Berg, Vernon E. (Vernon Edward), 1951-

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d. Jan. 27, 1999.

From the description of Artist file : miscellaneous uncataloged material. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 83472558

Copy Berg was an artist and gay rights activist noted for his legal challenge of a United States Navy discharge issued because of his sexual orientation.

Copy Berg was born Vernon E. Berg, III on July 10, 1951. He attended the United States Naval Academy from 1970-1974 and then served with the U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. In 1975 the Navy sought to release him by General Discharge on grounds of homosexuality. Berg fought a highly publicized legal battle against the Navy but lost the case and was released in 1976. He settled in New York where he studied at Pratt Institute and launched a career as an artist. Berg collaborated with E. Lawrence Gibson to produce Get Off My Ship, an illustrated account of his Navy discharge case published in 1978. He worked for several years as an assistant to photorealist painter Charles Bell. In 1986 Berg was diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). His subsequent artwork explored the social response to the AIDS epidemic, sexual politics and sadomasochism. Copy Berg died of an AIDS-related illness in New York City on January 27, 1999.

From the description of Copy Berg papers, 1890s-1998 (bulk dates 1970-1998). (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122596604

Artist and gay rights activist Copy Berg was born Vernon E. Berg III on July 10, 1951 in Port Jefferson, New York. He was given his unusual nickname to distinguish him from his grandfather and his father, a Presbyterian minister who became a Navy chaplain in 1960. Copy Berg's childhood was spent in New York, New Jersey and Virginia. Copy Berg graduated from Frank W. Cox High School in Virginia Beach, VA in 1969 and attended the United States Naval Academy from 1970-1974. He pursued an interest in graphic arts by contributing his photographs, illustrations and design skills to Naval Academy yearbooks and publications. After graduation he received his commission as Ensign and joined the United States Navy Sixth Fleet, based in Italy.

During the summer of 1975, the Navy Investigative Service interviewed Berg regarding his sexual orientation. Berg admitted his involvement in homosexual relationships and tendered his resignation from military service. The Navy stalled on processing his discharge for several months, however, and assigned him to a base in Norfolk, Virginia. In November 1975, Berg withdrew his resignation and announced his intention to challenge the Navy's intrusion into his personal affairs and to fight to remain in the military. At the highly publicized Navy administrative hearing that decided his case, Berg was represented by counsel from the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union. Berg's father, a decorated Vietnam War veteran holding the rank of Commander, testified on his son's behalf. The Navy board that heard the case recommended an "other than honorable" discharge which Berg received in June 1976. Though Berg lost his bid to remain in uniform, his case influenced public discussion of military regulations concerning homosexuality. Through subsequent appeals he won an upgrade of his discharge to honorable, and he eventually received a cash settlement from the Navy.

Berg moved to Brooklyn, New York and enrolled at Pratt Institute (M.A. 1979) where he studied communication design and launched a new career as an artist. He collaborated with his partner, freelance writer E. Lawrence Gibson, to produce Get Off My Ship, an illustrated account of his Navy discharge case which was published by Avon Books in 1978. During the late 1970s and early 1980s Berg worked as an assistant to the photo-realist painter Charles Bell, and made his own paintings and drawings in the photo-realist style. In 1980 Berg and Gibson split, and the artist established a long-term relationship with Paul Montalette, a writer who later changed his name to Paul Nash. The couple traveled widely and spent much time at a summer home in Bridgehampton, New York. In 1986 both were diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), and they began medical treatments for the disease. Nash died in 1993, and Berg fell seriously ill the following year. He was cared for by a friend, Dub Williams, who later lived with him and was his companion until the end of his life. During the 1990s Berg continued to speak out about his legal battle against the Navy, and he was interviewed frequently by reporters, authors and scholars of gay history who were interested in his remarkable life story.

Not long after his initial diagnosis with HIV, Berg dramatically changed his artistic style. He abandoned photo-realism and concentrated his efforts on the creation of small, cartoon-like drawings which explored such themes as the social response to the AIDS epidemic, sexual politics and sadomasochism. The simple form of this work was partly determined by the physical limitations Berg faced while living with AIDS. The artist's late style was also influenced by his decision to widely reproduce and distribute his pictures to friends, colleagues and family via fax machine, a medium that favored bold, dark lines drawn over a clean, white background. During the mid-1990s Berg's pictures were exhibited at several galleries in the New York area. A retrospective show of artwork from all periods of his career was mounted in 1998 at the Robeson Center Art Gallery of Rutgers University. Copy Berg died of an AIDS-related illness in New York City on January 27, 1999.

From the guide to the Copy Berg papers, 1890s-1998, dates 1970-1998, (The New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Copy Berg papers, 1890s-1998, dates 1970-1998 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Berg, Vernon E. (Vernon Edward), 1951-. Artist file : miscellaneous uncataloged material. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
creatorOf Berg, Vernon E. (Vernon Edward), 1951-. Copy Berg papers, 1890s-1998 (bulk dates 1970-1998). New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Berg, Vernon E. Vernon Berg artist file. Whitney Museum of American Art, Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Bell, Charles, 1935- person
associatedWith Gibson, E. Lawrence (Edward Lawrence), 1935- person
associatedWith United States Naval Academy corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Navy corporateBody
associatedWith Whitney Museum of American Art. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Subject
AIDS (Disease) in art
Gay liberation movement
Sadomasochism
Gay military personnel
Gays
Gay activists
Gay rights
Gay men
Gay activists--United States
AIDS (Disease) and the arts
Gay men--United States
Gays in the Armed Forces
Gay liberation movement--United States
Gays--United States
Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Chaplains
Occupation
Artists
Function

Person

Birth 1951-07-10

Death 1999

Americans

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