Portraits of War: Frederick V. Owen

Author: 
Jessica A. Bandel

While North Carolina has a proud record of combat action on the frontlines in World War I, not all enlistees were destined for overseas service. Such was the case for Frederick V. Owen, who contributed to the Allied war efforts without ever leaving the state. The South Carolina-born man was living in Charlotte, North Carolina, when he enlisted in the United States Army on February 14, 1918—his twenty-first birthday!

As a member of the 30th Recruiting Company, General Services Infantry, Owen put his aptitude as a painter to work, designing and painting patriotic recruiting posters destined for the displays of North Carolina recruiting offices. Every week, Owen, alongside fellow artist T. S. Davidson, cranked out four posters in their Greensboro office, a mix of original artwork and reproductions of other World War I posters.

Each poster was meticulously hand-colored with pastels or paint and began their rotational circuit there in Greensboro before being shipped off to recruiting offices in Charlotte, Asheville, Winston-Salem, and Durham.

While much lauded within North Carolina press circles, Owen’s work did not seem to garner any attention outside the state. He was honorably discharged in December 1918, just one month after the news of the armistice, with a rank of private first class. Though he pursued his craft professionally in the civilian world, his talents seem to have translated to little more than contract and commercial sign work.

In the post-war years, Owen married Bertha Wells and moved to Asheville where he worked as an interior decorator. The couple moved to Dowagiac, Michigan, in 1931, where Owen lived out the rest of his life. He died in 1952.

Astonishingly, several of Owen’s pieces survived the war and found their way to the State Archives of North Carolina, where the originals can still be viewed by members of the public upon request. Can’t make the trip to Raleigh? No problem! We’ve got you covered. Due to the keen eye and hard work of our digitization teams, twenty-five of his pieces are now available for viewing online. (Be sure to check out all of the other World War I items—letters, photographs, and more—on the site!)