United States

Air and Space Museum Marks WWI Centennial With Soldiers’ Art

One hundred years ago, on April 6, 1917, the United States Congress declared war on Germany, bringing this country into World War I, which already had been raging in Europe for three years.

To mark this centennial, a new art exhibit called "Artist Soldiers" opened April 6 at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

The images of war were revolutionary for their time and have been locked away in a Smithsonian vault since the 1920s.

The paintings and drawings were done by eight professional artists-turned- soldiers who were sent to the front lines and embedded with American Expeditionary Forces.

“Before the first World War, war art was typically heroic depictions of military leaders, romanticized depictions of the battlefield often done long after the fact, removed from the battlefield," said Peter Jakab, chief curator of the Air and Space Museum.

The object of the exhibit is to depict a great moment in history through the eyes of the individual men who lived it, Jakab said.

Artist soldiers generated more than 500 pieces while the United States was in the war. Fifty-four of them are on display.

Perhaps, some of the most powerful pieces in the gallery are 29 photographs of never-before-seen images from beneath the battlefields of France. The photos are of stone carvings created by soldiers in underground spaces where they lived for extended periods.

Photographer Jeff Gusky learned that near widely known trenches where soldiers fought were living spaces that French landowners have largely kept secret for almost a century.

"The photographer who did these works cultivated a relationship with the landowners and gained access and created these incredibly powerful photographs," Jakab explained.

“Artist Soldiers” is on display at the Air and Space Museum until Nov. 11, 2018, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

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