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On July 15, 2003 Jim Pollock gave a presentation about the U.S. Army Vietnam Combat Art Program at the U.S. Library of Congress before the Library of Congress Professional Association (LCPA) Veterans Forum. Below is the opening statement given at the Mary Pickford Theater on that date that gives an overview of the U.S. Army Vietnam Combat Art Program. Contact Jim Pollock for information if your school or organization is interested in this same presentation.
In June 1966, the Army Vietnam Combat Artist Program was established, utilizing teams of soldier-artists to make pictorial records for the annals of military history. 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 to be made by a civilian committee supervised by Army Art Curator Marian McNaughton. As originally initiated, the program was a joint effort of the Office, Chief of Military History, Center of Military History; the Adjutant General’s Office; and the U.S. Army Arts and Crafts Program with support from the Office, Chief of Information.
The first nine Combat Art 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.
On March 17, 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. All art created by soldier artists becomes a part of the U.S. Army Art Collection maintained by the U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington, D.C.
The concept of the Vietnam Combat Art Program had its roots in WW II. In 1944, the U.S. Congress authorized the Army to use soldier-artists to record military operations. 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 Vietnam Combat Art Program under the direction of McNaughton’s office. Her plan included involving the 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.
What really set the program apart from other military artist programs was the use of on-duty soldiers on a continual rotating basis, ensuring a variety of styles and points of view. Most of the selected artist were young, not established, nor well known except to their family and friends. (The army also continued to contract with and send to Vietnam experienced civilian artists.)
Auggie Acuna, from CAT II (1966-67) illustrated how young and inexperienced these artist were when he wrote: “My ability was self-taught. I never took more than one art class in college. . . My exposure to my fellow team members and their various art techniques was a great learning experience for me. . . My artwork was spontaneous because I didn’t have any hangups brought on by any earlier (training). I didn’t tell my other team members that I had never had any formal art instruction, especially since I was Team leader. I just looked over their shoulders a lot and learned how to work with all types of medium.” Artists were allowed complete freedom as to subject matter and were encouraged to use individual and unique styles. Another former Vietnam combat artist was Phil Garner (CAT V 1967-68) who had been drafted. About his freedom to express himself as a soldier-artist he said, “As a military artist, I was allowed a great deal of creative freedom. And, of course, I didn’t have to support myself, so in some ways it was a much more liberal situation than what I was to find later as a freelance media contributor.” This was the essence of the program: Rotating teams of young soldier artists who, at times, risked their lives in the war-torn jungles and fields of Vietnam to record their experiences for the annals of Army history.
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