Boerne and Beyond

Uncategorized November 30, 2013

For the first time in months, the tour is on pause.  In January it picks up again at the Palm Springs Air Museum, Palm Springs CA.   Now is a good time to reflect on the last, almost three years since this project started and the many conversations with WW II veterans.

Last month at the Collings Foundation WW II weekend event in Stow MA  I met a wonderful man, Basil LeBlanc. WW II Canadian veteran.  As usual, traveling with my easel, the work opened up a conversation.  The pain of the war was front and center for him.  That day he was surrounded by everything WW II including a loud re-enactment going on outside the hanger where we talked.  “Not a day goes by without thinking of that awful war,” he said.   We started a correspondence when I mentioned to his sons wanting to include him in my exhibit.  Basil wrote me a two page letter with the photos of himself I’d requested.   I divulged more of  my innermost feelings to you than I have to anybody including my wife, and I found it to be a relief knowing that was not unique to me.”   That line has meant the most to me and is comforting when I feel frustration about the future of the tour.

I had also met Ellen Moore, born in Barre VT, a granite quarry town noted for the marble it’s contributed to Arlington National Cemetery.   She had moved to Boerne to be closer to her daughter after her husband died.  Ellen grew up in a less than ideal household, family issues and a lack of love pushed her into adulthood faster than most kids.  By WW II she was living in Hartford CT working as a “Rosie”, her photo making the Hartford Courant newspaper showing her grinding off burrs on a rifle bolt.   Our second visit she shared her photo album, many showing a pixie of a redhead (she translated the b/w photos).  Her style was sophisticated and by the number of photos of her kissing a sailor, GI and airman, it was obvious she didn’t hurt for dates.  Joking with her about the “hot” photos, Ellen’s response was, “I was kissing the uniform, not the man”.  I didn’t believe it.   The irony was no one, not even her first husband, ever told her how pretty she was.  The fact that I remarked on her beauty may have prompted her to ask my dating status.  “If I was twenty some years younger,” Ellen began.”I’d chase you and it wouldn’t be about the uniform.”  So cute.

Talking with Ariel, the library foundation director, I realized how close the tour was to not making it to Boerne.  “It was a big risk bringing you in,” she told me.” We had to think about the staff putting up with someone who could be a freak.”  That comment had been echoed in Amherst.   I was shocked. Of course, once the exhibit is set up, it’s clear to all how well it works.  But it explained why not a single email to another library over the last six months had been answered.   This tour requires  thinking outside the box.   Both Ariel and I were glad she did.   But I have to overcome that hurdle.  My goal: the world.  There are so many stories to be captured on paper and canvas.   As my high school friend Cynthia May relayed to me from a friend of hers who’s been following my tour: “he’s on his life’s mission.”   That is what keeps me believing in it even during down times.

Boerne Texas represented the first swing out of the northeast.  Palm Springs will be home for four months.  No question, more conversations will flow.  As I say everyday walking into to a facility, “I have no idea what will happen”.  And something always does.



For over three decades my profession was as an author and illustrator of children's books. Firefighters A to Z (McElderry Books/S&S) was chosen as a "Best Book" by the NY Times (2000). Over 100 titles are attached to my name. In 2011 my life changed the moment I saw a photo of a WW II fighter pilot. Nineteen year old Griffin Holland, P-47 pilot stood erect on the wheel of his plane, staring off into the distance, cocky as all get out. The need to paint that photo and Griff's tearful reaction to it as an 88 year old man set this journey in motion.

Comments 3

  1. Louise Reilly says on December 1, 2013

    Thank you for keeping me in the loop, Chris. Let’s hope with 2 libraries under you belt you will have established your bone fides so that things will go more smoothly from now on. Kudos to those who are willing to think outside the box. Where are you now?

    I have been to Atlanta and back then to Greenwich for Thanksgiving where my son-in-law once again behaved badly. They are headed for counseling big time. It is so sad that Patrick can not get out of his box which is covered with layers of window dressing: Irish chotchkis (sp?), American flags, crucifixes and the like. First generation Irish with a Capital I, he definitely is, but great patriot and good Christian not so much. His comfort zone is circumscribed by his metropolitan bubble, troubled family, and a few friends who live in that bubble. So so sad with Liz expecting her 3rd in April and her youngest about to turn 2. I want to sweep her and the kids up and whisk them away to Never Never Land. That, I guess is the Mama Bear in me.

    Sorry to go off, but it helps to rant a bit. Refreshing to read about your wonderful adventure. Please continue to keep me in the loop of your adventures that I believe will be very good and many.

    xo Louise

    PS Watch out for those older women! Date: Sat, 30 Nov 2013 20:45:38 +0000 To:

  2. Tom Lynn says on December 1, 2013

    I checked the Boerne library web site several times during your visit there. Except for a single photo, with no explanation of what it represented, there was nothing. I felt bad about this. But I hope the overall experience from the populace was positive. There’s a lot to appreciate in what you are doing. But because it’s so ‘outside the box’ of day to day reality, it takes some time to grasp the truly remarkable nature of the project. For me, being a student of history, and WWII in particular, I was immediately struck by the relevance of your work. But for others, it may take more time.

    • wwtwotravelingportraitexhibit says on December 2, 2013

      Thanks Tom. As I wrote, no one seems to get it until I’m there. And then getting people to push it, advertise it is frustrating. A single month in a place is barely time enough to scratch the surface and even the director kicked herself for not doing more. I am frustrated that it seems the contact with USAA has fizzled w/o it ever really getting off the ground. That said, it is my assumption the Palm Springs Air Museum will be more in tune with the process of promotion and with four months there, it might just be the pivotal point to take this tour to the next level (or at least sustain it at that one). Thanks for your continued support.

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