Louis Celli Jr., executive director of The American Legion's office in Washington, D.C., had no idea lunch at a nearby restaurant would lead to an artistic renovation of the Legion's seven-story office at 1608 K Street NW.
"That is exactly the kind of artwork we need," Celli told his boss when he saw a dramatic 6-by-8-foot photograph of the U.S. Capitol at "The Meeting Place" entryway. Celli tracked down the photographer, Rex Alan Stucky. Stucky had a 28-year career at National Geographic, where he managed the color photo lab and managed special projects.
But Celli had no idea that Stucky is also a U.S. Navy veteran and a member of American Legion Post 20 at the National Press Club. Retiring from National Geographic in 1994, Stucky had honed his skills as a newspaper photographer in Ohio and as a Cold War-era photographer's mate stationed in Iceland where the Navy monitored Soviet subs. He was tops in his class at the Naval Photographic School in Pensacola, Fla.
Celli was determined to replace the stodgy pastoral paintings hanging in the K Street office with photo art "reflecting the Legion's mission in Washington" of serving its 2 million members and the nation's 20 million veterans. Celli negotiated a deal with Stucky. With Stucky's extensive portfolio in hand, Celli went through the K Street building floor by floor, selecting scenes that best match the mission of each department. For the office dedicated to helping wounded veterans, Celli selected a dramatic black-and-white nighttime shot of Abraham Lincoln that Stucky took in 1961 at the Lincoln Memorial with an antique 4-by-5-inch antique Graflex camera. After all, Celli said, it was Lincoln who pledged the nation to "care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan." A native of Boston, Harvard Extension School graduate and 22-year Army veteran, Celli loves photographic art and selected different finishes for each photo to reflect the mood he wanted, from somber matte to snappy high gloss. Now, 20 of the Navy veteran's photos decorate the offices and hallways of the Legion's D.C. office, including a copy of the one that started it all, the U.S. Capitol at sunset.