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Shepler, Dwight

American, 1905-1974
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About this Artist

Biography from the Archives of askART

Dwight Shepler

A painter, educator, graphic artist and illustrator, Dwight Shepler was a Navy combat artist during World War II from 1942 to 1946 and was awarded a Bronze Star for his achievements. He served on a destroyer in the Pacific and recorded action there as well as the D-Day invasion in France, and from his observations, painted more than 300 combat scenes. Many of his war illustrations appeared in American publications including "American Heritage" and "Life" magazine.

After the war, he became a pioneering watercolorist and did many landscape scenes including the ski country in New Hampshire where he was a member of the Concord Art Association. He also completed numerous portraits, did habitat backgrounds for the Boston Museum of Science and mural decorations for the US Naval Academy , Williams College and the Schubverein Ski Club in Glen, New Hampshire.

Shepler was born in Everett, Massachusetts and studied at the Boston Museum School of Fine Art from 1928 to 1929 and at Williams College, where he earned a BA degree in 1928. He was active in Boston and in 1969, served as President of the Guild of Boston Artists.

Sources include:
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"


Biography from The Navy Museum-US Navy Art Collection
Dwight Clark Shepler (1905-1974)

Born in Everett, Massachusetts in 1905, Dwight Shepler graduated from Williams College and taught painting in several Boston area schools. Best known for watercolors of his favorite sports - skiing and sailing - Shepler also created illustrations and advertisements for a number of major magazines and corporations. In May 1942, he already had applied for a commission in the Navy when he submitted a portfolio to the Navy's expanding officer-artist program, at the suggestion of Griffith Baily Coale, the New York artist responsible for overseeing the program from within the Navy's Office of Public Relations.

Commissioned Lieutenant Junior Grade in the Naval Reserve, Shepler was the first officer-artist to be sent into a combat zone. For his first tour, he reported to Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Honolulu, who gave his blessing to the project. A few days later, Shepler was standing watch and sketching on board the USS San Juan (CL-54), a cruiser headed for the South Pacific. It was on board the San Juan that Shepler saw his first action, in the Battle of Santa Cruz. After manning his battle station, he made sketches and notes, which he later turned into compelling depictions of the fight. One painting shows the San Juan narrowly escaping a Japanese dive bomber attack [ADD 88-199-BD]. Shepler finished as many paintings in the field as he could before clearing them with local censors and sending them on to Washington.

In late November 1942, Shepler left the San Juan, going ashore on Guadalcanal. There he accompanied Marines on patrol in the jungle and experienced almost daily shelling. He created vivid depictions of the treatment and evacuation of the wounded [ADD 88-199-AI].

After spending six months in the South Pacific, Shepler was sent to England, where he spent the summer and fall of 1943 illustrating antisubmarine warfare activities. Next, he received orders to report to the USS Emmons (DD-457).

On the night of 5 June 1944, the Emmons went into action to protect the minesweepers off the Normandy coast. During the first three days of the D-Day invasion, the ship gave fire support to the First Division on shore, often engaging in hot artillery duels with German batteries. On 11 June, Shepler made his own landing on Omaha Beach, and for the next two weeks, he recorded invasion operations. Afterward, he flew to London and, after a short trip to Cherbourg, returned to the United States. With events fresh in his mind, Shepler asked for permission to paint at his personal studio in Massachusetts, where he would have the quiet he needed to execute his ideas. It was there he completed one of his most dramatic canvases, "The Battle for Fox Green Beach," a panorama of the shore line action as he saw it from the Emmons. [ADD 88-199-ET]

Four months later, Shepler was sent back to the Pacific, to cover what many hoped would be the closing campaign against Japan. In late November, he reported on board the USS Flusser (DD-368) in the Philippines and witnessed the Ormoc landings on Leyte Island. He wrote his superiors that he had witnessed the severest episodes of his two-and-one-half years of duty and was amazed he had survived intact. He later saw action in the Lingayen Gulf on board a subchaser and then from a PT boat during the Corregidor and Bataan landings.

Finally at the end of May 1945, Shepler returned home to finish the paintings he had planned as well as to paint two large murals at the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1947, he left active duty and returned to his civilian subjects. For his service, Commander Shepler was awarded the Bronze Star.

In the 1960s the Navy reincarnated its art program with civilian artists, calling it the Navy Art Cooperation and Liaison (NACAL) Committee. Shepler signed on for a NACAL assignment in 1965 on board USS Claude V. Ricketts (DDG-5) to create a series of works about the ship's activities. Until his death in 1974, Shepler maintained his contact with the Navy and his art in the collection.

In addition to the dramatic battle scenes Shepler captured on paper and canvas, he was also very skilled at capturing faces. He coaxed a wide variety of people to sit for his pencil - from great commanders, such as Marine Corps Major General A.A. Vandergrift and Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., at Guadalcanal, to junior officers and enlisted men, to local civilians and Japanese prisoners of war. The Navy Art Collection contains 225 original works by Shepler. About 150 of these are watercolors. The rest are works in oil, charcoal, pastel or pencil.


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