Harold Kerr Eby Biography

Harold Kerr Eby

American

1889-1946

Biography

Painter and printmaker Harold Kerr Eby, known professionally as Kerr Eby, was born in Tokyo, Japan, on October 19, 1889, to Canadian Methodist missionary parents. His family returned to Canada when Eby was three and, having artists on his mother's side of the family, was encouraged in his pursuit of art from a young age. He worked from age twleve as a "printer's devil" (apprectice) at Ontario's Bracebridge paper, and in 1907 had saved enough to travel to the U.S. to pursue his education. He enrolled in art courses at Pratt Institute and studied at the Art Students League of New York, working at a lithographic firm to support himself. He would return to Canada in the summers to work as a surveyor, eventually gaining enough of a reputation to find work as a freelance illustrator and eventually joining the Cos Cob artists' colony in Connecticut.

With the outbreak of World War I he enlisted in the army, serving in France with the 40th Engineers as an ambulance driver and a camofleur of gunnery. It was during this time that Eby began to produce what he would become best known for, his unflinching images of war, with special attention paid to post-battle landscapes and the everyday lives of soldiers. 

Once he had returned to the States he contuned his pursuit of art, traveling to England and along the East Coast of the United States capturing idyllic village scenes and landscapes. Among his memberships was the Brooklyn Society of Etchers beginning in 1925; the Chicago Society of Etchers; the Philadelphia Society of Etchers; and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1930 he was elected associate of the National Academy of Design, and in 1934 he became a full Academician. He competed in the 1932 Summer Olympics art competition in Berlin as a  painter. Meanwhile, throughout the 1920s and '30s he continued to create images of his experiences and observations in Europe during the first World War, portraying the dark and unheroic side of battle. He felt this was especially significant as Europe began to teeter on the brink of a new and widespread conflict. In 1936, Eby and Yale University published a compilation of images in a portfolio simply titled WAR.

When the United States entered World War II, he was denied re-entry in service due to his age, and instead found work in the combat artists program funded by Abbott Laboratories. He was sent to the Pacific theater, stationed with Marines on the Tarawa atoll and Guadalcanal of the Solomon Islands, producing what is considered to be his most powerful works with regard to combat and war. He ultimately contracted a tropical disease while involved in a longterm skirmish in Bougainville, trapped in a foxhole as battle raged on aboveground. He was sent home to Norwalk, Connecticut in 1944, where he died on Novermber 18, 1946. 

Eby's work can be found in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art, Library of Congress, New York Public Library, Harvard Art Museums, the United States Navy Art Collection, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.