By Clint Confehr
Tribune Staff Writer
The artist whose pictures are on display now at The Frist Center for the Visual Arts has accomplished at least one of his stated goals; to portray something soldiers and veterans recognize and to make visible what’s invisible during war.
“He captured it,” the Rev. Robert Robinson of St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksville, said of Steve Mumford’s pen, ink, watercolor and painted images made during Mumford’s visits to Iraq.
“He brought a whole lot of memories back.”
Mumford told soldiers and veterans at the museum on Friday morning Feb. 28, “Hopefully, you in the military
will recognize something.”
Mumford’s War Journals — they consist of drawings, watercolors, and writings — are from his visits to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan during 2003-2013. His pictures aren’t comprehensive. They’re images filtered through his subjective senses.
Rev. Robinson and Chaplain Col. Alvin Miller of Nashville agreed about one painting that shows a Humvee being guarded by two soldiers on the driver’s side of the vehicle. On the other side soldiers distribute candy to children in the neighborhood.“That was real,” Robertson said.
Col. Miller said that painting “shows the heart of the American soldier. People in the heat of battle can still do good.”
Another veteran who liked the picture showing children at the Humvee is Master Sgt. Eugene Henderson, a member of the Tennessee-Kentucky Line Chapter 9th and 10th Buffalo Soldiers Cavalry Association, a private group that exists to teach and preserve the history of African-American cavalry soldiers.
“That brought me back to my days in Vietnam when kids would come out, curious about what was going on, and we’d give them candy in hopes of getting information,” Henderson said. “It was an altogether different war, in the jungle instead of the desert.” But, he said, “Everywhere you go, children are children.”
Children playing and getting candy from soldiers at right were recollections of soldiers and veterans when viewing Steve Mumford’s pictures on display at The Frist.
Henderson said he’d want to hang such a painting on the wall at home, and feels the drive from Clarksville to The Frist is worth the time. He plans to go back for another exhibit.
Just as a cursory look at Henderson’s uniform for his association promoting the memory of Buffalo Soldiers “paints a pretty picture” of the heroism of those cavalry soldiers, Mumford’s work isn’t of happy times. One painting is of a dead soldier on a gurney, as Henderson saw it.
“That’s too hurtful to look at day-to-day,” Henderson said, rejecting it as a picture for a wall in his home. “It brings back memories of soldiers with parts of their bodies blown off.”
Miller recognizes such consequences of war. He’s one of the chaplains who must report the bad news to widows, parents and other relatives of combat deaths.
Mumford’s art is on display through June 8 with images by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828). Goya is regarded as the most important Spanish artist of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He offers a very personal perspective on war in 1808-14 when France waged war on Spain.
The Frist’s communications office says Mumford took a more journalistic approach.