A pair of compelling exhibitions at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum dealing with the difficulties and disorientation involved with warfare, coupled with the innate human desire to discern meaning and methods to cope with the emotional devastation and memorialize the loss of loved ones through the creative process, are currently on display through September 25th that are guaranteed to mesmerize with the range and breadth of their engagement.
WAR-TOYS: Israel, West Bank & Gaza Strip is constructed around the work of artist Brian McCarty, who’s photographic works interpret children’s therapeutic drawings and offer a rare yet fascinating insight into the contemporary experiences of Palestinian and Israeli boys and girls, offering a stunning portrait of war from the eyes of the innocent; while From Swords to Plowshares: World War II Metal Trench Art offers a glimpse into the unusual phenomenon of objects known as ‘Trench Art’, which applies to any item made by soldiers, prisoners of war, or civilians from war material or any other material associated with armed conflict.
According to Museum Director Megan McAdow, both exhibitions deal with art that comes out of war and reflect very different perspectives, wars, and locations. Marshall Fredericks himself served in World War II from 1942-45 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Although over age, Fredericks joined the Army Corps of Engineers where he served as the training officer for an engineer camouflage unit and developed two new types of target charts - one visual and one radar related for high altitude bombers.“ After he got out of the war, Fredericks came back home and started choosing commissions focused upon building war monuments. His largest commission, the Cleveland War Memorial Fountain of Eternal Life, took 19 years to complete. These pieces featured in this current exhibition are in a way war monuments created on smaller and different scales.”
Part of the exhibition deals with World War II metal trench art, which refers to works incorporating used materials that were remnants of war. “These pieces could have been made by soldiers or civilians,” explains McAdow, “and some people created pieces to commemorate their time in the war and those they lost; but sometimes they were made for others like widows to commemorate family members they lost. The breadth of pieces featured is astounding. Some are decorative in nature and some functional such as lamps. Many were created by unknown artists. Often we might know what country they came from, but very often we do not.”
Accompanying this amazing coterie of trench art is a poignant & powerful exhibition by L.A. based artist Brian McCarty, who traveled to Israel and the Palestine territories to engage with children. An art therapy specialist, McCarty would ask the children populating these war-ravaged territories to draw him a picture about where they lived; and very often the children’s drawing reflected living in a war zone.
“Sometimes it might be a cat in a window, reflecting resiliency or how the child is suppressing what’s going on around them,” reflects McAdow. “McCarty is also a long-time veteran in the toy industry, so he took these drawing and went through the West Bank or the Gaza Strip and found toys available to these children and then re-created the scenes they drew and staged a photograph in the area that the children were drawing about. So often what children go through in war doesn’t get voiced or heard, so he’s able to amplify their voices and share them through his work.”
McCarty will be coming to the Marshall Fredericks Gallery on September 4th to talk about his experiences in a lecture at the Rhea Miller Recital Hall, Curtiss Hall from 7 - 8 pm, followed by an artist book signing and refreshments.
The two galleries at Marshall Fredericks are filled with these works and in each of the cases presented the trench art is organized by country. In the British case, for example, there is a variety of sculpted creations ranging from a shot glass and swagger sticks to different techniques where coins were attached and generally were made directly after the war out of any leftover pieces that might have been found. In another case, however, are pieces created by soldiers from different regiments.
“The United States war department created soldier handicrafts,” explains McAdow, “as there existed an arts & crafts department within the war department that would actually send soldiers a catalog whereby their could order kits from the government to create art - whether it was woodwork or metal - as they believed using the time for creativity was good for soldier morale. They would give them supplies and tools, so some of these items were made during the war, but a lot were created directly after the war.”
Many of these pieces range from amazingly crafted metallic ashtrays to intricate vases constructed out of large artillery shells that were etched or hammered. “What these pieces really do is spark conversation and dialogues,” adds McAdow, “as we are able to see the human creative spirit flourish even in the adversity of war and how that spirit still has the resiliency to be creative, which to me speaks larger to art in general. It can come from civilians, children, professional artists; but the human drive to create and express oneself is really what is illuminated here.”
A local example of trench art on display at this current exhibition is a piece created as part of a therapy program at the Saginaw V.A. hospital that was started by Milton Harvey, who brought together soldiers under the idea of creating a sculpture dedicated to phenomenal soldiers, which speaks to the challenge of finding one’s way and incorporates various pieces into the work.
In conjunction with this exhibition, on September 9th from Noon to 1:30 pm, Harvey, who is a Navy veteran counselor at the Lutz VA in Saginaw will discuss his work with the vets that led to the creation of this ‘Phenomenal Soldier’ sculpture. The work came out of a pilot program of Intensive Compensated Work Therapy and one of the goals was to increase the interaction of Veterans within the local Saginaw community. They focused on abstract thinking with the subject being ‘The Phenomenal Soldier’, which is now a living memorial to those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. If you RSVP by August 30th at firstname.lastname@example.org you can obtain a free lunch at this ‘Lunch & Learn’ series as well.
Later in the month on September 14th the series will feature an Art Making workshop titled ‘Symbolism and WWII Trench Art that will run from 1-3 pm. The public can engage in an educational and fun art-making workshop and gallery visiting experience whereby they learn about symbolism and its meanings in Trench art and create their own symbolic designs.
“We always strive to develop programming in conjunction with our exhibitions,” concludes McAdow, and with this Lunch & Learn program that takes scraps and shrapnel from actual airplanes, people can explore how trauma feels, hear sounds of war, send letters and create their own works of art they can send off to soldiers. They can also create their own little scene and photograph it like Brian McCarty does. Granted there is some heavy content here, but more important is the inspiration that comes out of that, so people can experience how we take grief and tragedy and transform it into something more positive by moving forward through emotional and personal conflicts.”
The Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum is open Monday - Friday from 11 am - 5 pm and Saturday from Noon - 5 pm. Located on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University you can phone them at 989.964.7125 or visit MarshallFredericks.org. Admission is free.