Mighty Tanaka

Art Advising // Consultation // Curation



Weston Emmart - WWII Sketchbooks

In early 1944, WWII was raging in Europe and my grandfather, Weston Emmart, was just drafted into the military with orders to be trained as an infantryman and shipped overseas.  Already a promising young artist at the time, he was highly influenced by the cartoons and comic strips that were prevalent in that era.  Thus, when he left his home in Baltimore for boot camp, he took his pencils and sketch book with him and began to visually document his experiences of war.  

In his first series of drawings, titled The West Virginia Maneuvers, Weston captured the feelings, both the highs and lows, of an enlisted soldier training for battle.  Having to negotiate the mountainous terrain of West Virginia, soldiers such as my grandfather were pushed to their mental and physical limits through a number of exercises, which would make them fit and able for their mission abroad.  Though hellish at the time, these drawings make light of situation, in a funny yet insightful view of basic training during the WWII years.   

After embarking from New York City in the summer of 1944, Weston was on a troop transport ship, carrying him across the Atlantic Ocean to England.  The days were long, filled with boredom, which gave him the prime opportunity to record the world around him, in his unique illustrative way.  He is able to capture daily life aboard a ship in immaculate detail, creating drawings that are absolutely breathtaking.  His matching of the situational realism paired with the cartoonish qualities allows for one to experience the journey overseas along side him and witness the passage of time as seen through the eyes of a soldier.  

After arriving in England, Weston was faced with entirely new challenges, things that the Army could not prepare him for... British culture.  Here, in this series of drawings, one can see the learning curve as he adjusts to different aspects of life, such as the blackout and rationing.  It is within this series of drawings that one can begin to feel the anticipation and unfamiliarity that he must have been facing at that time.  Arriving in England put Weston one step closer to the inevitable: France & Germany.

Once deployed across the Channel, his drawings start to taper off.  With only one comedic drawing series completed during this time, the mood changes from levity into a slightly darker narrative.  No longer granted much free time for activities such as drawing, his stories became oral instead of illustrative.  Much of the subject matter from that time period were redrawn from memory after the war, with a detailed description of events en verso.  However, there are certain moments and events during his march across France that he spoke of, which best remain untold.  

He eventually made it to the boarder of Germany, crossing the river Saar and taking up position in the German town of Saarbrucken, at the local rail yards.  While advancing their lines, Weston and two other soldiers were ambushed by a German machine gunner, who shot all three men in their legs.  My grandfather took a ricochet through the ankle while the others took wounds to their shins and knees.  The three men were able to take shelter underneath a train while the rest of the company fell back for cover.  Weston and his two compatriots stayed under the stationary train for three days awaiting rescue, surviving on chocolate bars and watching German troops and tanks reposition themselves in the rail yard, laying undiscovered by the rival forces.  Eventually, the American resistance fought back, reclaiming lost ground, where Weston was found and immediately transported back to an Army hospital.  

Once safely back in England and out of harms way, Weston began to draw once again, sending illustrated letters home to family and loved ones.  His depiction of the Army hospital and the unusually large needles full of medication, became a common theme in his correspondence.   As luck would have it, after a full recovery, the Army released him when he returned stateside.  Once healed of his battle wounds, Weston was accepted to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, with his GI Bill, solely based on the quality of work within his WWII sketch books, which he had carried with him throughout the war.