NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Combat skills generally don't include drawing, but the World War II unit known as the "Ghost Army" actually targeted soldiers for their artistic ability. A New Orleans Museum of Art exhibit showcases the work of one of those soldiers.
The faces of war refugees stare out signed by the people depicted. "I think they are really honorific and elegant these pictures," said Russel Lord, the exhibit curator with NOMA.
An abstract depiction of a soldier with medals also hangs in the gallery. "His experience in the war certainly made me think about the human condition, think about what people go through," said Lord.
Lord calls Jim Steg's art an outlet. The artist is lauded as an innovator with works displayed at more than 60 museums including the Smithsonian, Steg spent most of his life in New Orleans as a professor of art at Newcomb College back in the early 1950's.
That talent led him into the Ghost Army, a top secret fighting force that used sound, pictures and props to deceive the Germans. "It really is a unique idea in war," said Rick Beyer, producer of a PBS documentary on the unit. "It's a mobile, multimedia, deception unit. You can search the annals of war before and after and you can't find another unit like this one. So you have a lot of people who had a tremendous impact on post war art and design in the united states who served in this little deception unit and couldn't talk about it for so many years."
All of Steg's work doesn't focus on his world war two experience, but the emotion seems to show up like in works entitled Roman Ruins. "The effects of that made it into his artwork," said Lord. "You see him expressing himself visually in ways that he probably couldn't verbally so I wouldn't be surprised if the burden of holding that secret had a profound impact."
"It was so brilliant that the government said we can't talk about it we might want to do it again," said Senator John Kennedy.
He is part of push to award these soldiers Congressional Gold Medals. "You had all these 1000 plus heroes that had done this. They had the Germans so turned around they didn't know which way was up," Kennedy said.
Both as a duty and for himself Steg held on to his artistic outlet through the war. "He didn't stop making art even when he was serving as a soldier in World War II," said Lord.
He found ways. Even hosting small exhibits around Europe. "These are little hand drawn announcements that Jim made that he would leave at the front of the exhibition," said Lord. "You could pick this up and turn it over and it would have a list of all the drawings and the artists the soldiers who drew them."
A slightly different view of the European front in World War II.