Italian POWs Paint Murals
In last week’s postcard concerning a World War II Italian/German prisoner of war (POW) camp near Douglas, we reported that three Italian prisoners left a remarkable artistic legacy with the murals they painted more than 60 years ago that can be seen today on the walls of the Officer’s Club, one of only a few camp buildings still standing.
Here’s more of the story:
The clubroom features one of Wyoming’s 20th-century treasures, 16 murals painted by three Italian prisoners of war during 1943-44. The charmingly rendered murals painted directly on the celotex walls depict icons of the mythical American west: cowboys, Indians, wagon trains, cattle drives, a stockade fort and even the famous Old Faithful geyser in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.
The murals gain special significance for the very reason that they are a vision of the West created by three Italians – known only by their signatures on the murals: V. Finotti, E. Tarquinio and F. DeRossi – who had most likely only seen the fabled American West through a train window. The images they created were no doubt inspired from American movies and books. Most of the murals are six feet high and some as long as 15 feet.
These murals are significant because they are painted on the interior walls of the Officer’s Club. Although murals were painted at other military installations throughout the United States during the World War II period, a survey of State Historic Preservation offices revealed that only a few survive due to demolition of buildings never expected to remain standing long enough to qualify as “historic.” The survey also indicated that these murals may be the only existent collection painted by Italian POWs as most others were reputed to be the work of German prisoners.
The listing of the former Officer’s Club of the Douglas Internment Camp on the National Register of Historic Places is a tribute to those dedicated to its preservation today and … but then that’s another story.