Veterans on the Homefront: War Creates an Artist

This is a guest post by Megan Harris, a librarian with the Veterans History Project. It is one of four profiles that make up “Veterans on the Homefront,” published in the November–December 2017 issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine. This profile recounts the way in which Tracy Sugarman was affected by his time in uniform.

A detail from a Sugarman watercolor showing sailors aboard a ship in Normandy in September 1944.

Tracy Sugarman at his desk.

As a young Navy officer arriving in Normandy on D-Day, Tracy Sugarman brought with him a few secret weapons: a sketchpad, pen and watercolor paints. Throughout his service overseas, Sugarman—a trained artist and aspiring illustrator—had been busy documenting what he saw in the form of quick but evocative sketches, which he then sent home to his new bride, June. By the time he reached France, drawing became not only a form of communication with his wife, but also a way to cope with the horrors of war.

Art, he said in his 2003 Veterans History Project oral history interview, was “a way to come to terms with getting through a bad time. If I could put it on paper, I could deal with it.”

After the war, art became his livelihood as well as a means of activism. While he created commercial works for publications such as Ladies’ Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post, he also served as a reportorial artist on the front lines of another war: the civil rights movement.

During the summer of 1964, he joined activists organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to register African-Americans to vote in rural Mississippi. His time in the South yielded 100 drawings depicting “what was really happening” in the South, later used in news reports around the country.

Though he had once dreamed of becoming the next Norman Rockwell, art came to occupy a much more transcendent role in Sugarman’s life: As he explained in a 2009 lecture at the Library of Congress, “I first learned in Normandy that my art could be much more than a way to make a living. It could guide me to the truth, if I trusted it.”

Pedestrians near a jetty in the harbor at Fowey, England, in April 1944.

Sugarman’s Veterans History Project collection includes his oral history interview and more than 250 letters to his wife. Lyrical and passionate, the letters illustrate his experiences in war as well as the pain of being separated from June.

In 2000, he published “My War: A Love Story in Letters and Drawings,” with selections from his original wartime drawings, which reside in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. In 2012, he published “Stranger at the Gates: A Summer in Mississippi,” which tells the story of his experiences during the summer of 1964.

Sugarman passed away in 2013.

Veterans History: Spell Checking the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

This is a guest post by Lee Ann Potter, director of educational outreach. Thirty-five years ago this month, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated. Three years later, in 1985, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund donated its records to the Library of Congress. But the National Archives actually plays […]

EverydayLOC: Holiday Inspiration from the Library of Congress

‘Tis the season to be jolly, be of good cheer and…be a thorough list-maker. Gift lists, grocery lists, invitation lists … there are so many things, and so little time that lists are essential to helping us make a bit more sense of it all. The Library offers a lot of great resources that can […]

Hispanic Heritage Month: Celebrating Veterans

This post, by Andrew Huber of the Veterans History Project, was first published on “Folklife Today,” the blog of the American Folklife Center and the Veterans History Project. As we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month through October 15, the Veterans History Project (VHP) continues to recognize the contributions of Hispanics and Latinos throughout the military […]

Pic of the Week: Library and Military Service Academies Collaborate on Collections Access

The Library of Congress and the U.S. military service academies signed a cooperative agreement this week to provide researchers with enhanced access to the institutions’ collections and grow representation of service members in the Library’s collections—including the Veterans History Project. The three-year agreement, which took effect on September 18, provides greater access for Library researchers […]

Serving with Pride: LGBTQ+ Veterans’ Oral History Workshop

This is a guest post by Meg Metcalf, women’s, gender and LGBTQ+ studies librarian in the Main Reading Room. Why are oral histories important to collect? What unique perspectives might we gain from oral histories that other formats don’t offer? What does “empowering the narrator” really look like? What ethical concerns and obligations do we […]

Gallery Talk: Immigrant Voices of the Veterans History Project

This is a guest post by Owen Rogers, liaison specialist for the Veterans History Project. Library of Congress specialists often give presentations about ongoing Library exhibitions. This post relates to a presentation Rogers prepared for the exhibition “Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I.” My great-grandfather, Stephen Basford Young, served in […]

Recognizing the Service of Asian-Pacific-American Veterans

The following is a republication of a post by Andrew Huber, liaison specialist for the Veterans History Project. It was first published on the Library’s “Folklife Today” blog. Throughout the month of May, we celebrate Asian-American and Pacific-Islander heritage and remember the contributions made by people of Asian-Pacific descent. Those contributions are numerous, from Duke […]

Story of the Century: My Afternoon with a Jewish American World War II Veteran

The following is a guest post by Owen Rogers, liaison specialist for the Veterans History Project. An extended version of the post appeared on the Library’s “Folklife Today” blog. When Burton “Burt” Schuman greeted me at the door with a handshake and an offer of a home tour, he shared his framed Bronze Star Medal and […]