick pieces that were diverse and create a balance throughout the gallery. More than 30 of Harby’s drawings, composed from 1944 to 1945, were selected as well as some of his photos, letters, sketches, a journal and other mementos.
Reinhardt said the purpose of combat artists was to show people what the artists saw while serving since art was often sent back to the United States to be published in newspapers. One drawing from Harby, titled “Passing Time of Deck,” shows some of the men relaxing on the deck of a carrier. Sophomore anthropology major Moira McKinney said it was her favorite piece in the gallery.
“They’re [the men] are all just sitting there, and it just kind of shows [that] war was bad and it sucked, but they weren’t always just in combat,” she said.
Reinhardt said Harby enlisted in the Army on Dec. 29, 1941, about three weeks after Pearl Harbor was attacked along with his brother. Four years later, Harby was released on Dec. 28. Besides being a combat artist, Harby was also an anti-aircraft machine gunner and took part in guard duty.
“The interesting thing is [that] I have to remember when he did all this stuff during the war, he was 21 to 25 years old, and he was a young man,” Reinhardt said.
Reinhardt said after the war, Harby painted, did pyrography, was a sculptor and more. But he did struggle after returning home as did many soldiers.
“The war messed him up for a while,” Reinhardt said. “My grandmother said when he came home, he’d have what I’d describe as screaming nightmares. Other guys would come home and say, ‘If you have to wake me up, wake me up at my feet, not my shoulder or my head, because I just came out of combat.’ So these guys were facing the potential anytime they fell asleep that they might wake up with a Japanese bayonet pointed at them or stuck into them. There’s an intensity of not knowing if you’re going to live through the night. … I don’t know if it [creating combat art] was cathartic. I suppose it must have been cathartic on some level, but it was also a way for him to sink back into what he had seen and experienced and try to communicate it with others.”
Reinhardt said that having his father’s work and mementos has not only helped him cope with Harby’s death, but helped him get to know his father better.
Sophomore piano performance major Brandon Vos said that looking at the memorabilia in the display cases was one of his favorite parts of the gallery.
“I liked seeing the actual journal and the actual sketchbook and the letters he sent home with some drawings on them,” he said. “It’s like you’re reading a history book, and you have that disconnect because you’re reading a book. But with these things, history’s right there.”
Reinhardt said that he hopes visitors leave the gallery with more knowledge of combat art and World War II, but also that they leave with knowledge of Harby and his work as an artist.
“About my dad, remember that he was a young man in terrible circumstances, one among hundreds of thousands doing the same kind of thing,” he said. “About his art, [remember] that it’s a reminder that not everything during a war is war… And as a combat artist, that he captured all kinds of moments, and this is his own perspective on what he saw as meaningful, worth recording, and maintained, or at least sort of, presented to posterity.”
After Dec. 11, Reinhardt will donate the pieces in the gallery and other works not displayed in the gallery to the National Museum of the Marine Corps and is glad that he and his family will be able to share his father’s work with others.
“It celebrates a period of his life and a period of American history that is quickly dying out with the last survivors of World War II.”