The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

July 2003
ARTS OF WAR
 
 

Artist Rick Bartow:
"A Finely Tuned Eye And A Deft Hand"

BY MARC LEEPSON

Rick Bartow, the prolific and much-honored artist and sculptor from the Central Oregon coast, gets the inspiration for his work from many sources. Two of the biggest influences are his Native American heritage - his father was a member of the Mad River Band of the Wiyot tribe - and his service in the Vietnam War.

``I try to find metaphors,'' Bartow told us in a recent interview. ``And then sometimes things happen, and I follow the lead. And in the end, I'm dealing not only with part of me that's Native American but also the part of me that is a veteran. It doesn't seem like you ever get rid of that stuff.''

Bartow, who has been supporting himself and his family as a full-time artist since the early 1980s, was born in 1946 in Newport, Oregon, a town dominated by the fishing and logging industries. He received a degree in secondary art education in 1969 from Western Oregon State College and went to work as a special ed teacher when the greetings came from Uncle Sam.

Draftee Bartow had basic training at Ft. Lewis in Washington and was shipped to Ft. Gordon, Georgia, for Signal Corps Teletype AIT. Then came his 1969-71 tour in Vietnam - he extended 30 days to get an early out - with HHC, 160th Signal Group on Long Binh Post. For most of his tour he worked as a clerk typist during the day. In his off-hours Bartow played guitar and sang in a touring GI band.

At first he played with three sergeants in officers clubs. ``It was the gravy train,'' Bartow said. ``You got good booze and good steaks.'' But when the singing sergeants rotated home, Bartow said, ``I had to figure out another angle.'' He put together another band and began playing in hospitals. ``We played a little different angle,'' he said. ``Our music had a little edgier slant to it. The officers didn't like us. They called us hippies.''

Bartow's hippie band went out to play at firebases, including ``areas where they were having morale problems,'' he said. ``That was rewarding. We'd go to these places where everybody hated each other, and we'd play music. Everybody would get drunk and have a good time one night and make you feel good." Bartow was awarded a Bronze Star for his morale-boosting work.

Bartow found ways of continuing his art in Vietnam, even though supplies were virtually nonexistent. ``When I was cut off from paper, we'd be sitting out in the field, and I'd poke sticks through leaves and make little sculptures and things,'' he said. ``I always had those yellow pads you're supposed to take notes on, but I'd draw in the margins. It's like a disease: If you've got it, then you have to create.''

When he came home from the war, though, Bartow's life fell apart. ``I was crazy when I got home with survivor's guilt and other stuff,'' he said. ``It went on for quite a few years with alcohol, divorce, and back taxes. Whatever could go wrong, did.''

His art, and to a lesser extent his music, Bartow says, played a big role in turning his life around. ``Art and music helped put me back together again,'' he said. ``I used it therapeutically.'' What also helped immeasurably was the understanding of Bartow's second wife. He said, ``My wife's a therapist, and her area of special priority is PTSD. So I'm getting therapy right at home.''

Today, Bartow says, ``Life's never been better. All roads lead to the good, but there are some terribly bad corners.''

Rick Bartow's large body of work is made up of pastel and graphite paintings, prints, sculptures, and masks, many containing images of animals. You won't find GIs or war scenes in his Vietnam War-influenced work. What Bartow does, instead, is put together different impressionistic images to create his own world on canvas. His Native American heritage and war service are only two factors that influence his art.

``Rick is not trying to place himself as strictly an Indian artist,'' Charles Froelick, the owner of Froelick Gallery which represents Bartow in downtown Portland, said. ``He is a contemporary artist. He draws, paints, and sculpts with many influences. The content is very often guided by his personal experiences.''

Since he turned his life around in the late seventies, Bartow has had dozens of solo and group shows, primarily in the Pacific Northwest. His work hangs in many museums, including the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago, as well as in libraries, banks, and corporate offices. A flattering profile of Bartow on National Public Radio's Morning Edition aired April 21. An exhibition at the George Gustav Heye Center in New York, part of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, opened April 26.

Bartow, Froelick said, ``is an incredible artist with a finely tuned eye and a deft hand. He's a master draftsman. His work has exquisite detail, and at the same time there are things left out, letting your mind fill in.'' To see more of his work, check out www.froelickgallery.com

MAYA LIN ON DVD

The 1994 film, Maya Lin: A Strong, Clear Vision, a portrait of the young architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, received an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1995. The film, written, directed, and co-produced by Frieda Lee Mock, has just been released on DVD (Docurama, 83 minutes, $24.95). The movie, which was five years in the making, provides an intimate look at the life and work of the publicity-shy young woman who is now one of the nation's most celebrated memorial architects.

The heart of the film is an eye-opening story of The Wall, told mostly through Lin's eyes. The documentary also deals with Lin's other work, including the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama; a memorial at her alma mater honoring Yale's women; and a private house she designed. The DVD also contains a biography of Mock.

