Art that's on a mission
ON THE GREEN | When Robyn Phillips-Pendleton arrived in Haiti in a C-130 cargo plane to begin her official Air Force mission after the devastating earthquake, she was carrying—not a weapon or other military gear—but a camera and a sketchbook.
The associate professor of art at UD was part of a little-known but highly regarded program in which artists are sent on military missions with the goal of putting a human face on combat or humanitarian efforts. For Phillips-Pendleton and the two other artists who accompanied her, the images they were assigned to capture involved Air Force relief efforts.
The Air Force personnel who landed in Haiti with the artists brought food, water, tents and medical supplies and set about reopening the damaged and chaotic airport at Port-au-Prince. The goal was to get the facility operational and to continue overseeing it so that more relief materials and aid workers could safely land in the coming weeks.
Phillips-Pendleton immediately toured the airport and the surrounding area, photographing and sketching the U.S. planes and troops as well as the long lines of families seeking to escape their homeland, the groups of orphans awaiting help from abroad and the crowds of people standing outside the airport gates hoping for offers of work or needed supplies.
“When people asked us [the artists] what we were doing there, we told them we were documenting the Air Force’s humanitarian efforts,” she says. “We realized right away that there were a lot of different stories we could tell and that we were never going to be able to tell them all.”
Last winter, an oil-and-alkyd piece she created, “Hope and Survival,” became part of a special exhibition at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, marking the 60th anniversary of its art program. The Air Force exhibition continued through Dec. 31; a similar Army exhibition, “Art of the American Soldier,” was on display through Jan. 10 at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
The opening reception for the exhibition in Dayton, which Phillips-Pendleton attended, included the secretary of the Air Force and other top brass, as well as numerous artists from the program’s five regions throughout the United States.
“I could see the value the Air Force places on this program,” Phillips-Pendleton says. “They are really looking to put a human face on their missions and on the daily work done by the people who are serving our country. Photographs aren’t always enough for the public to relate to what the military is doing.”
The Haiti trip was her first military art commission, but she says she doesn’t want it to be her last. She’d like to return to Haiti, but she’d also like to see humanitarian and combat operations elsewhere in the world and perhaps focus on women in the military.
“I’m an illustrator,” she says of her artistic style and background. “I gather information and tell a story that demands an emotional response. I think this mission gave me a taste of what journalists and documentary producers do, and I hope I can do more of it.”
Phillips-Pendleton joined the UD faculty in 1996. She has also created illustrations for institutions of higher education, children’s CD covers, editorial magazines and publishing companies. Her work has been featured in national and international juried shows.
Article by Ann Manser, AS ’73