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During the Vietnam Era, the U.S. Army Chief of Military History asked Marian McNaughton, then Curator for the Army Art Collection, to develop a plan for a Vietnam soldier art program. The result was the creation in 1966 of the U. S. Army Vietnam Combat Art Program under the direction of the Office of Chief of Military History and McNaughton's office. Her plan included involving the U.S. Army Arts and Crafts Program, then headed by Eugenia Nowlin. McNaughton's office relied on Nowlin and her cadre of local Army Arts and Crafts directors to solicit applications from soldiers, which were forwarded to McNaughton's office at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, where selection and team assignments were made. The U.S. Army provided logistics support as the teams of artists were sent to Vietnam and then to Hawaii.
Artists interested in joining the program were asked to submit applications through the Army Arts and Crafts Program facilities nearest their unit. Applications were to contain samples of drawings, photographs of paintings and a resume. Selections were made by a committee composed of designated representatives from the Office, Chief of Military History and the Adjutant General's Office. Supervised by Army Art Curator Marian McNaughton. The program was the joint responsibility of the Office, Chief of Military History, and the Adjutant General's Office with support from the Office, Chief of information.
Nine Combat Artist Teams (CATs) operated in Vietnam. Typically, each team consisted of five soldier artists who spent 60 days of temporary duty (TDY) in Vietnam gathering information and making preliminary sketches of U.S. Army related activities. The teams then transferred to Hawaii for an additional 75 days to finish their work. Artists were given artistic freedom and encouraged to depict subjects in their own individual styles. Art created by soldier artists became a part of the U.S. Army Art Collection maintained by the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH), Washington, D.C.
On 17 March 1969, due to the widespread interest shown by soldier artists and the impact of their work throughout the Army, the official name was changed from the VIETNAM COMBAT ART PROGRAM to the ARMY ARTIST PROGRAM. Coverage was expanded to include portraying the U.S. Army worldwide.
U.S. Army soldier artist participants
Roger Blum, Vietnam Combat Artist Team I, discusses his painting "Attack at Twilight," completed with acrylic. The painting was inspired by Blum's first view of a burning "hooch," or hut, and he used dramatic lighting to emphasize the emotion of the painting.
List of U.S. Army Vietnam Combat Artist Team (CAT) members and supervisors from 15 August 1966 - 14 January 1970. (Cities listed reflect information on original applications which are currently in archives of U.S. Army Center of Military History).
NURSING by Robert C. Knight, CAT I, 1966, Courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Army
James Pollock, who in 1967 served as a soldier artist on U. S. Army Vietnam Combat Artist Team IV (CAT IV), chronicled his experience in an essay entitled "US Army Soldier-Artists in Vietnam" for "War, Literature & the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities" published by the department of English and Fine Arts, United States Air Force Academy. In the essay Pollock wrote: "The idea of rotating teams of young soldier-artists from a variety of backgrounds and experiences through Vietnam was innovative. Soldier-artists were encouraged to freely express and interpret their individual experience in their own distinct styles. The artists responded enthusiastically to their artistic free reign [sic], and the resulting products were wide-ranging and comprehensive. Styles and media used were as diverse as the artists themselves, some chose detailed literal images while others preferred expressive almost abstract explosions striving to replicate the horrors of war".
Army artists after Vietnam
During the Vietnam War the army art program also used civilian artists. While the last team of soldier artists in Vietnam was Soldier Art Team 9 (CAT IX) the Army's interest in using artists to depict army activities continued. The 1991 book "Portrait of an Army", published by U. S. Army Center of Military History and edited by General Gordon R. Sullivan and Marylou Gjernes, states "Following the Vietnam War, the Army continued to use both soldier and civilian artists. They have covered such peacetime activities as summer training for Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC)West Point cadets, Army National Guard annual training, and tank gunnery training in Europe. The Army Art Collection has also acquired depictions of the Army's operations in Panama and Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM."
In 2003, former Vietnam soldier-artist James Pollock gave a presentation entitled "U. S. Army Vietnam Combat Art Program" about Vietnam Era soldier artists at Mary Pickford Theater, U. S. Library of Congress at which he said: "On January 14, 1970, the members of Vietnam Combat Art Team IX (CAT IX), the last U.S. Army art team to set foot in Vietnam, disbanded. Like members of eight other Army soldier-artist teams before them, they left their sketchbooks and paintings of war-torn Vietnam behind and quietly returned to their respective military units scattered throughout the world or were re-assigned. Talent and chance had brought 46 young soldiers together for a common purpose: To be artists day in and day out for 120 days and to translate their personal Vietnam experiences as soldiers into art. All of the artists were exposed to the inherent dangers of being in a war zone. While visiting units in the fields of Vietnam, they encountered difficult conditions and some had to deal with life-threatening incidents. None were wounded or killed. The post-Vietnam Era destiny of these soldier artists varied as they went on to establish and nurture families and careers. Some continued successfully as artists, some became art teachers, some laid down their paint brushes and found careers outside the field of art. Some have died, and the whereabouts of others is unknown".
From September 2010 to March 2011, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA hosted an exhibit entitled "Art of the American Soldier" featuring more than 300 works from the army art collection, one of the first times that the Army Art from the Army Art Program has been put on display en masse.
