art at fort niagara
Ernst Wille (1916-2005) was a German artist and teacher who was drafted into the army during World War II. Apparently, he was a better artist than soldier. During the Normandy invasion, Ernst Wille was one of a large number of German soldiers captured by the Allies. Many of those captured soldiers were held in prison of war camps in Great Britain and in the United States. All of those camps were full so a new one was opened at Fort Niagara, which also served as an induction center for many American troops during World War II.
Ernst Wille had, before the war, studied art at the art school in Cologne, Germany. When he was transported to the prisoner of war camp at Fort Niagara, his art skills went with him. He was given the opportunity to paint a mural in the bachelor officers quarters and that started his relationship with the United States that lasted for the rest of his life.
Ernst Wille didn’t like war and, apparently, he didn’t want to glorify it with a mural. So he chose the theme “American history” for his mural. He spent two years painting and was then sent back to Germany, as the war had ended. When he was repatriated to Germany, the mural was still incomplete. In 1948, the state took over the land that Fort Niagara is on and it became a state park. Ernst Wille returned to the park several times to work on the painting, which he completed in 1999. At one point, there was a leak in the roof, and the painting suffered water damage. He was asked if he wanted to fix the painting to eliminate the effect of the water damage. He declined, saying that the water damage was part of the history of the painting.
Back in Germany, Ernst Wille entered the art school in Munich. He later became a teacher and received many honors for his contribution to education and art in Germany. As an artist, he found an original style that showed his vision of color and form. His style was abstract sometimes and more representational other times, and always vivid, full of life and joy.