Backus studied architecture at Princeton University, graduating in 1933, and at the University of Munich. He had little formal art training except for brief watercolor studies with Eliot O’Hara in the mid-1930s, while on his honeymoon in Maine. In 1935 Backus moved to Santa Barbara and opened a studio. He soon made the acquaintance of Millard Sheets, Hardie Gramatky, Emil Kosa, and Barse Miller, and by 1938, was exhibiting in local and regional exhibitions. During World War II, Backus served as an officer in the U.S. Navy and in 1945 was hired as the official Navy combat artist working in Japan and in the Pacific Theater. His duties included recording the effects of the bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and he was among the first military men to enter the cities after the attack.
From 1955 to 1956, Backus was the official “off-Navy,” or civilian, artist on Admiral Byrd’s expedition to the South Pole. In 1967 he produced the Pacific War Memorial mosaic mural for Corregidor Island, Manila Bay, Philippines. Backus was also deeply dedicated to the Santa Barbara art community as a teacher and as a trustee of several civic and arts organizations.
Watercolor on paper, c. 1940
sheet 22 1/4 x 30 inches
Museum purchase with funds from prior gift of the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation