Friday, July 6, 2018

UK Camoufleur Norman Wilkinson Visits as Advisor

Reginald Higgins (1919), The Dazzler
Above For the February 1919 issue of The Bystander magazine, Reginald Higgins created this satirical portrait of UK artist and ship camoufleur Norman Wilkinson, with the heading "The Dazzler." The text beneath the caricature reads: LIEUT-COMDR N. WILKINSON, RNVR, AT WORK IN HIS STUDIO: The success achieved by this gallant officer in beating the U-boats was entirely due to the copious experiments carried out regardless of personal comfort to his own studio furniture. The extreme secrecy of the work, moreover, proved an incessant strain. As reproduced in James Taylor, Dazzle: Disugise and Disruption in War and Art (Oxford: Pool of London Press, 2016).

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BRITAIN’S MASTER CAMOUFLEUR SAILS: Lieutenant-Commander Wilkinson Is Originator Of “Dazzle System” For Protecting Ships: CAME HERE TO CONFER WITH U.S. CAMOUFLEURS: Applied System To Liner Leviathan, Then Took Honeymoon Trip On The Vessel in The Evening Sun (New York), Tuesday, April 30, 1918, p. 9—

New York, April 30—It is not often that a foreign officer slips into and out of the United States on an important errand without the public hearing anything about it. But that is just what Lieutenant-Commander Norman Wilkinson, of the British Navy, has done. He sailed the other day for England, after several weeks in this country on a mission that vitally concerns the safety of the great merchant fleet that is now in construction in United States shipyards, as well as the vessels, naval and commercial, that are already carrying American men and stores through the U-boat zone to Europe.

Commander Wilkinson may be called the originator of the “dazzle system” of ship camouflage, for the protection of vessels against submarines. The British Government lent him to this country for a few weeks in order that he could meet the members of the recently organized Camouflage Bureau in our Navy Department, given them his ideas, and pick up any suggestions for his own benefit that he might get as a result of seeing the work and talking with the men who have been developing camouflage in this country.

Seeks To Confuse Submarines

Right here it may be interpolated that the “dazzle system” of camouflage does not aim primarily at making a ship invisible. Considering the many kinds of weather and the varying backgrounds that vessel has to encounter, Commander Wilkinson has come to the conclusion that the “invisible ship” is an impossibility. His system seeks by the application of large contrasting masses of light and dark paint to confuse the submarine in regard to the oultine and the direction of the ship chosen as a target, and so make it likely that the torpedo will go astray.


USS Leviathan (1918)


Commander Wilkinson has at least the courage of his convictions in regard to camouflage. Just previous to his trip to America he was asked to apply his system to the world’s largest steamship, the [USS] Leviathan—which used to be the German liner Vaterland—when she reached Europe at the termination of her first transatlantic trip under the American flag. Another thing that Commander Wilkinson did just previous to his trip to America was to get married. Equally satisfied, apparently, both with his wife and his newly decorated German ship, he engaged passage upon it for his bride and himself, and combined a honeymoon trip to America with the trial run of the big liner under his own camouflage design.

Was Artist Before War

Commander Wilkinson  is an artist who had attained distinction by his painting—particularly his marine scenes—before the war. At the outbreak of the conflict he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, and was first assigned to minesweeping in the North Sea. When the Dardanelles expedition was dispatched he was sent along, and remained until the forces were recalled from Gallipoli.

In the meantime he had conceived his idea of ship camouflage, and upon his return to London he asked the Admiralty to let him experiment with a transport. He was personally so persuaded of the success of this that without waiting to note the experience of the vessel he begged for more work. The plea was granted, and he soon had designed the patterns for and supervised the painting of some 50 transports.

Then Commander Wilkinson turned his attention to the merchant marine, particularly to the mail ships which travel without convoy and rely chiefly on their speed and armament to protect them from the submarine. Before coming to America Commander Wilkinson was credited with having designed the camouflage for some 800 merchant vessels, including nearly all the British liners that run to and from New York.


Norman Wilkinson (1917)


…While Commander Wilkinson was here an effort was made through one of the officer’s friends to get him to talk for publication. Commander Wilkinson threw up his hands in alarm.

“The last thing they said to me at the Admiralty before I came away,” he responded, “was, ‘Now for Heaven’s sake, don’t go and get yourself interviewed.’”

These lines were written to certify to the Admiralty—with regret—that Lieutenant Commander Norman Wilkinson, RNVR, traveling in America on his Majesty’s service, carried out the orders of his superiors and did not go and get himself interviewed. They are also intended to suggest that if the ships that Commander Wilkinson decorates slip into and out of the submarine zone as noiselessly and as secretly as he slipped in and out of the United States, then he should be awarded, if not the VC, at least the companion order of MC—Master Camoufleur. 


