Gary Sheahan’s D-Day

June 5th, 2014by Olivia MahoneyFiled under: Collections, Exhibitions, Stories

Friday, June 6, 2014, marks the seventieth anniversary of D-Day when Allied forces invaded Europe to defeat Nazi Germany. D-Day is one of the most thoroughly documented events in modern history, but few people know that a Chicago artist captured it on paper.

Joseph “Gary” Sheahan (1893–1978) was born in Winnetka, Illinois. He studied at the University of Notre Dame and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before joining the Chicago Tribune as an illustrator in 1922.

Shortly after World War II broke out, the fifty-year-old Sheahan volunteered to serve as an artist-correspondent. He initially spent time in the Pacific before joining the European effort. On June 6, 1944, Sheahan and about 160,000 Allied forces boarded more than 5,000 ships and crossed the English Channel under the protection of 13,000 aircraft. Landing at five beaches in Normandy, France, the Allies suffered an estimated 10,000 casualties before breaking through German lines to gain a toehold in Europe.

Crossing the English Channel, June 6, 1944
Watercolor on paper by Gary Sheahan, 1944
Gift of Gary Sheahan, ICHi-68246

Sheahan’s Crossing the English Channel shows the invasion in process. Notice that many vessels towed large barrage balloons to protect against possible German bombing attacks that never came. His Normandy after D-Day is of Normandy Beach after the invasion.

Normandy after D-Day, June 8, 1944
Watercolor on paper by Gary Sheahan, 1944
Gift of Gary Sheahan, ICHi-68461

Sheahan worked until the war ended, painting more than a hundred battle scenes and sketching nearly one thousand Chicago-area servicemen and servicewomen for the Tribune, which featured his work on a regular basis to give a local dimension to the global story. In 1957, Sheahan donated his WWII sketches to the Museum for the edification of future generations.

Part of the great armada along the coast of Normandy, June 8, 1944
Watercolor on paper by Gary Sheahan, 1944
Gift of Gary Sheahan, ICHi-68451

Gary Sheahan’s Crossing the English Channel is on display in the Unexpected Chicago case in the Museum’s Kolver Family Lobby through the end of June.

> Watch film footage from D-Day, narrated by soldiers’ firsthand accounts

> Visit the National D-Day Memorial

> Explore the National WWII Museum in New Orleans

> Explore the Unexpected Chicago archive

> Support the Museum’s collection

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