The Fort Miles Historical Association, in partnership with Delaware State Parks, will host its 2nd Annual Sketching Event & Contest next weekend.
To be held at the Fort Miles Museum and Historical Area, the sketching event will take place on Saturday, April 27, during the Delaware Goes to War open house celebrating the World War II Allied forces’ victory in Europe, which was declared on May 8, 1945. The event takes place annually at the park.
“This event last year drew over 2,000 people, so it’s a big deal,” said Fort Miles Historical Association Secretary Jim Pierce.
The sketching event is free and open to the public; however, pre-registration is required. Artists are being encouraged to submit up to five sketches, which will be eligible to be recognized as a Top 3 award winner.
“For the artists who register, we do make available certain reenactors. These guys set up in different areas of Fort Miles, so you know you can approach them and they’ll be happy to be sketched. It just gives you guaranteed access to the reenactors.
“They’re dressed in period uniforms; they bring in all different kinds of vehicles and equipment. Last year, we had a man and a woman who dressed as German horseback soldiers. It’s a very interesting day with lots to see and do.
“We make special arrangements for the artists to get free admission into the park. It’s a little more organized and special attention, but generally once we gather them, they are free to sketch.”
Participants will have their sketches judged by Lewes artist Paul Rendel.
Artists who choose not to participate in the contest are still being invited to sketch informally throughout the day, noted Pierce.
The event was started last year after the association contacted local artists Abraxas, Paul Rendel and Joanne Guilfoil to see if such an event would be well-received by the art community.
“Last year when we kicked it off, both Paul Rendel and Joann Guilfoil participated. It was a small event; we had three artists last year, but they produced some really nice sketches that we hang in a second gallery we have at the museum,” said Pierce. “Even though there are only three outside artists, in addition to Paul and Joanne, we got a nice variety of sketches in different mediums. They were all pretty pleased with the event, so we decided to have a second one.”
The Delaware Goes to War open house is a joint effort of Delaware State Parks and the Fort Miles Historical Association, said Pierce.
“We always are very appreciative of Delaware State Parks. We have a great working relationship and appreciate all that their staff adds to our events and our progress.”
Through their partnership with the park, the association has been able to work closely with senior manager Sean Carrow, and created the Schroeder Gallery in honor of the local artist.
“In 2016, we got our joint art initiative started by opening what we call the Howard Schroeder [gallery] — probably the best-known artist in Delmarva... certainly in Sussex County. He actually had been stationed at Fort Miles during World War II.
“He had been trained as a commercial artist, but he started painting in earnest at Fort Miles, and there are several large paintings of his that hang in the gallery that date back to 1942 and 1943.”
Pierce said Carrow was very interested in the project and worked with the association to create other art possibilities in the park.
“One of the ideas we came up with was to do this in conjunction with the event Delaware Goes to War,” said Pierce. “One of the main attractions of coming into the park and going to Fort Miles at that time is to see a group of historical interpreters. They primarily represent the unit that was stationed at Fort Miles during World War II, which was the 261st Coast Artillery.
“What Sean said was, maybe we ought to consider having a sketching event, because artists may find it interesting to come in and have an opportunity to sketch soldiers and equipment and vehicles that aren’t available to be seen very often.”
Fort Miles served as a military installation during World War II through the early 1970s. Now a museum and state park, the central features include Battery 519, six barracks buildings, a fire control tower, an orientation building and the Fort Miles Artillery Park.
“Fort Miles is probably the best-preserved coastal artillery fort in the United States — certainly on the East Coast. It’s a very historic set of structures consisting of two large batteries, one of which houses the indoor portion of the museum. It was the key fort that guarded the gateway to the Delaware River, Philadelphia, Wilmington, southern New Jersey. It was very important to the U.S. war effort during World War II.”
The fort has always been closely linked with the local community, as many civilians supported the fort.
“At its peak, there were 2,500 people who worked at Fort Miles,” said Pierce. “We think it’s important the public is aware of it, and we also try to wrap key events that occur during World War II into the narrative of explaining what Fort Miles’ role was.”
The mission of the non-profit is to “preserve, protect and defend all aspects of Fort Miles working with community and state stakeholders and other interested parties.”
“Our objective is to have the finest World War II museum located at an actual World War II facility in the state. We’re working to achieve that,” said Pierce. “We’ve been at it since 2003. In the last five years, we’ve really accelerated our progress in terms of events, exhibits and restoration. There’s a lot going on all the time, and there’s going to be a lot more going on.”
To register for the sketching event and contest, visit www.fortmilesha.org. Registration must be completed by April 26. There is no fee to participate. To learn more about the Delaware Goes to War open house and view the full schedule of events, visit www.fortmilesha.org/events/delaware-goes-to-war.
By Maria Counts