After retiring from the Marine Corps in 1991, McConnell became an illustrator whose designs range from record album covers for the Beach Boys and promotional art for the Beatles to illustrations for editorial magazines and books for children. He was a courtroom performer for ABC and CBS-TV.
His years with the Marines were invaluable. “My experiences as a combat artist have taught me self-discipline and flexibility,” he says. “I learned to work fast.”
About the exhibition
McConnell is one of 15 combat artists whose work is on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force. The National Museum of the Marine Corps’ traveling exhibit is titled “Honor, Courage, Commitment: Marine Corps Art, 1975-2018.”
Although the works on display focus on Marines, curator Lin Ezell says the intimate scenes captured by the artists could just as easily reflect anyone wearing a uniform and engaged in military service. “You wait a turn, you wash your socks, you line up to eat, you look for the enemy,” says Ezell, a former director of the museum.
“The art of the Marine Corps is up close and personal. It is about the individual Marine – in combat, during training, or when providing assistance in times of dire need. This art helps us better appreciate those who have worn the uniform and those who continue to serve today.
One of the most touching paintings is called “Missing Him”. It represents a young girl and her dog looking out the window. There is a Marine Corp flag hanging from the porch and a Gold Star service flag from the window.
The artist is Charlie Grow, a retired sailor and former combat artist who says he is “a very visual person who likes to tell stories”. In this case, the story was personal. “This painting is in memory of my son-in-law,” he explains. “It’s my granddaughter standing in front of the front door of the house…”
A thematic exhibition
The exhibition consists of 36 works of art divided into three sections.
“Every climate and place” shows Marines conducting training and engaging with the enemy in a variety of settings and situations around the world. The Marines have provided humanitarian aid in Somalia, Haiti, the Philippines, Bangladesh and other places stricken by natural disasters, famine and war.
“No best friend, no worst enemy” features Marines demonstrating their prowess on the battlefield and in times of great emergency. They experienced the destruction and devastation of battle, mourned the loss of their friends, and fought to survive and defeat the enemy.
“The price” reflects the cost of service paid by Marines and their relatives. The catastrophic injuries to body and mind, as well as the funeral services, are reminders of the price that has been paid.
Much of the artwork now in Dayton comes from the collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps and originally hung in the museum’s art gallery. It all started during World War II, when Marines with artistic talents were identified to serve as combat artists. In 1966, General Wallace Greene, commandant of the Marine Corps, ordered Col. Raymond Henri, USMCR, to establish a combat arts program and select Marines and civilians to travel to Vietnam to record their experiences. . It was from this set of works that the museum’s collection was originally formed. The collection now consists of 9,000 works of art.
The paintings, drawings and sculptures on display are by artists who include active duty Marines, Navy reservists, retired Marines who remain committed to the Corps and country and talented civilians. Navy entertainers range in rank from corporals to colonels. They created landscapes, portraits, snapshots of training and combat, and sensitive depictions of devastating casualties. The sum of these pieces is a story about today’s Marines.
If you visit the museum located at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, you will likely meet Artist-in-Residence Kris Battles, who not only creates art in the gallery but is also responsible for selecting applicants who wish to become combat artists. “You have to be quick and accurate,” he says, adding that Marines and civilians alike are encouraged to submit a portfolio.
Dayton is the fourth stop in the traveling exhibit sponsored by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.
HOW TO GET THERE:
What: “Honor, Courage, Commitment: Marine Corps Art, 1975-2018 – A Traveling Exhibit from the National Museum of the Marine Corps”
Where: National Museum of the US Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The exhibit is located in the Cold War Gallery in Building Three and sponsored by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation,
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily until December 17.
Entrance and parking: Free
Related: The National Museum of the Marine Corps, which opened in 2006, is an enduring tribute to the United States Marines – past, present and future. Located on a 135-acre site adjacent to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., the museum’s design evokes the image of Iwo Jima’s flag raisers. Immersive exhibits using innovative technology surround visitors with artifacts and the sights and sounds of Marines in action.
The museum is open every day except Christmas, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission and parking are free and exhibits are suitable for all ages. For more information, visit www.usmcmuseum.com.