Painting our nation’s military: Local reflects on work with Coast Guard
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In everyday life, we encounter pieces of artwork depicting courageous military acts and heroes of valor constantly. The flag being raised at Ground Zero, Washington crossing the Delaware and Revolutionary troops marching to the beat of the drum are all images that many Americans are incredibly familiar with, but rarely do we think about where these pieces of artwork come from.
While many do not associate the arts with the military, every branch of the armed forces employs authorized artists of all mediums to depict everything from battle scenes to repair work.
Annie Strack, an award-winning maritime painter, serves as an artist for the United States Coast Guard, going out on training missions and maintenance calls while taking photographs that will eventually be turned into paintings.
As a beach scape artist, Strack has no lack of subjects as her former employment with the National Parks Service allowed her to live all over the world. Living now in Kennett Square, Pa., Strack has had stints of residence in places like Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. While living abroad she was surrounded by some of the best beaches the world has to offer and this is directly reflected in her work.
“There is a lot of focus on the arts, specifically painting, within the military. I think a lot of has to do with telling their stories,” Strack said. “When I saw that the Coast Guard was looking to staff artists I was surprised that they would have an interest in art, but it was too interesting of an opportunity to pass up. At the time I was exploring what were my real options, jobwise, as a seascape artist, so I entered and sent them some pieces and I ended up getting selected.”
Strack is one of about 50 artists who produce pieces for the Coast Guard depicting everything from beachscapes to lighthouse and buoy repair.
Outings with the Coast Guard usually consisted of observing training missions or maintenance work, Strack said. To get around the difficult task of painting on scene, Strack said she brings cameras on the water to capture the action before returning to her home studio to translate the photos to canvas painting.
Once Strack completes a painting based on an outing with the Coast Guard, that painting is solely possessed by the Coast Guard, she says. Outside of a wall full of plaques of recognition from the Coast Guard, Strack has no evidence of her contribution to the branch’s art department.
The painting will eventually be circulated throughout various military administration and government facilities.
“Sometimes I will catch one of my pieces in the background of an office when I am watching TV…” Strack said. “They will take the painting and travel it around various offices and administration buildings or it will be featured at something like a Change of Command ceremony.”
As a full-time artist, Strack is always working on multiple pieces at a time but only works for Coast Guard when she is called upon. Just as the foundation of our nation’s military is built upon volunteerism and working towards something greater than one’s self, Annie produces pieces for the Coast Guard with little recognition and limited accolades, but the idea that she is preserving a piece of our country’s history, no matter how minute, for the rest of time is a driving force of motivation.
“Sometimes the things these guys go through aren’t the easiest things to put into words or describe to somebody, so they find people like me to attempt to tell that story for them,” she said.