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Singer Letters : Illuminated Letters

Letters from Arthur Singer

Arthur spent 1943 in Fort Meade in Maryland, and was determined to work on his art while he was in the Army. He often discussed his art with his wife Judy, and he sent home the paintings and sketches that he wanted to keep. He usually sketched on artist paper, but in 1943 he also was in the habit of sketching or painting directly into his letters to Judy. Most of these artworks were animal studies, in watercolor or ink.

These are the letters that Arthur wrote to Judy that featured his artwork. His letters to her were often romantic and longing, but we also get some wonderful insights into his interest in jazz music, life in the barracks, and the training that the unit was doing to prepare for Europe.

watercolor painting of a train

1943 Train Sketch

I hope you don’t mind the change of atmosphere it’s the exact opposite of serene animal designs.

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antelope and several birds in watercolor

1943 Wildlife Sketch

This is kind of a weird thing. I certainly did not start with anything like this in mind, it just happened.

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watercolor painting of a herd of zebras and gazelles

1943 Zebra Sketch

I got up late because of the party last night at Sherwood Forest. It is a very exclusive “hoity-toity” place if you know what I mean. I would be very curious to know how many Jews are allowed in. However, I did manage to have a good time. There were girls there, of course, and they were all quite young. I was fortunate in finding a girl who was a marvelous dancer and it really was a pleasure because she had a good sense of rhythm.

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profile sketch of Duke Ellington

January 10, 1943

No Army vehicle, equipment, construction or even barracks can be shown in a photograph or drawing or printing. In the area where we work there is an old tree the likes of which I have never seen. It’s truly amazing and I wanted to paint it today but it was snowing here and I also had a ticket to the show Blithe Sprit so I didn’t paint today.

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ink sketch of a lizard

May 5, 1943

The reason for using the lizard drawing in this letter is because one of the fellows in the barracks caught one. I just finished this little drawing from life. It stayed absolutely still for me.

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watercolor painting of a mountain lion

June 29, 1943

Monday, and I finished up a poster. All the artwork is now completed and we are all busying ourselves with reproducing the remaining ones. We worked at night Monday until 9 o’clock. This Monday and Tuesday we reproduced 17 posters!! Four of these were my own and boy did they turn out swell! I’m quite happy about them.

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ink sketch of a gazelle

July 3, 1943

Well, our art project is completed right on schedule. We’ve made an excellent showing, I believes. I don’t think it’s going to get us anywhere but if more artwork comes up we will get preference. All in all I did nine posters.

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blue ink sketch of forest and a lizard

July 6, 1943

This morning as I walked around I observed a certain type of lizard that was running themselves throughout the area. A gorgeous and graceful little thing colored lemon yellow along the sides and turning into a gorgeous brown on top and the underparts were a beautiful pale grey blue. Along its sides were black strips – what a color combination!

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watercolor painting of a water buffalo

August 1, 1943

What I liked was that all the songs were old favorites like Ain’t Misbehavin’[,] I Can’t Give you Anything But Love and the like with blues and some modern Calloway jive. It reminded me exactly of the innumerable times I’ve been backstage with these very same entertainers.

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watercolor painting of gazelles painted on the page of a book

August 7, 1943

You know that the place we moved into was previously inhabited by negroes. And the surrounding area is still full of them. You should have heard the howl that went up from all our “Southern Rebel Nigger haters” it was absolutely revolting to hear it. How is it possible to have a real democracy in this country with such bigoted people. You could never change their minds no matter what you would do.

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watercolor painting of a running gazelle

September 15, 1943

Today was different. We went through the much publisized [sic] infiltration course today, you’ve heard about it, haven’t you? You crawl over the terrain with live machine gun fire twenty inches from the ground and charges of dynamite exploding around you. Sounds terrible doesn’t it. Well, I didn’t mind it at all, I almost liked it!

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watercolor painting of a lake

September 19, 1943

This weekend is an unusual one to say the least. We are working! Almost all the company left for the range this morning and everyone had to get up at 5:30 A.M. – ON SUNDAY! Horrible isn’t it?

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watercolor painting of the hind end of a cat

October 2, 1943

And was I lucky, I got Room Orderly detail for Saturday which meant that I didn’t have to worry about the foot-locker inspection, which the room orderly does not have to stand, and rifle inspection! All I had to do was spend a few moments shining my shoes!

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watercolor painting of a deer

October 14, 1943

I haven’t had much of a chance to do any artwork this week, I may try to do some tonight. I must get a haircut and return a book so I may have to let it wait ‘til the weekend. I want to do some badly. Hapgood finally told confirmed the story of the mural. It evidently isn’t coming about yet but I am on the list in the Adjutants office after certain men were already eliminated. I hope it comes true some day.

Well, I got my haircut tonight and have managed to knock off a little deer for you, I hope you’ll like it.

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ink sketch of a water buffalo

October 18, 1943

Big changes are due soon since the new T.O. is now a fact. There will be a shuffle in the platoons and about 15 men leaving, I heard I’m not on the list. As for ratings, noone knows, I’ve almost given up hope – you really don’t know how the Army is until you are in it.

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watercolor painting of a moose

November 8, 1943

There isn’t much to do tonight so I’ll just take it easy and perhaps make plans for some kind of artwork. Sunday’s work was pretty successful, I hope you’ll like it, it’s different than a lot of my work. I like the color in it. It’s swell, at least, to be able to do some artwork here, it keeps me inspired and moving along.

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painting of three anteaters

November 11, 1943

I somehow don’t care to go out to Baltimore or Washington nights, even though it gets to be a bringdown staying in the barracks. About the least one can get away with spending is two dollars. One for carfare, another for a meal (can’t get a good one for less) and then it costs more if one wants to see a show, movie or go to a record store.

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painting of a running bison

November 23, 1943

We are ready for the camouflage school and there wasn’t anything that had to be done today. I did have a job to do today – making a poster on correct and incorrect garnishing of a flatop. I worked on that until 2:30 PM and took it easy after that.

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