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EYE-WASH FOR U-BOATS: DAZZLE-PAINTING AND ITS HISTORY in Wanganui Chronicle (New Zealand), Friday, February 28, 1919, p. 5—

When Coleridge, in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” wrote of “a painted ship upon an painted ocean,” he had no prescience of the day when the dazzle-painted ships of an English artist mariner would leave Prussian submarines “all at sea.”

In an underground studio at Burlington House the inventor of paint-disguise for the vessels of the Allies, Lieutenant-Commander Norman Wilkinson RNVR, got to work in May 1917 on the designs which discomfited [German Grand Admiral] Tirpitz and the Hun pirates.

When I asked him how he had hit on the primary idea of successful camouflage for sea craft, he said: “It just came. I was sitting in a railway carriage deploring the fact that the black of our transports was an ideal color for the guidance of enemy submarines when the idea of a protective color scheme came into my head.”

Not Invisible

The developments of that idea have been extraordinary and multitudinous. Contrary to general belief, dazzle-painting is not an attempt to make vessels invisible. It is a sheer impossibility to do so. No matter how light in color the paint so used, there would always be parts of a vessel in deep shadow which would give her position away in almost every condition. The opposite effects would hold also.

Invisibility being ruled out by the laws of optics at sea, the scheme of Commander Wilkinson was to devise such paint patterns for the protection of ships as to break up their accepted lines and forms and render the estimation of their course and speed confusing to the men looking through Hun periscopes.


Norman Wilkinson (1917)


After infinite experimenting, marine camouflage became an exact science. Concealment of bow lines and sterns by strips of paint that presented false outlines was one of the first things aimed at, but the scheme of distortion extended to the whole vessel. At first many colors were used, and all kinds of curves and kinks employed in the patterns.

In the final evolution of [British] dazzle-painting four salient colors have been adopted—blue-gray, strong blue, black, and a pale gray which stands for white. Lines took the place of curves. The effects of slanted lines in dazzle-paints leave the brain jangled.

"Battered" Warship

The Admiralty, finding that camouflage saved ships from Hun torpedoes, countenanced its use on fifty merchant ships, and then on the whole of the mercantile marine. It was used on fighting ships also. When Admiral [Reginald] Tyrwhitt’s flagship came into Harfleur [Normandy] under “dazzle” onlookers thought that she had been badly battered in action and was sinking by the head.

The French followed England’s example. They tried a number of systems, but reverted to the Wilkinson method.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

WWI Camouflage Illustrations by Algernon Black 1918

Algernon Black (1918)
At this point, we have no information about a WWI-era British illustrator named Algernon Black. But several days ago, we ran across a two-part magazine article by Raymond Raife titled Camouflage and Q-Boats: Telling the Splendid Story of the VC's of our Mystery-Ships. Published in the annual compilation of a London-based periodical called The Boy's Own Paper (Vol 41, 1918-1919), the lengthy article is accompanied by about ten drawings pertaining to camouflage, signed by Black. We've reproduced a few of them above and below on this blog post.





Wednesday, July 4, 2018

French Maritime Museum Exhibit | Installation Views

Views of dazzle exhibition in Brest, France (2018)
In an earlier post, we featured an Australian cruise boat that had been dazzle-painted by artist Katy Mutton. Launched in October 2016, it operated on Lake Burley Griffin (Canberra, Australia) for twelve months. Since then, Katy Mutton has moved on to other challenges. Most recently, as shown in the photos in her news update (above), she visited the Musée national de la Marine in Brest, France, to see the on-going exhibit about World War I ship camouflage.

Note in particular the photo at the bottom left, which shows an exquisite model of the port side of an eccentric camouflage scheme designed by Frank M. Watson, called the Watson-Norfolk System (c1917).

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tauba Auerbach | Dazzle Ship Camouflage in NYC



Above Publicity shots of an experimental dazzle camouflage scheme, newly designed by American artist Tauba Auerbach (2018), and applied to a decommissioned fireboat, the John J. Harvey. In an on-going World War I Centenary event sequence that began in 2014, this is the last of a series of ships to be dazzle-painted. The earlier ones have been British, and were unveiled at UK harbors. This is the first American ship, launched at a US location. Go here for additional photographs and detailed information.

Gerald Thayer Talks on Camouflage at Ithaca 1919

G.H. Thayer, Cottontail Rabbit (1909). Public domain.
Above Gerald H. Thayer, painting of a cottontail rabbit, first published as an illustration in his Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (NY: Macmillan, 1909). There are 16 full-color illustrations in the book, nearly all of which were collaborative paintings. In this example, Gerald painted the rabbit figure, while the background (as credited) was completed by Abbott H. Thayer and Emma B. Thayer.

