Colonel Jennifer N. Pritzker, IL ARNG (Retired) has found a gracious, powerful means to share her knowledge, passion for history, and patriotism through the founding of The Pritzker Military Museum & Library in the Monroe Building at 104 South Michigan. This 1912 Neo-Gothic Romanesque 16 story historic skyscraper designed by Martin Roche of Holabird and Roche now proudly houses the Pritzker collections on floors two through four. The interior has been lovingly restored through a recreation of original design elements including Rockwood tile floors, walls, and vaults, decorative iron elevator grilles, doors, and hardware. This is a perfect setting for Drawn to Combat & the Art of War exhibit on the second floor which opens Friday, May 14, 2001. The Pritzker Museum owns the largest collection of satirist Bill Mauldin’s original artwork. The display expertly and carefully curated by James Brundage, who spent two years documenting Mauldin’s prolific amazing artwork while celebrating Mauldin’s fifty-year career. It features 125 original Mauldin drawings. You can, if you look closely, see where he has used Wite-Out correction fluid to redraw lines on some of his work. In addition, there are another thirty-five reproduced images and more than twenty original artifacts.
Bill Mauldin says of himself that he was able to draw before he could talk. His art was able to change his circumstances and reflect his experiences. He was born in 1921 and grew up poor in New Mexico but rich in military family history. While still in high school he joined the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC). This solved his clothing budget problem. During high school, he concentrated his studies on journalism. His art teacher and the editor of the school newspaper encouraged him to pursue a career in cartooning. He studied cartooning courses at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts elevating his raw talent into fine art with motion and perspective. These experiences served him well when he became a soldier in 1940 and later a nationally syndicated political cartoonist. In 1943 he participated in D-Day in Sicily as a gunner. At age 23 he won his first Pulitzer. In World War II he created two downtrodden infantrymen, Willie and Joe, beloved by the regular army, but not so much by Lt. General George S. Patton, Jr. who raged that at the Stars and Stripes cartoonist contending he should be fired and thrown in the brig. Mauldin and his truth survived Patton’s threats with General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s intervention. He was capturing the true account of military experience on the front with wit providing comic relief to our brave men fighting for freedom.
Returning stateside Mauldin continued to aim daggers at societal foibles and institutionalized injustices. He transitioned into attacking political leaders in place of the military commanders. In 1959 working at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch William H. (Bill) Mauldin won his 2nd Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Cartooning. He won for his cartoon portraying the Soviet Union writer Boris Pasternak as a Soviet prisoner asking another Gulag prisoner “I won the Nobel Prize for literature; what was your crime?” He was not only an amazing artist but always used his medium for commendable public causes. In 1962 he joined the Chicago Sun-Times where he remained until his retirement in 1981. His iconic Grieving Lincoln crying over the over the assassination of President Kennedy was published in the Sun-Times.
Bill Mauldin led a most interesting life covering wars including World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. He was a friend to President Lyndon Johnson. Although they disagreed on some issues, President Johnson was a fan of his cartoons even the unflattering ones. Actor Tom Hanks also a fan wrote the preface to Drawing Fire the editorial cartoons of Bill Mauldin available at the Pritzker bookshop. Bill Mauldin passed away in 2003, yet his legacy continues to be relevant to today’s issues. Curator James Brundage aptly explains Mauldin’s genius, “What makes Mauldin so unique and forward-thinking is his uncanny ability to take on complicated issues–veteran affairs, segregation, the civil rights movement, healthcare, and the economic inequalities in America and distill it into single images that force the viewer to examine their own biases.” His art will enthrall all and at times have you thoughtfully pausing and laughing out loud.
General admission to the Pritzker Museum and Library is $10.00. Seniors, students, and teachers with valid IDs is $8.00. Free admission for members, Active Military, and children under 12. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. CST For further information: Pritzker Military Museum & Library
Photos: Courtesy of Pritzker Military Museum & Library except for Grieving Lincoln Courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times