'Combat artist' Edward Reep featured in local exhibit

An exhibition of Edward Reep's work is displayed Friday, Sept. 2, 2016, in the Bakersfield Museum of Art in Bakersfield, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Bakersfield was home to artist Edward Reep for the last 25 years of his life, and while some of his pieces are shown in some major museums, a retrospective of his contributions is now on display at the Bakersfield Museum of Art.

Often referred to as a "combat artist," the exhibit highlights much more of his 80 years of constant work.

"If you go through the space, which is laid out chronologically, it's really a lesson in art history," museum curator Rachel Magnus told Eyewitness News on Friday.

The Edward Reep exhibit opened on Thursday night. Magnus said there are some 35 pieces in the show, and also about 40 photos.

The photos are from Reep's time during World War II, where Magnus said he served in Italy and North Africa. Magnus said Reep may be most famous for his work when he was in the military during the war, but there's much more to his career and contributions.

"He is known as a master watercolorist," she said. Magnus said Reep wrote a textbook on watercolor, which is still recognized today.

"It was the first book on the medium, and the goal was to validate watercolor as a final product," she said, "arguing that watercolor had enough merit and was capable of much more than people had previously assumed it was."

The exhibit starts with Reep's work as a student, then has post-war paintings, followed by more modern-looking pieces from the 50s and 60s.

The show includes one of the paintings Reep did as part of a 1956 spread in Life Magazine featuring scenes from international airports from around the world.

There are also about 40 photos in the exhibit from Reep's wartime work.

And from that work, there's a digital version of Reep's painting called "The Shrine."

"We grew up with that painting in our living room," Susan Reep told Eyewitness News. She said her father would never sell the painting, and it now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution American Art Museum.

Edward Reep had painted it from a photo taken in Bologna, Italy. As an American soldier, Reep was in the city the day it was liberated, and he took photos of what happened.

Much later, the painting eventually came to the attention of city leaders in Bologna. Last year, Susan Reep was in Bologna for a special "resistance day" celebration, which included honors for her father.

The painting shows a wall, hung with a flag, with small photos pinned to it.

"The Italians started coming up, and on this flag on the wall, they started to pin all these pictures of people that had been killed," Reep told Eyewitness News last year.

She said when historians from Bologna discovered the painting, that helped explain how the shrine had come into being.

Susan Reep helped the local museum identify her father's works which were in local collections, and the family contributed some pieces for the current exhibit.

"It is exciting, and is done so beautifully," Susan Reep said. "I wish my parents could see it, my father would be extremely pleased."

The show includes Reep's last painting done in 2003, according to Magnus.

"You see the power of the watercolor here with the transparency of the dragonfly wings," the curator described.

She said Reep was born in Brooklyn, New York and then the family moved to Southern California. He served in the war, and later got a Guggenheim Fellowship for that work. In 1970, Reep started work for a few years at a university in North Carolina. He retired in 1985, and then moved to Bakersfield because his daughter lived here, according to Magnus.

Edward Reep died in 2013.

The current exhibit at the Bakersfield Museum of Art will continue until Jan. 8, 2017.

The show celebrates eight decades of work by Edward Reep, and it's part of an anniversary celebration for the museum, too.

"Edward Reep is probably the most well-known artist who's associated with Bakersfield," Magnus said. "So, doing this retrospective, which in my opinion is long overdue on his work, could not be a better way to celebrate 60 years of this institution."

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