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The National WWII Museum opens new exhibit

SOLDIER | ARTIST: Trench Art in World War II exhibit opens March 4, 2021
NOLA’s WWII Museum
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Posted at 10:12 AM, Mar 03, 2021

NEW ORLEANS – Opening on March 4, 2021, SOLDIER | ARTIST: Trench Art in World War II, the newest special exhibit at The National WWII Museum, explores the military pastime known as “trench art”—the creation of art, souvenirs and tools out of discarded materials and the waste of war.

This new special exhibit, organized by the Museum’s Senior Curator Tom Czekanski, features more than 150 pieces of trench art, many of them never before exhibited, and the majority of them donated to the Museum by their original creators—the WWII veterans themselves. The collection, which represents various forms of WWII trench art, as well as background on their origins and creators, offers a unique opportunity to see the physical products of servicemembers' resourcefulness and ingenuity in the field.

“Trench art provides a window into the actions of our servicemen and women beyond combat,” Czekanski said. “Trench art commemorates their service and serves as a reminder of the comradeship formed in units. There are as many reasons why trench art was produced as there were people producing it.”

The practice of creating trench art is as old as military conflict itself. During the American Revolution, prisoners of war created ship models from the bones of their rations. Soldiers in the Civil War carved charms and trinkets from lead bullets. World War I brought the advent of "classic" examples of trench art—and gave name to the pastime—as changes in technology presented soldiers with the material that best characterized the art form: the brass cartridge. During World War II, a more mechanized army offered increased access to the tools needed to fashion trench art, and the artifacts became more varied in form and were produced in greater quantity.

SOLDIER | ARTIST will encompass WWII trench art of all shapes and sizes, ranging from utilitarian to decorative and from serious to frivolous. The exhibit will display souvenirs like ashtrays or jewelry made by servicemembers for their loved ones at home as well as necessities like tools and cookware. Artifacts also include forbidden items like radios or musical instruments made by prisoners of war. Each piece reveals not just the artistic skills of its maker and the materials available to them, but also their circumstances and their thoughts and feelings at the time they crafted the items.

“Like many personal mementos, trench art is special to those who make or receive it,” Czekanski said. “Some men sent trench art home to their loved ones. These handmade gifts let them express their thoughts to their loved ones. Bracelets made from aluminum were especially popular and could be decorated with expressions of love. Many of the items in the Museum’s collection became treasured keepsakes and were only donated after those involved had passed.”

The exhibit will be on display in the Senator John Alario, Jr. Special Exhibition Hall, located on the first level of the Museum’s Hall of Democracy, from March 4 to January 2, 2022. To ensure a safe experience, Museum visitors are asked to reserve timed admission tickets in advance, practice physical distancing by maintaining a space of six feet or greater from other visitors and wear a face mask/covering at all times. Additionally, a robust schedule of free programming for students and the public will be offered both online and onsite throughout the exhibit’s run to further explore the personal stories and significance behind these pieces of art made on the battlefield and in captivity.

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