Images of war in vivid color
Painted in the jungle, soldier's art on display in Sudbury
SUDBURY -- Edward Brodney saw beauty amid the destruction during his service in World War II in the South Pacific.
His drawings, watercolors, and oil paintings capture everyday wartime moments in tropical colors and minute detail -- GIs cleaning their mess kits after eating, playing cards and smoking, marching single file through dense vegetation.
In one of the most striking paintings, a group of soldiers kneels in prayer as sunlight filters through the jungle canopy. In another, soldiers carry a wounded comrade on a stretcher.
In commemoration of Memorial Day, 28 pieces by Brodney will be on display tomorrow at Sudbury's Hosmer House, which invites guest artists to show their works on major holidays.
Brodney's daughter, Jeanne Goldner, who lives in Wayland and teaches at Israel Loring Elementary School, said she didn't know her late father had painted extensively during the war until 1995, when the Pentagon called to invite him to an event honoring military artists.
Brodney was drafted as a medic. During his deployment, he painted wherever he went. Sometimes bored soldiers gathered around him while he sketched. While other soldiers played cards or listened to the radio, Brodney followed his own passion.
"He just always had a pencil in his hand or watercolors," she said. "He was painting everything he could see."
Sometimes Brodney ran out of supplies, and he used whatever was available, including camouflage paint. He once tried dehydrated eggs as an ingredient in his paints but said he later found fungus growing from those works.
He painted on assignments in such rugged locales as New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, and Bougainville. Pictures in the exhibition show servicemen repairing engines, carrying supplies off ships, storming a beach, and enjoying their days off.
Brodney, a longtime Newton resident, attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and graduated from Yale in 1933. Before he was drafted, he had won a competition to paint a mural at the Massachusetts State House rotunda, and later painted a mural at the War Memorial in Newton City Hall.
When his talent as an artist was noticed by the Army, they put him to work painting camouflage. He was later promoted to public relations, where he was paired with a reporter to produce stories about wounded soldiers that would be sent to the soldier's hometown paper.
A general offered him space for a studio in a garage at his headquarters, which is where Brodney produced some of his larger works and stored the others.
When he returned home after serving in the military for 3 1/2 years, the last year in Texas, he opened the Brodney Art Gallery in Boston, now run by his son, Richard. The elder Brodney returned to painting full-time when he was 65. He died in 2002 at the age of 92.
He had stored about 120 or so of the war paintings in his basement, and never mentioned them to his family until the Pentagon called. Now they belong to his daughter, who is still amazed that they survived the jungle. She hopes to find a permanent place to display them.
Peter Harvell, the Sudbury veterans agent who organized tomorrow's exhibition, said what's most striking to him about these paintings is that they are Brodney's own story of the war.
"Here's a guy whose passion was art, whose passion was creating, and he was swept up by history in a global war," he said. "This is his personal record, his personal journal of his travels through the Pacific War."
The Hosmer House, at 299 Old Sudbury Road, will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow.