NIWM Copper Frieze – Sections A + B

NIWM Copper Frieze – Sections A + B

Over the next few weeks, we are going to tell you more about one of the largest artworks in our museum, a hammered copper frieze by James McKendry. We had the great pleasure of interviewing James in 2018 and were delighted to learn more about this artwork and how it was made. The frieze is made up of 11 sections. We have labelled them A-K. Each shows different people, places, and symbols, with the story flowing from left to right. The upper part of the frieze shows American forces training in Northern Ireland from west to east, on their way to the conflict in Europe.

Copper Frieze by James McKendry

It is estimated that 300,000 American service personnel passed through Northern Ireland during the Second World War with the first official arrivals taking place in January 1942. James was born in 1935 so he met many of these Americans as a young boy, in fact some were stationed on his family farm in Co. Antrim. He recalled that ‘they all looked big and fatter and all us Irish looked small and skinny… but they were very generous and very well natured’. His memories reflect what we have heard from many interviewees who as children received gifts of gum, sweets, and chocolate from friendly Americans. McKendry also recalled that it was ‘the first time I’d ever seen black people… and they were very friendly, and the people here were very friendly to them. We, I think really appreciated them being here, and those guys, a lot of them went and lost their lives’.

The first two sections of the upper frieze (A+B) were designed to evoke a sense of ‘order, discipline and movement in one direction, supported by this feeling of moving forward’. The panels depict US Servicemen, all marching from west to east. With identical uniforms and kit, they are marching in a perfectly synchronised manner. Further along the frieze, one American is waving, and another is carrying the American flag. The artist explained that he wanted to convey the warmth and friendliness shown by US Forces when they were based in Northern Ireland, after all, it is estimated that 1,800 local women became GI Brides. The artist also wanted to show the increased mechanisation and modern warfare of this war by including an American jeep and a row of shells. Can you spot the artist’s signature?

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