The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space museum hosts the Centennial of Marine Corps Aviation exhibit through January 14, 2013. The exhibit will display more than 80 paintings for the history of Marine Corps aviation from 1912-2012. All artworks are contributed by the Marine Corps Art Program located in Quantico, Va.
The works on display begin with the “Birth and Growth of Aviation” in 1912-1940 with the first leading American artist and illustrator of the time period, Howard Christy, who produced one of the first Marine recruiting posters in the early 1920s. The exhibit takes visitors into the “New Challenges and New Capabilities” era, 1946-1962, and covers the Korean War, which highlights battles such as the Chosin Reservoir. The next aviation era is the “Long War” in Vietnam, 1962-1975. Works of art depict operation Shufly and the evacuation of Saigon. The exhibit ends with “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy” highlighting the Gulf War and the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.
Tom Crouch is the exhibit co-curator and senior curator at the Division of Aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. He has been a Smithsonian employee since 1974 and has served both the NASM and the National Museum of American History in a variety of curatorial and administrative posts.
“We wanted to gather pieces from different areas. Some art pieces are from Marine officers’ work places,” said Crouch. “A lot of them [the pieces] do not normally see the light of day. We wanted the public to see the works that people do not normally see.”
Throughout his career, Crouch has focused on the roots of aviation through today’s technology. He is an author and editor of numerous books, which include “Eagle Aloft: Two Centuries of the Balloon in America”; “Charles Lindbergh: An American Life” and “The Bishop's Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright.”
“It’s been great all these years. My own research mostly has had something to do with early history of flight technology, from the invention of the balloon, to the Wright Brothers, to the birth of the space age. I love the roots of technology of how things begin,” said Crouch.
Joan Thomas, co-curator on the MCCA exhibit, has been the head curator for the Marine Corps Art Program since 2008. Part of Thomas’s job as curator for the art program is to choose top-rated Marines to participate in the program.
“When selecting candidates for the program, we look at their history as a Marine. They are a Marine first and an artist second,” said Thomas.
All of the artists who participate in the program are able to travel to different parts of the world to capture Marine history including Iraq, Hong Kong and Somalia. Artists working with the MCAP are able to work along with active duty Marines in combat environments to accurately paint their portraits.
“Artists were able to capture the brunt of the work, by having direct experience in combat or training environments,” said Thomas.
Ben Kristy, exhibit co-curator and the aviation curator at the National Museum of the Marine Corps also began his career in aviation in the early 1990s as an intern for the Smithsonian.
“This show is different than shows we have done in the past. It’s not just pretty pictures of airplanes flying through the skies. It is the pure and down-dirty point of view,” said Kristy.
All of the artwork is maintained at the storage area in Quantico, Va. When art is not on display, it is kept in a climate-controlled building in secure storage bins covered in purified tissue to keep dust and particulate matter off the art.
The National Air and Space Museum building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. The facility is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Admission is free.