For three years, three months, and three days, Nat Bellatoni of Massachusetts served in the South Pacific during World War II. Nat was a young artist and served with the Navy Seabees on different islands during the war, often not allowed to tell his loved ones where he was. As time allowed, even on short breaks, Nat would sketch his surroundings. Some of those sketches now see print, thanks to author Janice Blake, and Nat’s daughter Nancy Bellatoni.
Th sketches here are just that … sketches. But they range from a couple of quickly drawn lines to quite detailed works. It really is like paging through a sketchbook. This kind of first-hand account, from the ‘average’ enlisted man, is a rare treat. We get an honest (not media-hyped) look at the war and the men who served, and because of his locations, a sweet look at the Pacific islands.
The book is a little heavy with pre-book information. We have a full page dedication, a foreward, a note, a preface, and an introduction. Clearly everyone connected with the publication wanted to have something to say, which is too bad because we don’t really need this much preface to a book. There is also an afterward, two ‘abouts,’ acknowledgments, and an additional resources list in this 120 page book.
The information about Nat and his life is compact, but serves the book just right. We want to know a little bit about the man who made the art, but we don’t need an in-depth biography. We’re putting a face and a history to one of the hundreds of thousands of men who served our country during a great war. Janice Blake does this nicely.
I would have liked even more artwork. I was hoping to find more of a coffee-table art book with art on every page, but while there is a lot of art, there are also a fair number of photos here as well, giving the book a slight feel of not really being sure what sort of book this is. A history book? A biography? An art book? It’s a little bit of all three, but that’s trying to do a lot in 120 pages. Blake does manage to balance this well, but I never quite got away from the feeling that the book was going back and forth on what it was trying to present.
I liked the timelines included, showing us where in the world Nat was station during the war and what Nat painted during that time.
Overall, a really good book.
Looking for a good book? The Battalion Artist by Janice Blake is a good look at one Navy Seabee during World War II, and his sketchbooks from his time in the South Pacific and should appeal to war historians, as well as those who like art books and those who enjoy biographies.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Battalion Artist: A Navy Seabee’s Sketchbook of War in the South Pacific, 1943–1945
author: Janie Blake
artist: Natale Bellatoni
publisher: Hoover Institution Press
hardcover, 120 pages