Giles paints Marine tribute

Published 10:06 pm Thursday, August 9, 2012

Suffolk native and artist Timothy Giles created this painting after realizing black Marines are underrepresented at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. This is a detail shot of the collage-style, watercolor painting. (Image courtesy of Timothy Giles)

A Suffolk native has created a painting, celebrating the first black Marines, that will be auctioned by the Montford Point Marine Museum.

Timothy Giles, himself a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, decided to do the painting after visiting the National Museum of the Marine Corps and finding little evidence of the contributions of blacks in the Marines.

“There was nothing, really, that showed anything about African-American Marines,” said Giles, who retains an active membership in the Suffolk Art League although he lives in Dumfries now.

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Giles decided to do something about it after lamenting the situation to a friend who said, “Well, you’re an artist, right?”

The massive watercolor painting measures roughly 60 by 58 inches. Done in collage form, it features images of the American flag, a bald eagle, the Statue of Liberty and other icons mixed with images of black Marines, the sign in front of Camp Lejeune, where the first black Marines were stationed, and more.

The groundwork was laid for the first black Marines to be accepted into the service in June 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order to establish fair employment practices in the government. In 1942, he established a presidential directive giving blacks an opportunity to be recruited into the Marine Corps, according to the website of the Montford Point Marine Association.

However, segregation prevailed, and the black recruits were trained at a separate facility at Camp Lejeune known as Montford Point. The practice continued until September 1949, the camp was desegregated and renamed Camp Johnson in honor of the late Sgt. Maj. Gilbert H. Johnson, one of the first blacks to join the Marines.

Last year, the group received the Congressional Medal of Honor. A depiction of the medal also is included in Giles’ collage.

Giles said his painting pays special tribute to the Montford Point Marines, but includes all black Marines.

“It’s a fascinating story,” he said. “I like to tell stories with my artwork.”

Giles said he chose collage style for the painting, because “when you’re really telling a story about a whole lot of people, the only way you can incorporate all those folks is to put it in collage form,” he said.

After he completed the painting, he contacted the National Museum of the Marine Corps to ask if they wanted to display it, but they turned him down and suggested the Montford Point Marine Museum, which decided to auction it as a fundraiser.

Giles said he is pleased the painting is getting recognition.

“I paint my artwork in an effort to know it will be around when I’m dead,” he said.

Giles added that he thanked God for his talent and Suffolk Art League Executive Director Linda Bunch, who has “always been an inspiration for me.”