By Yvette Pino, Traveling Art Exhibit Coordinator
In June 1942, Milwaukee artist Harold F. Schmitz was drafted into the U.S. Army and served with the 955th Topographic Engineer Company. At the time of his conscription, he was working in the art department of Hammersmith-Kortemeyer (H & K) Publishing. The company, which predominantly published law briefs and school annuals, provided ideal background experience for Schmitz to function as a topographic draftsman. Combined with the skill set he acquired from the Advertising and Design Program at Layton School of Art, he was primed and ready for his new role of making maps in the field.
The inner-workings of a publishing house in the late 30s are well documented in historical narratives from larger firms such as P & H Creative Group in San Francisco. The dynamics at H & K were not much different, and examples are brought to life through anecdotal small-talk that Schmitz exchanges in letters to his future wife, Eleanor, who also worked at H & K. The Harold Schmitz Collection primarily focuses on the artwork he created while serving in the Pacific during World War II. However, it also contains six letters between Harold Schmitz and Eleanor Hammersmith that not only reveal a blossoming relationship but also offer insight to the experiences of war on both the home front and overseas. While Eleanor provided comical threads of H & K nostalgia, Harold responded with workplace banter as if he is simply away on vacation. Like the maps he is creating, Schmitz’ attention to detail in his descriptions offer a guide to where he was located, what he was thinking, what he was drawing, and what he was missing from back home.
“The anecdotes about the two ‘bits of loveliness’ in the composing room were especially priceless. I suppose they also will be rushing into the Art Dept. at the last minute, to save several valuable contracts by whipping out the pasteups for the last ninetysix pages in a day and a half, including fixing up the bum proofs Joe always turns out to us.” [excerpt from letter featured above, WVM.2165.M001]
In March 2019, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum will open its next exhibit featuring the artwork of Harold Schmitz. The drawings, combined with letters, photographs, and printed military ephemera, offer us an incredible timeline of what the artist was doing, where he was located, and why he was drawing what he drew. Over the course of the next several months, we will share more information about Harold Schmitz and about the 955th.
The exhibit will run for a year and will transition into the Traveling Art Exhibit Program. For more information about Harold Schmitz or about the Traveling Art Exhibit Program, please contact Yvette Pino at firstname.lastname@example.org.