Coast Guard Art Program: Putting missions on canvas

Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Iannazzosimmons

Artists and supporters await the naming of the winner of the 2015 George Gray Award at the Coast Guard Art Program's gallery display in New York City. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Iannazzosimmons.

Artists and supporters await the naming of the winner of the 2015 George Gray Award at the Coast Guard Art Program’s gallery display in New York City. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Iannazzosimmons.

The room grew quiet as the next few words began to echo through the speakers.

Artists present at the Coast Guard Art Program gallery sat taller in their seats with each passing moment waiting to hear if their submissions would be announced as the winner of the George Gray Award for this year’s collection.

“And the winner of the 2015 George Gray Award for artistic excellence goes to,” Charles Rowe stated, before taking a pause bringing the room to their seats edge. “Tyson Snow for his painting, ‘Fire Drill at Sea.’”

Tyson Snow, a fine art artist, has always had a passion for fine art and a desire for an outlet where he could create work that was powerful, personal and beautiful.

“Inspiration for me as an artist comes from focusing on the individual, especially when dealing with Coast Guard members,” said Snow. “The ships and the machinery are all very interesting in their own ways but I’m always more interested in the person who operates them. It’s that intimate experience of the individual driving a vessel or operating a piece of machinery that interests me most.”

The winning painting by Tyson Snow, entitled 'Fire Drill at Sea.'

The winning painting by Tyson Snow, entitled ‘Fire Drill at Sea.’

Snows painting, titled “Fire Drill at Sea”, depicts a Coast Guard member recording the sequence of events for a fire drill that took place aboard Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin, showing that there are many different jobs within the Coast Guard.

“I think when you mention the Coast Guard, people are familiar with what happens on the water,” said Snow. “When you watch films it’s the diver who always comes out and jumps into the water to save someone from drowning. But since working with the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Art Program I’ve realized there are 11 different missions. Everything from first responding and saving lives to just general research. It’s all very interesting. Yet people just don’t know about what the Coast Guard does.”

The Coast Guard Art Program makes use of fine art, like Snow’s, to educate diverse audiences about the Coast Guard. Today, more than ever, the service addresses an abundance of challenges as it works to maintain the nation’s security at home and abroad while executing its 11 statutory missions.

The Coast Guard’s art program is among the youngest of the art programs run by a military service. It traces its beginning back to 1980 when artist George Gray was chair of the Navy Art Cooperation and Liaison Committee at the Salmagundi Club in New York City.

When the Navy phased out this program, the Coast Guard asked Gray to create a similar program for the service.

From the start, the Salmagundi Club sponsored the art program, providing invaluable support and artistic guidance. By having such a renowned and respected cultural entity as sponsor, the once fledging art program was given prestige it otherwise would not have initially enjoyed.

Today, the Coast Guard collection comprises some 2,000 works showing the missions performed by the service’s force of more than 40,000 active duty members.

Art from the program is exhibited at museums around the country. It is also displayed in offices of members of Congress, Cabinet secretaries, senior government officials and other military services and Coast Guard locations nationwide.

Art from the program provides visual testimony to the unique contribution the service makes to the nation in its multifaceted roles as a military, humanitarian and law enforcement organization.

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