In July 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed six wall-sized paintings from the World War II-era theater on Midway to protect and restore the original artwork. Painted by Seabee Victor Nels Solander, whose 123rd U.S. Naval Construction Battalion built the theater, the 8’x12’ murals depict scenes of U.S. involvement in World War II. Stationed on Midway from June 1944 to December 1945, Solander was awarded a $100.00 war bond and received many accolades at the time. In the post-WWII era, the Midway theatre became the entertainment mecca for thousands of military members and their families.
The mural restoration project was truly a partnership effort. USFWS refuge managers, historians, and grant managers initiated and oversaw the project. Extracting the murals from the walls was a monumental task, skillfully carried out by Defense Base Services, Inc. DBSI staff removed and crated the murals and prepped them for shipping. Friends of Midway Atoll NWR provided funds to stabilize the first two murals. The skill, support and commitment of the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor were essential to the restoration project. The museum found an enthusiastic and dedicated crew of volunteers to help: Sailors from the Navy Information Operations Detachment Kaneohe Bay. Armed with cotton balls and brushes, the volunteer crew cleaned the murals inch by inch and rebuilt the framework that had become termite-ridden.
On View to the Public
The vision and efforts of the many people came to fruition on June 3, 2016 when the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor unveiled the restored Midway murals to the public, just in time for the 74th anniversary of the Battle of Midway. This original artwork is now available for the general public to enjoy for the first time in history. The museum will house the murals for at least the next three years; their display will enhance current Battle of Midway exhibits.
“The history of World War II is written not just in words but in images. And that includes artwork that was painted in the far-flung outposts of the war,” notes museum historian, Burl Burlingame.
To see the Midway murals, visit Pacific Aviation Museum, located on Ford Island, an active military base accessed by shuttle bus from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. For more information, visit their website. The museum’s blog also has an interesting article on the murals.
- Many current and former USFWS staff, including Sue Schulmiester, Bob Peyton, Ann Bell, Lou Ann Speulda-Drews, Alice Garrett, Anan Raymond and Nick Valentine
- Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor
- The Navy volunteers: Eric Ellenz, Courtney Evers, Allie Kent, Melanie Johnson, Sara Schmitt, Lacey Pierson, Serge Bretous, Jame Kightlinger, Brian Madariaga, Zack Adams, Aaron Arnold, Michelle Reimers, Arnold Hori, and Darlene Laster.
The murals have artistic and historic value and carry great symbolism to veterans and others fortunate enough to have visited Midway’s theater. Friends of Midway Atoll commends the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its commitment to preserving the history of Midway Atoll NWR and the Battle of Midway National Monument!
More information about Solander and images of each mural are in our Summer 2016 Newsletter.
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