Vietnam Series
by Joan Tumpson
 
In September of 2001, I went to Vietnam. I hoped to find an impossible answer to persisting questions: What was war? Why did men make it? Also, I wanted to make amends in some still not very well understood way to the Vietnamese and to our soldiers who fought, suffered injuries and died there. I found neither answers nor forgiveness from those who fought there. No one was much interested in too little too late. The Vietnamese were busy building and growing; rice fields and intense green growth covered most of the bases and battlefields: life went on. At the war museum, there was a small industry selling (what I hope were) copies of US dog tags and engraved zippo lighters. I bought one. The works inside are new, but the copy has been aged and looks real outside. It has a captain's bars and says:

Saigon
68 - 69
WE CAME BECAUSE
WE BELIEVE
WE LEAVE BECAUSE
WE ARE DISALLUSIONED.*
WE COME BACK BECAUSE
WE ARE LOST
WE DIE BECAUSE
WE ARE COMMITTED

*That's the spelling on the lighter. . .

When the Twin Towers collapsed, I was asleep in a hotel in Dak To (we were 12 hours ahead of US time). The next morning was hard to assimilate; there were more questions, no answers and despite the surprising kindness of the Vietnamese, I just wanted to go home. There were no flights. It was unclear when international flights would be allowed in US airspace. I tried to focus on what was green and alive, the unrelenting force and intensity of growth, the songs of birds and the silence between birdcalls, to avoid panic. When I got back, I started painting-- and am still painting-- this series. They started more green and hopeful. With the war in Iraq, things seem darker.

The painting dedicated to Sidney L. Tumpson is a meditation on my Dad who died in 1999. He was a bombardier-navigator on a B-17 in the 8th Airforce during the Second World War. He never spoke of his war experiences. Now this begins to make sense.

The flag has names of some of the campaigns and battles in Vietnam and in the first Iraq war written in the red and white stripes, while the stars began to escape and fly like my songbirds.

 
 
War Fruit 1
Pastel on Paper, 12 1/2" h x 15 3/4" w
War Fruit 2
Pastel and mixed media on paper, 10" h x12 1/8" w
Dak To
pastel on paper, 27 1/2"h x 39"w
Homage to Sidney L. Tumpson
pastel on paper, 27 1/2"h x 39"w
Operation Nevada Eagle
pastel on paper, 27 1/2"h x 27 1/2"w
Cam Rahn Bay
pastel on paper, 27 1/2"h x 27 1/2"w
Operation Rolling Thunder
pastel on paper, 27 1/2"h x 39"w
Flag
pastel on paper, 27 1/2"h x 39"w
Operation Attleboro
oil on canvas, 30"h x 40"w
A Shau Valley
oil on canvas, 36"h x 72"w diptych
Tet Offensive (Hue)
oil on canvas, 30"h x 40"w
La Drang Valley
oil on canvas, 30"h x 40"w
Bird/Not Bird
oil on canvas, 30"h x 40"w
Preliminary Study VN #1
mixed media, 9"h x 12"w
Preliminary Study VN #2
mixed media, 9"h x 12"w
Study No. 1
mixed media, 14"h x 18"w
Study No. 2
mixed media, 14"h x 18"w

Study No. 3
mixed media, 14"h x 18"w
Operation Bolo
mixed media, 20"h x 24"w
VN Series/White Poppies 1
pastel on paper, 27 1/2"h x 27 1/2"w
VN Series/White Poppies 2
pastel on paper, 27 1/2"h x 27 1/2"w
VN Series - Leaf Study (gold)
mixed media, 30"h x 50"w
Floating World No. 1
18" h x 24" w, watercolor on paper

Floating World No. 2
18" h x 24" w, watercolor on paper

Floating World No. 3
18" h x 24" w, watercolor on paper

   
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Copyright © Joan Tumpson, 2004. All rights reserved.