Star-Spangled Painter: Steve Alpert '73

Steve Alpert ’73 creates a glorious painting in tribute to U.S. military personnel. by George Sapio

“The pressure was on,” Steve Alpert says. “This had to be spectacular.” For Steve, who spent 25 years as a television and video producer and director on such shows as 1978’s Marathon Fever (a documentary profiling four individuals who ran the Johnstown Marathon in Pennsylvania), 1983’s Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound, and numerous newscasts, pressure was not a foreign concept. But when charged with creating a painting that might eventually hang in the visitors center at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he began to understand the enormity of the job he’d taken on.

It all began through his own desire to thank military personnel for the sacrifices they’ve made. “I never served in the armed forces,” Steve says, “but I knew I had to contribute in some way, to show support for our men and women, to thank them for what they had done.” He began this journey of appreciation in June 2006 by visiting Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to meet and talk with recovering soldiers. Those encounters led him to donate some of his military-themed paintings for auction, raising $27,000 for Fisher House, an organization that provides free housing for families of wounded soldiers and veterans. A friend introduced him to Jan Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Steve expressed his desire to contribute through his art, and volunteered to create something for the visitors center under development.

Steve threw himself into the creation of the work and came up with “Legacy,” a 40” x 78” oil painting depicting generations of U.S. soldiers walking along a field against a sky in which the clouds resemble the national flag. It took him four months to conceive and execute the project, including two trips to West Point Military Academy to research uniforms and weapons for each of the selected periods represented in the work. Scruggs’s reaction to “Legacy” was appreciative and enthusiastic: “It captures what has kept America a free nation for 200 years — the citizens who take up arms during times of national crisis and who do their duty to defend and preserve our nation.” Plans for the visitors center are currently not finalized; whether “Legacy” will actually hang in the visitors center itself or be used as a poster to raise money won’t be decided until fall or later.

Steve began art classes at age 19, as a junior getting his TV-R degree at Ithaca with a minor in history. He loved painting so much that he ended up with a minor in painting as well. He credits art professor Alan Atwell for changing his life. “He’s the reason I’m a painter today,” Steve says. Atwell, he says, had a “free-wheeling” classroom technique. “He was astounding, inspirational,” Steve says. “He taught you how to make each canvas uniquely your own.”

That’s one reason that all the while Steve worked for CBS, NBC, and as a freelance writerproducer in television, he never stopped putting brush to canvas. “I’ve always been compelled to paint,” he says. In 2001 he decided to devote all his energies to his art.

His latest work, in honor of U.S. soldiers, brings together his passions for both history and painting. “ ‘Legacy’ is the most intense work I’ve ever created,” Steve says. “Paintings are all about serenity, about being at peace in a tumultuous world. I’m hoping this will help others find their peace.”

Visit Steve’s online gallery at