From the April 1996 Newsletter:
On March 15, 1996, The Friends sponsored their second Annual Lecture and Exhibit. Over 150 friends and Academy cadets attended the evening event on the main floor of the Academy Library. The collection of drawings and paintings will be on public display until May 15 and the public is invited to view the exhibit.
Benjamin C. Steele, a Montana native, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps at age 18. A year and a half later, while serving in the Philippines, he was captured by the Japanese. For the next 42 months he endured the wretched life of a Japanese prisoner of war. He survived the Bataan Death March and was then sent to Japan locked in the hold of a ship under attack and wound up as a slave laborer in a coal mine in Northern Japan.
During his horrendous ordeal, Steele managed to draw sketches of the cruel and demanding life he and his fellow American were forced to ensure. Some of his sketches were lost at sea during the war and were redrawn after his liberation. He spent months in American military hospitals and occupied his time by redoing sketches.
After he recuperated, Ben Steele continued his interest in art work. He earned two degrees in Art from the University of Denver. He joined the faculty of the Eastern Montana College at Billings as an art teacher and later became the Chairman of the Art Department. After 22 years of service, he retired as Professor Emeritus.
The Ben Steele Art Collection is now part of the Northcutt Gallery of Art at Eastern Montana College. The 80 drawings fall into three categories. The first includes the original drawings done in the prison camps. Most of these were done in Bilibid Prison in the Philippines and were lost at sea. The remaining original drawings were completed in 1945 in Japan. The second category includes drawings done after the war while Steele was in various hospitals. Later, after formal art training, he completed the remaining drawings and the three paintings.
In his lecture, Professor Steele stressed that he attributes considerable credit for his survival to the beneficial therapy he obtained from his art work.