Wyoming Arts Council

Paintings by interned World War II veteran featured at Western Heritage Center in Billings

Paintings by Montana’s Ben Steele documenting his experiences in Japanese concentration camps during World War II will be on display through Sept. 19 at the Western Heritage Center, 2822 Montana Avenue, Billings, Mont.

Here’s some background on Steele featured in the Billings Gazette:

Ben Steele, of Billings, Mont., was one of thousands of American soldiers captured in the Philippines at the beginning of World War II. His three and one half years as a prisoner of war began with the infamous “Bataan Death March,” a 60-mile march that occurred after the three-month Battle of Bataan, part of the Battle of the Philippines (1941–42). He was later interned under the severe conditions of several Japanese labor camps. His captivity ended after working in a Japanese coal mine less than 80 miles from the ground zero of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

During his internment, he began drawing images that recorded the extent of human degradation. The consequences of being caught making these drawings could have resulted in severe punishment or execution. He did drawings on whatever scraps of paper he could find and with whatever he could use to make a mark. The drawings were hidden and kept, but all but two were destroyed in the sinking of a transport boat that was taking the prisoners to the Japanese Mainland. Steele then produced more drawings and several oil paintings that graphically document the suffering shared by the prisoners.

Several of the larger oil paintings will be on display at the Western Heritage Center this summer. Tears in the Darkness, a new book featuring Steele’s life story, written by Michael and Elizabeth Norman, has been receiving national acclaim and Steele was recently interviewed by the New York Times and Washington Post.

FMI: http://www.ywhc.org/

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