NEW ORLEANS (July 21, 2016)—The National WWII Museum today announced its newest special exhibit: Tom Lea: LIFE and World War II, sponsored by The Woldenberg Foundation. The exhibition, which opened to the public on June 24, features nearly 30 original paintings and illustrations from LIFE magazine war correspondent and artist Tom Lea. On loan from the US Army Center of Military History, as well as private collections and museums, the artworks depict a realistic view of war, while also reflecting Lea’s unwavering bravery as he observed US armed forces fighting on land, at sea and in the air.
A native of El Paso, Texas, Tom Lea was one of the first civilian artists hired by LIFE as a correspondent during World War II. During his time covering the war, Lea traveled more than 100,000 miles, risking his life to document combat ranging from convoy battles involving destroyers in the North Atlantic to the bloody beach assault at Peleliu. His paintings ultimately became full-color spreads in 10 issues of LIFE, reaching more than 30 million readers and providing a chilling perspective on the war.
As Lea—also a noted historian and novelist—would write long after the war’s end, “I did not report hearsay; I did not imagine, or fake, or improvise; I did not cuddle up with personal emotion, moral notion, or political opinion about War with a capital W. I reported in pictures what I saw with my own two eyes, wide open.”
Lea’s works carried a powerful influence among families of service members and other civilians back at home, and represented a unique aspect of wartime journalism.
“Tom Lea worked as a muralist during the 1930s, and his artwork on public buildings was seen by hundreds of people across the nation,” said Larry Decuers, the exhibit’s curator. “His reach grew dramatically during World War II. In 1945, LIFE devoted seven pages to his haunting images of the Battle of Peleliu, including one of the most recognizable artworks of the war: ‘That 2,000 Yard Stare.’ Lea’s art is unforgiving and truly conveys the psychological wounds of combat veterans.”
Interpretive text panels—produced by the Museum with content provided by the Tom Lea Institute—accompany the exhibition’s artwork. Additional artifacts on display include Lea’s drawing table, brushes and an easel on loan from the Tom Lea Institute, as well as Lea sketches on loan from the collection of Judy and Jamey Clement. The Museum’s collection of oral histories from Peleliu veterans are also featured in the special exhibit.
Tom Lea: LIFE and World War II is on display until January 1, 2017 in the Museum’s Joe W. and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation Special Exhibit Gallery, located in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. During the exhibit’s run the Museum will host on-site public programming to further engage the local community. For more information, visit nationalww2museum.org/tom-lea.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today—so that future generations will know the price of freedom, and be inspired by what they learn. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America's National WWII Museum, it celebrates the American Spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifices of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and served on the Home Front. For more information, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit nationalww2museum.org.