By Nancy Bellantoni and Janice Blake
On October 7, 1942, Nat Bellantoni left art school to join the U.S. Navy Seabees. Eight months later he found himself in a place as dissimilar to New England as one could imagine – the South Pacific. Constantly vulnerable to enemy attack, living and working in a bizarre and deadly jungle environment, Nat was forever longing for home. He turned to the coping mechanism he knew best – he created a visual diary.
“The Battalion Artist” explores the three years, three months and three days of Nat’s life on the Pacific front in World War II. He had known since childhood what he wanted to be and when he joined the service, he was already an artist. When he packed his sea bag and left his family and sweetheart to go to war, he knew that the best way to manage the narrative of his life and to cope with the ups and downs of his feelings was to create images. These visual records describe in ways that words cannot what he felt, as well as what he saw.
Through the sketchbooks, drawings and watercolor painting, plus hundreds of photographs, documents and memorabilia that he brought back from the South Pacific, Nat Bellantoni created a time capsule of his active duty during World War II. In 2012, at his request, Nat’s daughter Nancy Bellantoni along with writer Janice Blake, opened the ‘time capsule’ and “The Battalion Artist” is the result.
World War II remains one of the most studied and discussed conflicts in global history. While many are familiar with the cost of human lives and the effort necessary to stem the advance of the Axis powers, the engaging visual dynamic of a book such as this brings events into an entirely new light. As far from a documentary as can be imagined, “The Battalion Artist” did not begin as a means to tell a story, yet it has resulted in one that is absolutely captivating. Rather than expert commentary, the views of a Seabee in the midst of the ‘Island War’ provide a vivid and immersive portrait. The story is personal and intimate, yet as individual as it is, “The Battalion Artist” will resonate with everyone who has even the slightest interest or curiosity about life in the Pacific. Through carefully selected images, the essence of battle is captured.
In this stunning book, filled with authentic World War II images, many of which are in full color, readers see and feel the intensity of wartime life through the eyes of the talented young art student from Boston. As a U.S. Navy Seabee, he was deployed throughout the Pacific during the intense period of 1943 through 1945. Upon returning home, his sea chest of art and photographs documented Nat’s experiences in New Caledonia, New Guinea, the Admiralty Islands and Okinawa. While overseas, Nat did not have to look far for his subject matter. His daily life, which included endless weeks at sea, harbors and ships, men at work, airstrips, the islands he was stationed on and the view from his foxhole of enemy planes overhead, tell a very compelling story. The collection offers a window into one of the most significant moments in American history. Lavishly illustrated, “The Battalion Artist” explores the World War II experiences of Nat Bellantoni, but it reflects the story of an entire generation.
It will become a cherished volume for anyone who has served this country and will undoubtedly bring tears to the eyes of anyone who was there in the Pacific during that difficult and remarkable period of the Second World War.
About the Authors
Nancy Bellantoni (Editor) carefully searched through her father’s extensive South Pacific collection for the materials that best illustrated the context of the wartime art presented. She is the co-founder a Movidea, a design and marketing strategy firm in Boston.
Janice Blake (Writer) has taught writing at Harvard Business School and edited books for the Brazelton Institute and the Harvard University Business School Press.
Natale Bellantoni (Illustrator) was assigned to the U.S. Navy’s 78th Construction Battalion in the South Pacific, during WWII. He later had a successful career as an art director in Boston.
“The Battalion Artist” is published by Hoover Institution Press and is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and wherever fine books are sold.