Al Hurwitz, WWII combat artist, demonstrates technique

Al Hurwitz, 91, in front of clippings from wartime newspapers. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The hall at the VFW in Oak Bluffs was packed last Wednesday for a presentation by Al Hurwitz of Chilmark, a WWII combat artist who demonstrated some of his working methods.

Chief among those methods was staying alive, particularly in some of the bloodiest battles, like that on Peleliu, where the Japanese were dug into caves that had to be overrun one by one.

Mr. Hurwitz, a retired art teacher who now lives in Chilmark, used compressed charcoal to sketch volunteer models at the VFW event — in less than a minute.

In the field, he would sketch when he could, and then refine his images and add color when he was off the battlefield. His approach reflected his conviction that, “realism does not cut it,” as he said, preferring composite drawings and paintings.

Even nearly 70 years removed from his wartime experiences, Mr. Hurwitz’s recollections are exceptionally sharp as are his overall impressions of what he went through. “You’re in a society without women, without water and food, where everyone is trying to kill you, and yet you’re there with people who would risk their life to help you.”

After Mr. Hurwitz’s presentation, the gathering was serenaded by the OGRS, or Old Guy Rousing Songs, who sang some tunes from the era. The OGRS are Philip Fleischman, Philip Dietterich, John Banks, and Glen Carpenter.