DOCUMENTARY NEWS

Tracy Tragos took home the first-place prize for Best Documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June for Be Good, Smile Pretty, the story of the filmmaker's effort to come to terms with her father's death in the Vietnam War. The prize was $25,000, funds that ``are sorely needed and a nice reward for a daughter who has spent the last two years of her life chronicling her family's story of loss,'' said Sons and Daughters in Touch's Karen Zacharias.

Here's a brief rundown on four recently released documentaries with Vietnam War themes.

The Weather Underground, directed by Sam Green and Bill Siegel, tells the story of the ultra-radical group that included Mark Rudd, Bernardette Dohrn, and Bill Ayres. The film includes present-day testimony from these folks who represented the violent wing of the antiwar movement.

Muhammad Ali: The Greatest, directed by William Klein, is an in-the-trenches look at Ali's career from 1964-74 (including his battle with the Selective Service System) and includes never-before-seen interviews and footage of Ali and his entourage.

The Fog of War, by noted filmmaker Errol Morris, is an in-depth study of 85-year-old Robert S. McNamara, using extensive interviews with the former Defense Secretary and recently released covertly taped White House conversations.

Breathe In/Breathe Out, directed by the filmmaker known as Beth B, follows three Vietnam veterans back to Vietnam, along with their adult children.

ASA BABER

Asa Baber, 66, the Vietnam veteran who since 1982 had written the ``Men'' column for Playboy, died June 16 in a Chicago hospital. He had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's Disease. A Chicago native, Baber graduated from Princeton University in 1958. He joined the Marine Corps and served in Laos in the early 1960s. His acclaimed novel, The Land of a Million Elephants, was based on the covert actions he took part in in Southeast Asia.

After his three-year stint in the Marines, Baber did graduate work at Northwestern University and at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, and was an English professor at the University of Hawaii from 1969-75. He began writing the Playboy column, one of the magazine's most popular features, in April 1982. VVA presented Baber with an Excellence in the Arts Award at the 1987 National Convention.

ARTS IN BRIEF

VVA members from New York and New Jersey were treated to a special Broadway night out on May 21. Members and guests took in a performance of Movin' Out, the dance-filled Broadway musical based on Billy Joel's songs with a strong Vietnam War content, and met after the performance with several cast members and with Twyla Tharp, the show's honored choreographer. Two weeks later, Tharp won the 2003 Tony Award for her Movin' Out choreography, and Billy Joel and Stuart Malina took home Tonys for best orchestration. To see photos of the May 21 night, go to http://vva.org/ny126/index/htm

The Vietnam Center at Texas Tech held a one-day seminar in Washington, D.C., on May 13. The day's speakers were Joe Galloway; U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), who flew F-4s in Vietnam and spent nearly seven years as a POW in North Vietnam; James R. Reckner, director of the Texas Tech's Vietnam Project; historian Larry Berman, the director of the University of California's Washington, D.C. Center who has written extensively about the war; and Lewis Sorley, the former West Point professor who served in Vietnam as executive officer of a tank battalion and is the author of Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of His Times and other books.

The Library of Congress' Veterans History Project (VHP) took a step into another dimension on May 16. On that day, 21 of the 7,000 personal stories collected by the library from veterans went on line on the LOC web site, www.loc.gov/vets  The VHP is run through the Library's American Folklife Center. It collects and preserves oral histories and documentary materials about America's veterans from World War I, World War II, and the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf Wars, as well as from the civilians who served on the home front. Veterans featured on the site include Vietnam veterans Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.).

David Willson and Bruce Solheim, the publishers of the always-excellent Viet Nam War Generation Journal, have called it quits. The final, double-size issue, dated April 2003, contains a top-notch assortment of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and reviews, along with a special tribute to novelist Robert Olen Butler. Also in the journal vein: The latest issue of WLA: War Literary & the Arts, published by the U.S. Air Force Academy's Department of English and Fine Arts, contains a good deal of Vietnam War material.

You can learn more about the country rocking band VETTZ at their website,
www.vettzband.com The self-described ``rag-tag group of veterans'' is made up of founder and frontman Wayne Barker, Jr., the lead vocalist, main songwriter and rhythm guitarist; Donnie Ross, the lead guitar player; Peter ``Beck'' Beckett on keyboards (formerly with Jeff Beck, Freddie King, and REO Speedwagon); single-named Rob, the drummer; and Lee David, on bass and acoustic guitar.

Part of the proceeds from sales of the CD of the six-minute song, ``Vietnam, That's How It Is,'' by Australian Vietnam veteran Dave Cook will be donated to Australian veteran-related charities. Cook's tune tells his life story after returning from Vietnam in 1971, including his war-related emotional problems. For info, go to www.vietnamthatshowitis.com

Dave Keeton, who served in Vietnam in 1967-68, has produced Welcome Home, a CD of six of his country tunes, each of which deals with the Vietnam War and Vietnam veterans. That includes ``I Dream of Vietnam,'' ``America, I Started Loving You Again,'' and ``The Wall.'' For info, write: 402 Division St., Union City, MI 49094.

   

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