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WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Standish Backus (1910-1989)


Emergency on the Flight Deck
Standish Backus #51
Watercolor, 1956


A scrambling, heroic effort had to be made on several occasions by the deck force of the ice breaker to save the helicopters which were breaking loose from their mooring in the mountainous seas between New Zealand and Antarctica. These vital pieces of equipment built by Sikorsky weigh some four tons each and with the ship rolling upwards of fifty degrees had become almost unmanageable and a threat to the lives of all on deck, who had to run great risks to secure them from crashing over the side.


Severing the Tow Lines
Standish Backus #40
Japanese ink and watercolor on paper, 1956



"With continued emphasis on the engineering, mechanical and electronic accomplishments of today's Navy, one hears less and less of the workaday activities of the still very vital deck force. The art of seamanship as practiced by the Coast Guardsmen of the icebreaker U.S.C.G.S. Eastwind brought great credit to their service in the eyes of Navy men and demonstrated repeatedly the sterling qualities required of men engaging in this rugged business. One such incident is here presented as U.S.C.G.S. Eastwind's bos'ns mates brave the icy blasts and congealing seas sweeping over the fantail in the 'sixties' south of New Zealand. The Navy's U.S.S. YOG-34, a small harbor tanker, is being towed to Antarctica. In the heavy going the rope and cloth chafing gear protecting the tow cable where it passes through the stern eye must be replaced every few hours. Frequently the men performing this and similarly essential jobs were the truly unsung heroes of the expedition." --Commander Standish Backus


The Antarctic Shrine
Standish Backus #58
Oil on canvas, 1957


"Sir Ernest Shackleton's historic British Antarctic Expedition of 1907 chose Cape Royds on Ross Island as the site of their headquarters. Today, fifty years later, it remains in much the same state as when they left it in 1909, even to their last meal still ready on the table. So free from deterioration and corrosion is this relic that much of the foodstuffs is yet edible, the magazines of the day quite unyellowed, and seemingly the only disarrangement has resulted from the screaming 100 mile per hour winds. In the painting, units of Task Force 43 may be seen several miles off Cape Royds fighting their way through frozen McMurdo Sound behind an icebreaker toward the base at Hut Point, thirty miles to the south. In the background the great mountains fifty miles away in Victoria Land peer under the overcast. The campsites of such early, heroic explorers as Scott and Shackleton have since been declared shrines by Admiral Dufek and are not to be molested in any way." --Commander Standish Backus


The Great Ross Ice Barrier
Standish Backus #39
Watercolor on paper, 1956

"The U.S. Bases at Kainan Bay [Little America V] and at McMurdo Sound [Hut Point] are separated by the width of the Ross Ice Shelf, a distance of about 500 miles. In making the passage between the bases along the face of the ice barrier, a sheer jagged wall of ice usually from 50 feet to 200 feet high, ships could expect to encounter not only a vast variety of sea ice, bergs in diverse stages of decay, strange meteorological phenomena where the comparatively warm sea air temperatures rubbed against the frigidity of the air from the ice cap, but could also observe the whole menagerie of wild life; whales, such as fin back, baleens, blues, bottle noses and killers; seals, birds, especially the snow petrels, sea gulls and especially the penguins. Here are shown the snow petrels, baleen whales, icebergs, ice floes, the barrier face in the background disappearing over the horizon at each end, the light sky over the barrier called 'ice blink' and the dark water 'water sky.' Navy icebreaker Glacier leads the cargo transport Arneb safely through the ice fields." --Commander Standish Backus


Ice Breaker Penetrating the Ice Pack
Standish Backus #47
Watercolor on paper, 1956


"Pack ice is composed of massed fragments of sea ice drifting with wind and current. Modern Icebreakers such as Glacier, Edisto and Eastwind normally transit such ice fields without difficulty or loss of speed. However, thinned skinned vessels must be protected from ice pressures against their hulls. This may be accomplished by leading the escorted vessel through the dangerous areas with its bow lashed firmly into the notched stern of the icebreaker. Here Eastwind is represented towing YOG-34 through the Ross Sea pack, while overhead one of the helicopters scouts the ice conditions." --Commander Standish Backus


Ghost of Little America III
Standish Backus #45
Watercolor on paper, 1956


"The site of the Bay of Whales, formerly a deep indentation in the face of the Ross Ice barrier, presented a weird display of ice formations resembling fortifications with towers and battlements. Completing this impression of the ruins of another civilization was the discovery of man-made objects such as fuel drums and strips of canvas exposed or hanging from the face of the ice shelf and marking the settlement known as Little America III dating from 1939. Once some miles from the open water, this part of the past, perfectly preserved, has moved seaward with time and next year will join the fleet of great tabular icebergs that drift always eastward around the continent. Annual visitors to the ice face from the north are the dazzling snow petrels." --Commander Standish Backus


The Road to Hut Point
Standish Backus #57
Oil on canvas, 1957


In McMurdo Sound, icebreakers came alongside the U.S.S. Wyandot, got the cargo and then ferried it up the channel through the heavy ice to deliver it to tractor trains on the ice shelf. Tractors dragged it by sled to the supply dump where it would be available for building the Air Operating Facility.

"The bay ice in McMurdo Sound being reluctant to break up and depart in keeping with the shipping schedule of Task Force 43, it remained for the ice-breakers to plow a furrow for themselves leading nearly sixty miles south from the open sea to a final position of six miles short of the base at Hut Point. It was a rocky road through ice ten feet thick. The broken fragments, having no place to go, had to be forced under the ships' bottoms and through the whirling propellers. The wear and tear of such beating, eventually accumulated broken propeller shafts in Edisto and Eastwind. Hut Point, in the painting, is at the base of the dark, triangular observation hill on her way to take on another load from the cargo ships. Offloading at the end of the cut channel is Edisto. White Island is the backdrop to the southeast."--Commander Standish Backus


Standish Backus #43
Drawing on Scratchboard,1956

The approved method of fastening a ship to the Antarctic Continent is to moor it to a dead man buried in the ice. A dead man is a husky piece of timber frozen into the firm sea ice with a steel cable strap passed around it through the ships hawser so that it may be released instantly should an ice alert or blizzard warning be sounded. Symbolically it might represent man's tenuous and probably temporary hold on Antarctica.


Online Exhibits that feature Standish Backus's work

The Navy Art of Standish Backus
The Japanese Surrender at Tokyo Bay
World War II Navy Art: A Vision of History
Operation Deepfreeze I: 1955-56:

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07 March 2003