This illustrated holiday letter from Salvatore Cillis, held at the New-York Historical Society, is one of many that the soldier-artist wrote to friends, co-workers, and family during World War I.
Cillis immigrated to New York from Italy as a 9-year-old, and worked as a sign painter before he entered the service during World War I. He described himself as “half an artist, three-quarters of a sign painter,” but his letters’ beautiful watercolors indicate that he might have been too modest in describing his talents.
In this New Year’s letter from Camp Upton, in Long Island, Cillis describes the epic snowball fight that inspired his watercolored letterhead. He and his fellow soldiers at training camp began the battle as a way to stay warm. Cillis assessed his own performance in combat: “I would have shot down three men in the first fight if it took place, and in the second brawl if they had shot at me a real cannon ball I would have come out of that battle with no brains.”
In the next year, Cillis was to see nonsnowball-based warfare in France, fighting with the 306th Field Artillery. Happily, he made it through the war, and lived to be an old man; Cillis died in 1966.
Read more about the Cillis letters in this blog post by New-York Historical Society intern Alison Dundy.