Setting the Stage
Marty Lucas: What is Private Art? And, what does it mean to you?
Rebecca Hargrave: Private Art is a Web site that chronicles one U.S. soldiers stint in the Army during World War II through his letters to and from home. The letters
give a really interesting view of war, not only from the front lines which is what you usually read about in books but also through the eyes of the people back home.
Marty Lucas: One of the things that strikes me about Private Art is that its
the story of one persons journey from a relatively innocent adolescence in
middle America; from there hes thrust into a worldwide conflict. He changes, and the world around him changes too. How did you reflect that in making Private Art?
Rebecca Hargrave: We let the letters speak for themselves, and let the people
tell their own stories. We didnt edit the letters, we didnt correct the grammar, we didnt do anything like that. One reason this story works so well on the Web is everybody likes to see the little guy succeed.
During the war, a Private
I mean how little of a guy can you be?
Private Arts story could happen to anyone. Hes one guy, an average Joe from the Midwest Covington, Kentucky. Little did he know that his first major life experience was going to be one of the most monumental events in our history. Its really funny in the letters in the beginning, when hes in boot camp before he sees any combat. The stuff thats important to him may at first seem really bizarre. Things like coat hangars and soap just everyday things. It makes you realize that this could happen to anybody.
Reading his letters from the front, you soon find out that the soldiers didnt say much about the war. That was partly because of censorship rules, but also the soldiers really didnt want to let people know what was going on at the front lines. They wanted to protect their family from undue stress. Thats hard for us to understand in this media crazy society we live in today.
Theres a section on the site called Private Art Remembers that Private Art wrote in the present day. Thats where he tells about some of the things he saw.
But he didnt talk about combat much in the letters themselves.
He didnt want his mother to worry, or his brother and sister.
Marty Lucas: Each letter has a little photo-icon that shows a picture of its author the way they looked at the time. Private Art is in uniform, of course.
I found that helped me develop a sense for the characters that
make up the story.
That was by design. It helps put a human face on the war experience
and helps involve the audience more in the story.
Ive found that people want to read all the letters by a particular
character because they become so involved on a personal level.
One character people really relate to is Private Arts little brother, Ralph. In his letters you literally see him grow up through the war. When the story starts, he makes little jokes with his brother but by the end hes a completely different person.
Marty Lucas: Where is the Private Art site going now?
Rebecca Hargrave: We posted our last letter from Private Art to home on the 16th of October (1999) so were looking at next-generation type of things that we can do. People are asking us to put actual scans of the letters online. Those tell a story that words just cant convey. A lot of them have doodles by Private Art and by his little brother, Ralph, who became an accomplished artist. Its just really interesting, so were going to be adding that next year.
Marty Lucas: So it goes on.
Rebecca Hargrave: It goes on.
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