Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman, authors of the New York Times best-seller “Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath,” will present a lecture and book signing at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, in the Montana Theatre of the Performing Arts and Radio/Television Center at The University of Montana.
The lecture is in conjunction with the Montana Museum of Art and Culture exhibition “War Torn: The Art of Ben Steele: Paintings and Drawings from the Bataan Death March.” The exhibition features oil paintings and drawings by Montana artist, World War II veteran and Bataan Death March survivor Ben Steele, the subject of the Normans’ book. Steele and his wife, Shirley, will attend the lecture and join the authors on stage for questions.
The Steeles donated Ben’s artwork to the MMAC Permanent Collection in 2010.
“We are deeply grateful to Ben and Shirley for their generous gift; it is a vital part of Montana’s cultural heritage,” said Barbara Koostra, MMAC director.
Steele endured starvation, dehydration, hard labor and torture as a survivor of the Bataan Death March and a Japanese prisoner of war for more than three years. In late 1942, while hospitalized with a nearly lethal combination of dysentery, pneumonia, malaria, blood poisoning and beriberi, Steele began drawing scenes depicting the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, the capture of American and Filipino POWs and the degradation and cruelty to which prisoners were subjected.
The bulk of the drawings Steele created as a POW were destroyed in the war. Only two originals remain, created on the back of stolen Japanese military ledgers. Steele, with a near photographic memory, re-created most of his POW art during his recovery at Baxter Hospital in Spokane, Wash., and while studying art at the Cleveland Art Institute from 1947 to 1950. His work represents one of the rare firsthand visual accounts of the Bataan Death March.
A native Montanan who grew up on a ranch outside of Roundup, Steele attributes art making to his survival, recovery and process of forgiveness after the war. Ultimately, Steele’s message is that of peace.
Support for the exhibit came from an anonymous donor, Humanities Montana, retired Col. Thomas P. Ross, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UM, the Western Montana Military Officers Association, the Missoulian, and MMAC members Bob Strahs and James and Donna Koch.
MMAC’s fall hours are noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday. For more information call 406-243-2019 or go online to http://www.umt.edu/montanamuseum.
NOTE TO MEDIA: Digital images of select items included in the exhibition are available upon request by calling 406-243-2019.
Western Montana, Billings Gazette, Roundup Record