The “E” award for Excellence in Production, presented to the personnel of the Naval Torpedo Station during World War II, is the jumping-off point for a new collaborative art project that brings together the historical and present-day uses of this space in a site-specific sculpture.
It seems strange, but it’s easy to forget what used to take place in the Torpedo Factory before it was an art center.
Namely, hundreds of wartime workers were busy building aerial and submarine torpedoes here from 1918 to 1945:
A worker at the Naval Torpedo Station lubricates a torpedo propeller during World War II. (Photo from the collection of George L. Dant, copyright the Naval History and Heritage Command.)
Visitors to the Torpedo Factory Art Center know that a big, green Mark XIV torpedo is still on display here from the building’s days as part of the Naval Torpedo Station. If you had been here during the production years, you would even have seen a torpedo testing barge and targets floating out back on the Potomac.
The testing barge, recovery launches, and target floats moored outside the Naval Torpedo Station, around 1920. (Photo from the collection of George L. Dant, copyright the Naval History and Heritage Command.)
For their work here, Torpedo Station personnel were awarded the Army-Navy Production Award, also known as the “E” award, seen at the top of this post. It was presented as a pin to the staff here and represented in the banner of the facility’s newsletter, the Torp.
Department heads posing with the last torpedo manufactured here, in 1945. (Photo from the collection of George L. Dant, copyright the Naval History and Heritage Command.)
That award is the jumping-off point for a new collaborative art project, bringing together the historical and present-day uses of this space in a site-specific sculpture.
Artist Andy Yoder, a sculptor and Art League instructor, is leading the project. Along with veterans from our IMPart outreach program, he’s creating a 25-foot-tall banner version of the “E” award to hang in the building’s atrium. The project is titled Highest Honor.
To see how it’s coming together, we visited Yoder in Studio 8 in the Torpedo Factory, where you can see the work in progress. (Update: the project has moved to studio 326. You can find the schedule on the project page.)
The paper for the sculpture is created from old military scrubs, red and blue to match the banner.
Before it can be made into pulp, the fabric must be cut into bits.
This industrial paper beater shreds the fabric into pulp that can be used to make paper.
Yoder dunks this frame into a tub of watery pulp, then drains the water. The pulp settles to create a wet square of paper, which needs to dry.
Yoder’s scale drawing of the finished banner, which will be 25 feet tall and use over 900 of these squares. To construct it, the paper will be wetted and the squares will bond with their neighbors.
Finished squares of handmade paper air-drying. The paper lightens in color as it dries.
Like the original award, the Highest Honor project is intended to recognize the contributions of individuals to the greater good. Veterans who participate can add personal imagery to the sculpture, as well.
Yoder will be working in studio 326 through the end of June, 2016. Stay tuned for updates! For more about the project, visit the Highest Honor page on our website.