World War II - Trench Art

The inspiration in seeing something terrible transformed into something beautiful gives me more hope than I believe I’ll ever need.

I visited the school’s museum yesterday on a little field trip for class.  The exhibits were centered around World War I with  Songs of the Patriot: How Music Helped Win World War One.  As soon as we entered the museum—inside those quiet rooms—I lost myself a little.

I wasn’t thinking about my match against Texas Tech that day. I wasn’t thinking about two parking tickets I had gotten in two days for parking 20 minutes over.  I wasn’t even thinking about my car that had been hit while parked on the street, and how burned up I was by the fact that I would never find out who was responsible for the damage.

I left that all behind.  The year 2014 was drowned out by those red walls.

We had a speaker.  I could tell she might have rushed over a couple of things just because she was so emotional about some of the stories she was required to tell.  I knew that we would have time afterwards to look at everything, and that she would only be speaking in the beginning, but I couldn’t help but be distracted by what surrounded me.  I tried to listen to her, but my attention kept getting pulled away by one thing and then another and another!  I finally disciplined myself (for the most part) and listened to our speaker as respectfully as I could.  As soon as she finished her stories, however, I broke away and began goggling at each and every individual article in the collection.

The metal trench art still has me in awe.  I will say right now.  I have traveled to over 25 different countries and seen a lot of things, but those empty artillery shells and bullet cartridges that were made into art by both soldiers and noncombatants were some of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.  The creativity, the beauty, the intricacy that shone through their work that had been done in such a difficult time—not only in their lives but of the world’s—it just shook me up.  This transformation from weapons used in WWI to artwork surprised me.  It gave me hope.

For a second I thought back to the damage of my car, the ticket on my windshield, the win or loss of my match that day… And then looked at was in front of me.  These guys were sitting in trenches, figuring out how to make something terrible into something lovely.  What was I so hung up on?  I literally thought about folding my parking ticket into a heart from the origami skills I had learned from last month’s Valentine’s Day project.  The point was, this exhibit reminded me about how good I have it.  It also reminded me about how humans have some of the greatest abilities to make the world not only a better place, but a beautiful one—a place of hope.

It was interesting to look at what these artists had left behind for others to see.  A lot of them had names and dates, others had their country’s name or symbol on them, and others had manipulated the metal so craftily to tell full stories or capture full landscapes of nature.  I kept looking at these cylindrical pieces.  Who made this? I asked.  Who was this for?  Where were you?  The desire to be connected to everything about that little article standing on display was overwhelming.

Then there were the sheet music covers that hung up on the wall that surrounded the metallic art.  To my pleasant surprise, I found some of the cover artwork done by Norman Rockwell—one of my favorites.  All of them seemed to have a little Rockwell in them actually.  I suppose that makes sense since Rockwell’s art was always so… American.  Sometimes they were funny, sometimes they were courageous, sometimes they were scary, and yet after looking at them for a while, they all made me a little sad.  Most sheet music covers had the lyrics on display beside them full of patriotic country-boy lines, lines that would make a boy’s parents proud, and lines that whispered about how popular young American men were with the women in France.

I’ve always been fascinated with war.  I can’t understand it.  I have read lots of pieces on war that make it both terrible and exciting.  However, I had never seen anything like this before.  War stories usually suck the faith I have in humans right out of my chest and leave me trying to explain the terrible.  This exhibit (on my own campus!) restored my faith.  I fell in love history all over again.


Outside and Beyond