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Special Collections & Archives

The rare or unique holdings of Nimitz Library.

Copy That: The Midshipman Artwork of Copy Berg

by David D'Onofrio on 2019-06-25T11:28:03-04:00 in Special Collections & Archives, Naval & Military Studies, History, Art and Architecture | Comments

Beat Army t-shirt designPaging through a box of documents that would come to be known as the Mary A. Marshall Papers, you eventually, and altogether unexpectedly, come across the caricature of a woman smiling up at you while dangling an Army mule from her pearl necklace. In the lower left corner, you see a single, stylized word: Copy. The notation is not an indication that the drawing is a facsimile, but rather the product of Naval Academy Class of 1974 member Vernon Edward Berg, III, known more commonly by the pseudonym, Copy Berg.

Vernon Copy Berg's artist signatureVernon "Copy" Berg - a native of Port Jefferson, New York, and the son of a Navy chaplain - was admitted to the United States Naval Academy in 1970. By the time he was commissioned an ensign in 1974, Copy Berg had become synonymous with art at the Naval Academy. Like many of his fellow midshipmen with a flair for the artistic, Berg's works graced the pages of The Log magazine, where his rendering of Salty Sam was a familiar, biweekly sight throughout the early 1970s. However, one of the largest single assemblages of Berg's artwork as a midshipman can be found in the personal papers of the Naval Academy's first Social Director, Mary "Emmy" Marshall. Marshall, clearly a fan of Berg's work, kept original and published works by Berg, including his drawings of the Academy's unofficial 1970s canine mascot Dodo, a T-shirt design featuring the above mentioned "Beat Army" motif, and his rendering of "Mother B" as published in the 1974 drag's handbook, What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?

Vernon Copy Berg's midshipman portraitDodo the Brigade DogDodo the Brigade DogVernon Copy Berg on the roof of a car

(Left to Right: Copy Berg's Lucky Bag portrait, two renderings of Dod the Brigade Dog, and Berg in civilian garb in The Lucky Bag)

Following his graduation from the Naval Academy and commissioning as an ensign, Berg was assigned to the Navy's Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, where he served for a time as Assistant Public Affairs Officer on the staff of Vice Admiral Frederick C. Turner. Berg's Navy career was cut short however, when he was discharged from the Navy in June 1976 on account of his homosexuality. Berg's appeals to be reinstated, challenging the Navy's outright ban on homosexuals, were ultimately unsuccessful, although his discharge was upgraded from "other than honorable" to "honorable." Following his discharge from the Navy, Berg, along with partner E. Lawrence Gibson, moved to New York where he received a master's degree from the Pratt Institute in 1979. As an artist in New York, Berg experimented with photo-realism but ultimately returned to cartoon-like works focusing on topics such as the AIDS epidemic following his 1986 diagnosis with HIV. Copy Berg ultimately succumbed to an AIDS-related illness, dying on January 27, 1999 in New York City.

Salty Sam from The LogMother B from the Drag's HandbookBrigade Semi Formal Dance sign

(Left to Right: Berg's rendition of Salty Sam for The Log magazine, Mother B from the 1974 drag's handbook, and semi-formal dance cartoon)

Image Sources:

Salty Sam image courtesy of The Log magazine

All other Berg drawings courtesy of the Mary A. Marshall Papers, MS 464

Berg portraits courtesy of The Lucky Bag yearbook

Biographical Sources:

Berg, Vernon Edward III Alumni Jacket, RG 405, Special Collections & Archives, Nimitz Library

Moske, Jim and Marth Foley. Guide to the Copy Berg Papers, New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts

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