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Exhibit commemorates Veterans Day anniversary with Wyoming doughboys, art from over there
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Exhibit commemorates Veterans Day anniversary with Wyoming doughboys, art from over there

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A new World War I doughboy statue stands inside the front porch of the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum, a rifle in one hand and a pair of German helmets in the other.

“It just evokes a lot of emotion for me,” curator Katey Bierman-Clinton said.

“The Victorious American Doughboy” by sculptor Avard T. Fairbanks will be unveiled Saturday during an opening for a new exhibit featuring Wyoming WWI veterans, which includes examples of art created in the trenches from the soldiers’ collections.

The statue captures the classic doughboy image that comes to mind when people think of World War I, according to Bierman-Clinton.

Her great-grandfather fought in the first World War, and his army photograph hung by her great-grandmother’s bed.

“So looking at this statue, I get to think of my great-grandpa that I never met. And it makes me happy and sad and proud all at the same time.”

The piece, donated by the late artist’s grandson, David Fairbanks of Wyoming, is a finished working model of a statue the state of Idaho commissioned Fairbanks to create. The Utah native studied at the prestigious École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts and was the youngest student admitted to the French Salon before his studies in Paris were cut short as World War I began, according the exhibit. The prolific sculptor taught at several universities and became known for his historical and religious sculptures, including works for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I am glad we are able to have it be the first thing that people see when they walk in now,” Bierman-Clinton said.

The new “Over There: Wyoming’s Doughboys” exhibit in the museum’s front porch spotlights Wyoming World War I veterans William “Hill” Campbell, Jonathan E. Frisby, Leo J. Jensen, George N. Ostrom and Shelby H. Van Burgh.

The exhibit showcases their stories along with photographs, documents and various other items including helmets, a gas mask, a company equipment notebook and uniform buttons donated by their families.

The exhibit tells some history of the war and its era, including how Veterans Day began with Armistice Day 100 years ago on the first anniversary of the end of World War I. Frisby’s case is around the corner in the main gallery and tells about his service in World War I and the Mexican Punitive Expedition.

“So we’re using his case to really showcase a conflict that not many people know about or remember,” Bierman-Clinton said.

Also on display are prints of drawings Ostrom created in the trenches from originals in the museum’s collection, as well as examples of trench art, including a picture frame made with cartridges and designs formed on spent artillery shell casings in the showcased solders’ collections.

“They’re as expressive as everybody else, and they express their experiences through artwork,” museum director John Woodward said. “Whether that’s working on a spent shell casing or drawing on a piece of butcher paper or using cartridges to create something else. So we wanted to make sure that was included in the exhibit.”

Art can be as powerful and telling as photographs, he said, pointing out details in Ostrom’s Marne Defensive scene with opening fire against the German lines, an explosion from German fire and lines of troops in the distance preparing to attack the German lines.

“We want to make sure that we honor our veterans, and one way to do that is putting out new exhibits.”

Follow arts & culture reporter Elysia Conner on twitter @erconner

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Many people don’t realize the strategy and overnight labor that goes into changing over from one event in time for the next, operations manager Matt Hinds said.

“You tear down one, you set up the next one,” he said. “And it’s not just a snap your fingers, it’s done. There’s a lot of physical work that goes on with these things. The current event, so to speak, is in the way of the upcoming event. We’ve got to get that one out to get the next one in.”

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