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Kerr Eby (1889-1946)

Kerr Eby was born in 1890 in Tokyo, Japan, the son of Methodist missionaries from Canada. Returning to that country when he was three, Eby grew up studying art, which his parents encouraged, as his mother came from a family of prominent artists. As a boy he worked as a printer's apprentice in a newspaper office, which may have encouraged his interest in printing as an artistic medium.

After graduating from high school in 1907, Eby moved to New York City to study art, first at the Pratt Institute, and later at the Art Students League. During this period he formed a number of influential friendships with major artists such as John Henry Twachtman and Childe Hassam and joined a summer artists' colony founded by them at Cos Cob, Connecticut. He supported himself by working as a magazine illustrator and at the American Lithographic Company. Through study and practice, Eby refined both his drawing and printing techniques.

In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, Eby joined the U.S. Army. He tried to obtain a commission as an artist, but was assigned first to ambulance duty and later as a camoufleur to the 40th Engineers in France. During the war he documented in drawing what he saw and experienced and on his return to New York City, he translated his studies into prints. These works are powerful, reflecting his horror and disillusionment he felt. It was a subject that never left him. He continued creating out occasional war-related prints throughout the 1920's and 30's.

With another conflict beginning in the mid-1930's Eby wanted to show the world what war was really like. He pulled together works from his experience into a book entitled War. Though not strictly a pacifist, he wanted people to understand the horrible powers that could be unleashed. He believed that the cost of war should be understood, though it may be considered necessary.

When the United States declared war in 1941, Eby tried to enlist, but was turned down because of his age. He instead received his opportunity to participate when Abbott Laboratories developed its combat artist program. Between October 1943 and January 1944, he traveled with Marines in the South Pacific and witnessed some of the fiercest fighting of the war, landing with the invasion force at Tarawa and living three weeks in a foxhole on Bougainville. While on Bougainville he became ill with a tropical disease, one which weakened his health. He returned to the United States unable to regain his full strength. He completed his final drawings for Abbott and two unrelated etchings, but could not complete the etchings that he intended to make from his war pictures. He died in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1946.

There are 43 works by Kerr Eby in the Navy Art Collection.

Kerr Eby's work can be found in these collections:

Library of Congress
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco


Jungle Fighter
Kerr Eby #38
Charcoal, 1944
Gift of Abbot Laboratories

Unshaven and tired, clad only in his shorts and helmet, rifle slung over his shoulder for use against possible Japanese snipers, a Marine rifleman trudges along a path against the jungle background of a Pacific battlefield.


Ghost Trail
Kerr Eby #42
Charcoal and pastel, 1944
Gift of Abbot Laboratories

Specter-like in the dark gloom of the Bougainville jungle, Marine riflemen slog up to the front lines during the bitter campaign for the tropic stronghold.


Night Work
Kerr Eby #21
Charcoal, 1944
Gift of Abbot Laboratories

Marine 155 rifle "throwing them over" at night. The target is a concentration of Japanese on Bougainville.


Corpsman Works by Night
Kerr Eby #12
Charcoal, 1944
Gift of Abbott Laboratories

Casualties must move with the same care as combatants when fighting the Japanese. In this painting depicting a grim scene at the Bougainville front, a wounded Marine is kept warm by his buddy while hospital corpsmen creep noiselessly down into the foxhole to remove the casualty to the rear lines for treatment.


A Gift of Life From Home
Kerr Eby #18
Charcoal drawing, 1944
Gift of Abbott Laboratories

Blood plasma literally puts new life into the veins of a wounded Marine at Bougainville. Donated in the United States, and often flown to the front, plasma saves countless lives that would be lost without it.


Stretcher Scene
Kerr Eby #8
Watercolor and charcoal drawing, 1944
Gift of Abbott Laboratories

In some cases of serious wounds, blood plasma is injected in a continuous flow. Here a Marine casualty receives this treatment as he is borne back through a trail from the front lines in the Bougainville jungle.


Transfusion, Rendezvous Point
Kerr Eby #11
Charcoal, 1944
Gift of Abbott Laboratories

Painted from real life, this study portrays the administration of first aid and blood plasma to casualties during the campaign on Bougainville. At a station only a few hundred feet from the battlefront, the wounded are prepared for the grueling and hazardous trip back to a base hospital.


Jeep Turns Ambulance
Kerr Eby #43
Pastel drawing, 1943
Gift of Abbott Laboratories


One of the great innovations of the war, the pug-nosed, pugnacious jeep, reveals a softer side of its nature as it becomes an ambulance on the Bougainville jungle front. Though often painfully jolting to the wounded on its journey through the twisted trails of the jungle, the jeep at least gets the casualties away from the firing lines speedily. Plasma transfusions are sometimes given en route, despite the rocky motion.

Online Exhibits that feature Kerr Eby's work
Amphibious Operations in the Pacific Theater

Marines in Action
Navy Medical Art of the Abbott Collection


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6 December 1999