At San Quentin, we discover artists who, prior to their incarceration, came from varying walks of life. Peter M. Bergne, a former illustrator, tool designer, and draftsman, draws animals, people, aircraft or whatever occurs to his far-ranging mind.
“When I first started to draw I became involved in the illustration of naval warships and military aircraft,” said Bergne.
Bergne has one of his favorite pencil sketches that he did of a late 1920s Polish-born artist and actress, Pola Negri, who was considered beautiful and famous in those years. She is wearing Art Deco–era jewelry. This picture symbolizes a lady in contemplation.
His style ranges from portraits to animal figures. He drew an American Dauntless Dive Bomber 107; this aircraft was famous in the Battle of Midway in 1942.
Bergne described to SQNews the history behind the sketch, pointing out how, in a single day, four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk along with one heavy cruiser.
“This was a turning point for the American people in the Second World War,” said Bergne. “We lost one carrier, the York Town, and one destroyer.”
Through his art he continues to educate many of us about U.S. history and the impact these aircraft had on this particular battle.
You can also notice at the bottom left of the sketch how Bergne gave a final touch to his craft by sketching a U.S. fight deck attendant loading ordinance into the aircraft.
According to the artist, it took him approximately three days to complete the aircraft.
He finds sketching therapeutic and it helps him to keep his mind balanced. Older prisoners are limited to what they can do inside. Due to their advanced age, some have disabilities. Mr. Bergne refuses to let his mind go to waste and relies on drawing and walking to help him stay sane in his day-to-day life behind bars.
Bergne likes koala bears and has drawn one climbing into a tree surrounded by a rock garden, which takes him back to “happier days.”
His love for koala bears comes from when he worked as design draftsman in Melbourne, Australia, in the 1980s.
“Drawing gives me the opportunity to have a social connection with people, and it makes me feel good when others appreciate my work,” said Bergne. “This makes my life worthwhile because I’ve done something positive with my life during my incarceration.”