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Guide to the Ben Brown World War II Drawings Collection
  PR 274

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Kelly McAnnaney

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 28, 2017
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Title: Ben Brown World War II Drawings Collection
Dates: 1943-1945
Abstract: The collection contains 131 loose drawing and two sketchbooks of drawings and paintings in graphite, colored pencil, pen and ink, pastel, and watercolor. The drawing are of soldiers and their daily lives during World War II as well as landscapes of Italy and North Africa. There is also a photograph album documenting Brown's experiences during the war.
Quantity: 2.25 Linear feet (3 boxes)
Location note: Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections
Call Phrase: PR 274

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Biographical Note

Ben Brown was born Ben Hurwitz in 1921 in the Bronx, New York. He attended the High School of Music and Art in New York and after graduation studied art at the University of Iowa before enlisting in the United States Army in 1942. In 1943, after basic training, he was shipped to North Africa and then to Italy a few months later. During his two years in the service, he kept a record of his experiences by sketching and painting whenever he had the chance.

Hurwitz changed his name to Brown after the war. He put aside his war sketches but continued to work in the arts as a painter, cartoonist and photographer. In 1995, just two years before his death, his son Joshua Brown convinced him to revisit his wartime drawings. A selection of his work, along with Brown's comments, can be found online on the History Matters website: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/text/s1.html.

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Scope and Content Note

The Ben Brown World War II Drawings Collection spans the period from 1943 to 1945 and contains 131 loose drawings and painting and two sketchbooks made during Brown's time in the United States Army during World War II. Images primarily include soldiers in North Africa and Italy, on duty and at rest. It also contains a photo album and clippings from Brown's tour of duty.


The collection is divided into three series:

Series I. Drawings; Series II. Sketchbooks; and Series III. Album

The drawings are further sorted by size and arranged by subject and location, when known.

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Access Points

Document Type

  • Pen and ink drawings.
  • Sketchbooks.
  • Watercolor paintings.

Subject Topics

  • Soldiers.
  • United States. Army.
  • War artists -- United States.
  • World War, 1939-1942 -- Campaigns -- Africa, North.
  • World War, 1939-1942 -- Campaigns -- Italy.

Subject Places

  • Algeria -- Pictorial work.
  • Italy -- Pictorial work.

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Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to twenty exposures of stable, unbound material per day. See guidelines in Print Room for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to reproduce any Print Room holdings through publication must be obtained from:
Rights and Reproductions
The New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 270
Fax: (212) 579-8794

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as: Ben Brown World War II Drawings Collection, PR 274, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.

Related Material at the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections

Additional material related to World War II can be found in the World War II Photograph Collection (PR 076) and the Robert L. Benney Reference Collection (PR 250). The museum holds other artists' drawings, paintings and sketchbooks.

Acquisition note

Gift of Joshua Brown, 2008 and 2017.

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Container List

Series I: Drawings

Scope and Contents note

Drawings are arranged by subject and location, when known. Drawings larger than 6 x 8 3/4 inches are housed separately, listed as Oversize drawings. The series contains work in graphite, charcoal, colored pencil, pen and ink, pastel and watercolor and includes portraits of soldiers, depictions of their daily lives, as well as images of the towns and countryside they passed through in North Africa and Italy. Brown drew his fellow soldiers constantly, sketching them working, traveling, eating, playing cards, drinking, fighting and sleeping. The series contains a large number of sketches aboard a transport ship, showing the cramped quarters that the soldiers endured while at sea. Brown also sketched injured soldiers being treated both in an unidentified hospital and aboard the hospital ship Arcadia. Images of soldiers in North Africa include a small painting of a patisserie in Sidi Bel Abbes. Two children peer in the bakery window while soldiers loiter out front. Brown drew several images of soldiers at play that are especially evocative. He labeled these images with titles like "Hot Dice" and "Jumpin' Jive." "Naples Bout," a small pen and ink sketch, shows a lively group of soldiers watching a boxing match.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Civilians
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Soldiers - Miscellaneous
1945, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Soldiers - Italy
1944, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Soldiers - North Africa
1944, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Soldiers - Asleep
1944, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 6-7 Soldiers - Injured/In the hospital
1944, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 8 Soldiers - Injured/In the hospital - Hospital Ship Acadia
Box: 1 Folder : 9-10 Soldiers - In the field
1944, undated
Box: 2 Folder : 11 Soldiers - Portraits
1944, undated
Box: 2 Folder : 12 Soldiers - Recreation
1943-1944, undated
Box: 2 Folder : 13 Soldiers - Recreation - Italy
Box: 2 Folder : 14 Soldiers - Shipboard
Box: 2 Folder : 15 Landscapes, Seascapes and Genre Scenes
1944-1945, undated
Box: 2 Folder : 16 Landscapes and Genre Scenes - Italy
Box: 2 Folder : 17 Landscapes - United States
Box: 2 Folder : 18 Still Lifes and Studies
1943, undated
Box: 2 Folder : 19 Still Lifes and Studies - Italy
1944, undated
Box: 2 Folder : 20 Studies - North Africa

Subseries I.A: Oversize Drawings

Scope and Contents note

Oversize drawings range from 6 x 9 inches to 8 x 10 1/2 inches in size and contain work in graphite, pen and ink, pastel, watercolor and acrylic. Included are several North African and Italian landscapes, drawings and paintings of soldiers at work and at play and a number of layouts. One particularly interesting piece, done in acrylic, shows soldiers peering in a bar window. Soldiers inside can be seen drinking and socializing. Layouts include a poem by Elma Dean paired with a sketch of two soldiers; a cautionary drawing of cigarettes and the statement "A Dead Give Away"; and several pages showing sketches and boxes blocked out for text.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 22 Soldiers - Italy
Box: 3 Folder : 23 Soldiers - Recreation
Box: 3 Folder : 24 Landscapes - Italy
Box: 3 Folder : 25 Landscapes - North Africa
Box: 3 Folder : 26 Layouts

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Series II: Sketchbooks

Scope and Contents note

This series contains two spiral bound sketchbooks filled with graphite, charcoal and pen and ink drawings. The smaller book, approximately 4 x 5 inches in size, has drawings Brown created in Italy in 1944. These sketches illustrate the soldiers' daily lives; reading, playing cards and standing guard. A few landscapes and character studies are included.

The larger book, approximately 6 x 9 inches in size, also contains graphite and pen and ink sketches done in Italy in 1944. These sketches show soldiers digging trenches, laying wire, bathing and sleeping. Many are captioned with short descriptions of the scenes. One sketch shows men bathing in a well with a caption that describes the excitement of bathing in cold water under the warm sun. Another image simply labeled "Street of Fear," depicts a dark, rubble filled walkway in an unidentified city. This sketchbook also contains several portraits of Brown's fellow soldiers along with some description of their quirky personalities.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 21 Small & large sketchbooks

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Series III: Album

Scope and Contents Note

Album of photographs taken by Ben Brown when he was in the military in WWII. Includes two clippings, one regarding Brown and his drawings. Album has been disbound.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 4 Folder : 1-7 photographs and clippings

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