Oil paintings created by prisoners of war who were held at Camp Ruston during World War II were recently donated to Louisiana Tech by Charles Russell, Tech Class of 1950. The paintings had been given to his wife, Patsy Patton Russell, who died in October, by her mother, Mollie Patton. Patton had worked in the office headquarters at the camp, Russell said.
Peggy Carter, Tech archivist, said she was thrilled to get two original paintings from the POWs to add to the one already housed in the Camp Ruston collection.
“He could have sold them on eBay, but he cared enough to donate them,” she said.
Both are oil paintings on wood in handmade wood frames. One is a 10x14 war scene with German words written on the back. It is dated June 1944, Ruston, La., and is signed “H. Henneburg.” The other is a Bavarian church in a field by an unknown artist and measures 10x16.
Carter said most of the paintings and drawings from the POWs were tropical scenes or Bavarian villages, because they reminded them of home or dream settings.
“It’s unusual to see a war scene,” Carter said.
Tanya Arant, library specialist, who is working on deciphering and translating the script on the back of the painting, said the scene is probably a copy of an original work from the World War I era.
Tech Special Collections is a repository for Camp Ruston artifacts, and many drawings, photographs and other items have been donated from the local community, of whom many still remember firsthand the POW camp, which was one of the largest in the country, Carter said.
“People here still remember them as polite, nice young men,” Carter said.
Area residents would attend baseball games and go eat at the camp, she said. They brought a lot of life to the area and being able to preserve some of their culture, like these paintings, is something from which the community and historians can learn and benefit.
Camp Ruston and its baseball team will be a major focus of a major motion picture project based on Gary Moore’s book “Playing with the Enemy,” which is scheduled to be released in 2010 by Whitelight Entertainment.
Louisiana Tech's Special Collections, Manuscripts and Archives is located in the Prescott Memorial Library on the fourth floor of Wyly Tower and its operating hours are Monday-Thursday 7:30 am - 4:30 p.m. and Friday 7:30 am-12:00 p.m.