National Geographic : 1943 Aug
A Navy Artist Paints the Aleutians BY MASON SUTHERLAND / SAFE, soft berth that must be," you say on learning the Navy has com missioned five officer-artists to paint the historic record of war. So! Have you ever painted the Aleutians? Have you done stop-and-go sketching with fog or rain shifting scenes? Has the williwaw, that fiendish, unpredictable wind, seized your canvas like a kite, dashed it into mud? With numbed hands, have you fumbled with paints to portray the Arctic blizzard? Did your pigments solidify in their tubes? Have you sketched as Japanese bombs and bullets whistled around you? To these questions Lt. William F. Draper, U.S.N.R., can truly answer "Yes." Neither Fog Nor Dark Can Stay Navy Artists Four months last fall and winter he spent painting 42 canvases in the Aleutians and at Kodiak Island. In January this year he ac companied the landing on Amchitka Island. There the artist, standing behind an antiair craft emplacement, got a gunner's-eye view of the winged enemy. They serve a definite purpose, these five Navy combat artists. Their canvases can omit confidential equipment that cameras might reveal. Their vivid colors defy the foulest weather. Night actions, registering on their memories, are transferred to oils by day. Their battle scenes telescope details it would take a newsreel to show. They must be fighters, too, when necessary. On shipboard they have definite duties. Lieu tenant Draper discovered that fact on his way north from Seattle. He took the 10-to midnight watch. The artist found Army and Navy cheerfully enduring every incredible hardship except one. With a single voice they cursed the Aleutian climate as unfit for even the enemy. They in toned a prayer to sizzle in Guadalcanal. If a storm did not blow at 100 miles an hour, then skulking fog hid the treacherous passages be tween islands. If the ground was not muddy, then it was frozen into ruts. To cope with such weather, Army and Navy became uniformed twins. Bundled in Army winter togs, sailors dressed like soldiers (Plate I). Officers and enlisted men, their insignia hidden, could scarcely be told apart. At Kodiak,* his first stopping point, Draper moved into B.O.Q. (bachelor officers' quar ters). There he found such luxuries as radio phonograph and artificial flowers on dinner tables. Enlisted men had recreation room and gymnasium. Some preferred to play touch football in the rain (Plate II). Impatient to get to work, the artist started painting Kodiak's control tower. A Navy officer, ignoring Draper's uniform, pounced upon him. "He demanded to know what I was doing," relates the artist. "HelookedatmeasifI were a spy." Papers were shown. Telephones rang. Painting resumed, but in "confidential status." On visits to other bases, Draper gave more time to preliminary explanations. His next Kodiak subject was a cruiser and a freighter at dock. He had no more than dabbed his easel when rain fell in torrents. He ran for cover. Fifteen minutes later the sky was clear and he was back. The clouds burst again. All afternoon that went on. At dusk his sketch was half finished. Next morning was glorious, but that didn't help Draper. In the night both ships had slipped away, and he had to complete their outlines from memory. Having made eight paintings, the artist stowed suitcase, duffel bag, and paint box in a Navy patrol bomber bound for Dutch Har bor. Fog and motor trouble thrice turned back the plane; the 615-mile trip took three days. Draper obtained comfortable Navy quarters shared with Army P-40 pilots. Winter howled in from Siberia. A three day blizzard wrecked planes, tossed stacked lumber, and harried shipping. In his Army cold-weather gear, the lieutenant painted the storm (Plate VI). Storm Tosses His Subchaser Tempest at sea beset Draper's trip to Umnak. Says he: "Our small PC rolled 55 de grees. Destroyer men told me it was nothing; they had shipped spray down their stacks." Umnak's landscape he found "unbelievably majestic. Mount Tulik and weird Ship Rock rose near Navy Town" (Plates VII and XII). "This snow-clad island lived up to my idea of the northern wilderness. The only dark note was the volcanic sand on the beaches" (Plate IX). * For an account of Kodiak's burial, in 1912, by volcanic ash from Mount Katmai, read The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, by Robert F. Griggs, pub lished by the National Geographic Society. Also see THE GEOGRAPHIC for January, 1917; February, 1918; April, 1919; and September, 1921. Kodiak Island was headquarters for The Society's expedition that discovered the valley.