In June 2015, South Dakota Public Broadcasting interviewed combat artist James Pollock about his experiences in the Vietnam Combat Art Program.
In September 2017, South Dakota Public Broadcasting produced a video about the Vietnam Combat Artists Program entitled "The Art of War" as part of their SD Vietnam Stories project produced to accompany the broadcast of Ken Burns' "The Vietnam War" series.
MEMBER OF AIR FORCE SPECIAL TROOPS by David N. Fairrington, CAT VI, 1968
SENTINEL by Michael P. Pala, CAT VI, 1968
CAT VII 15 August 1968 to 31 December 1968
CHOPPER PICK-UP by Brian H. Clark, CAT VII, 1968
SOLDIER RESTING by William E. Flaherty Jr., CAT VII, 1968
S & D MISSION by William E. Flaherty Jr., CAT VII, 1968
APC-RPG-1 by William C. Harrington, CAT VII, 1968
MEDCAP by Barry W. Johnston, CAT VII, 1968
500 METERS TO THE FRONT by Barry W. Johnston, CAT VII, 1968
FIREFIGHT by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
LETTER TO HOME by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
COBRA by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
HARD LABOR by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
FLAMER by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
GET THEM OUT by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
I SEE IT by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
SOLDIERS by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
TANK by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
SILENT SWEAT by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
OVER THERE by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
FIGURE STUDY by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
EARLY MORNING by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
DOCK OF THE BAY by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
COMMUNICATION by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
MOUNTAIN CLIMBER by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
AMERICAN GOTHIC by William C. Harrington, CATVII, 1968
CAPTIVE by Barry W. Johnston, CAT VII, 1968
DUST OFF ALOFT by Brian H. Clark, CAT VII, 1968
HARD LABOR IN A RICE PADDY by Stephen H. Randall, CAT VII, 1968
LOADING DOCK by Unknown Artist, CAT VII, 1968
CAT VIII 1 February 1969 to 15 June 1969
CAMP IN AMERICAN DIVISION by Edward J. Bowen, CAT VIII, 1969
SATURDAY UPTOWN by James R. Drake, CAT VIII, 1969
LONG RANGE PATROL by James R. Drake, CAT VIII, 1969
BODY COUNT No. 5 by Roman Rakowskky, CAT VIII, 1969
PRISONER BLINDFOLDED by Roman Rakowsky, CAT VIII, 1969
COMBAT ENGINEER by Victory V. Reynolds, CAT VIII, 1969
BRIDGE BUNKER WITH GUARD by Thomas B. Schubert, CAT VIII, 1969
DAN TIENG OBSERVATION TOWER by Thomas B. Schubert, CAT VIII, 1969
APC by Edward J. Bowen, CATVIII, 1969
MARKET PLACE by Victory V. Reynolds, CAT VIII, 1969
ON A LONG RANGE PATROL by James R. Drake, CAT VIII, 1969
WAITING by Victory V. Reynolds, CAT VIII, 1969
CAT IX 1 September 1969 to 14 January 1970
APC by David E. Graves, CAT IX, 1969-70
RICE PADDY by James S. Hardy, CAT IX, 1969-70
RICE MILL, MY THO by William R. Hoettels, CAT IX, 1969-70
GROUND GUIDE by Bruce N. Rigby, CAT IX, 1969-70
CHIEU HOI MISSION by Craig L. Stewart, CAT IX, 1969-70
APC ON THE DMZ by James S. Hardy, CAT IX, 1969-70
BIEN DIEN BRIDGE by William R. Hoettels, CAT IX, 1969-70
DELTA VILLAGE by William R. Hoettels, CAT IX, 1969-70
FIREBASE RENDEZVOUS by Craig L. Stewart, CAT IX, 1969-70
M-48 TANK by David E. Graves, CAT IX, 1969-70
TANK by Bruce N. Rigby, CAT IX, 1969-70
^ ab"Portrait of an Army" General Gordon R. Sullivan, Editor; Marylou Gjernes, Art Editor. (Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C. 1991), pp. 177-179.
^ abMcNaughton, Marian R. Telephone Interview with James Pollock 10 August 2003. (During the Vietnam War era McNaughton was Curator of Paintings, Army Art Collection, Office Chief of Military History).
^ abc"Announcement of US Army Vietnam Combat Artist Program for FY 1968 including overview and application instructions", U.S. Army CIRCULAR No. 28-30,(Publication from Headquarters Department of the Army, Washington, D.C., 20 July 1967).
^ ab"United States Army Vietnam Combat Art Program", James Pollock, (2003 Lecture), (Presentation given at U. S. Library of Congress, Mary Pickford Theater, Tuesday, 15 July 2003, Presentation Sponsor, Library of Congress Professional Association (LCPA) Veterans Forum, Washington, D.C.). CD of presentation in PDF format and can be found in U.S. Library of Congress Archives. Presentation was also videotaped and in LOC archives.
^"Army Combat Artist Program. Soldier Art From Vietnam Presented by the Department of the Army." U. S. Department of the Army Pamphlet,(Pamphlet distributed by The Adjutant General, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C. 1969.