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CAMOUFLAGE ONLY NATURE IMITATION: Is Shown By Gerald Thayer in Lecture at Reorganization Meeting of Cayuga Bird Club in Ithaca Journal (Ithaca NY), Tuesday, March 18, 1919—

An unusual and enlightening lecture was given last night in Roberts Hall when Gerald H. Thayer, son of the famous artist, Abbott H. Thayer, spoke on “Camouflage in War and in Nature,” illustrating the talk with lantern slides showing birds and animals in their natural surroundings, in some cases so perfectly concealed that they could not be seen until pointed out, and concluding with illustrations of the use of camouflage in war. Not only did Mr. Thayer show what looked like trees, bushes and grasses and then prove that they were birds and animals, but he reversed the process, showing what looked like birds and animals, and proved to be only sections of trees, bushes, etc.

Mr. Thayer’s lecture was the first to be given this year under the auspices of the Cayuga Bird Club, and in introducing him, Louis A. Fuertes spoke of the success of the club in past years, of the wonderful opportunities for the study of birds offered in Ithaca and of the bird sanctuary with its recorded list of more than 200 different species of birds-and a wealth of flowers in the spring. He explained that the club is now entering upon a period of reorganization after the war, and asked all who were interested to renew their memberships.

“Abbott Thayer and his son GeraId have worked together on the wonderful problems of protective coloration,” said Mr. Fuertes “and the resuIt is the art of camouflage, which did not prove successful when presented to the military authorities of this country and of England, but which was eagerly taken up by the French and developed by them, stolen by the Germans, and given to their allies.”

“There are three principal kinds of camouflage in nature and in war,” said Mr. Thayer. “The first consists of hiding things, making them more or less disappear, and plays an important part in nature. The second type is [the] making of fake things, things which are made to look like something else.”

In ilIustration of this second type in war he spoke of the use of supposed stumps of trees, made out of iron and covered with bark, in which telephones and observers could be concealed, and which looked so exactly like the real thing that they were seldom noticed by the enemy. Another instance which he told as a true story of the war was that of the aviator who came back to headquarters and urged the captain in charge to train some guns on a cemetery just back of the enemy lines. When the captain objected to firing on a cemetery, he explained that when he flew over early that morning the “cemetery” was on the opposite side of certain field.

As a good iIlustration of this type of camouflage in nature he spoke of the walking stick, measuring worms and caterpillars which are made to look exactly like a twig.

“The third kind of camouflage can best be used with things that move around,” said Mr. Thayer “and has been developed during the past year, particularly on ships at sea, painting them in striking contrasts, making them harder to hit and sometimes making them look as if they were going in a different direction, an iIlusion which proved particularly deceptive when seen through the periscope of a submarine. He explained that the object in painting these vessels in stripes and blotches was not to conceal them, as so many supposed, but to make them look strange, so that they were hard to locate. In the early years of the war, he added, they did try to make vessels resemble clouds, sea horizon, etc., but were unsuccessful for nothing but the whitest white will disappear against the sky.

He spoke of the sinking of the Titanic when she struck an iceberg on a clear, starry night, and explained the catastrophe by the fact that the white iceberg must have been practicalIy invisible against the sky.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Camouflaged Bathing Suit | A Swimming Idea WWI

IT’S HERE ON THE BEACHES AT LAST—THE CAMOUFLAGED BATHING SUIT in Boston Sunday Post, August 18, 1918—

Have you seen it? What does it look like? Is it really invisible? How perfectly absurd!

But yet it’s a fact.

We’ve seen camouflaged ships and camouflaged tanks, and camouflage eats…but it took Leonore Bates at Atlantic City to develop the latest camouflage hit.

It is the camouflaged bathing suit. Hereafter when any of the beach policemen get after any girl who seems to have on not quite the regulation costume, they are more than half apt to be met with the reply:

“Why, of course, this is a ‘proper suit.’ Can’t you see, it’s camouflaged.”

It’s a great thing, the camouflage bathing suit, from many standpoints. In the first place, a person wearing one isn’t near so apt to be submarined by those German U-boats who have taken up their quarters on the coast.

Then again they are ideal for the naval spy, for he can sneak up right on top of a submarine and he can attach his depth bomb or anything else which he brought in his pocket with him without any fear of detection and it may be that through the medium of the camouflage bathing suit we may stop this sort of warfare. And how cheaply it can be done.

What do they look like?



The appearance of some of the milder designs is midway between a design cut from a crazy quilt and a futurist painting of the inferno.

Vivid reds, greens, blues and yellows, etc, mixed in a wavy medley of ghastly pale colors, in utter disregard to color harmony, etc., seems to be the general rule, but camouflage it is called, so why say more.


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DULL DAYS ON SANDS in The Stars and Stripes (France), Friday, July 19, 1918, p. 1—

America, July 18—A lady police corps on the job at Coney Island gives stern moral instruction to lady bathers who think that man wants but little here below or above either.

They spend their time separating many warming embracing couples and altogether spoil the whole day for ardent sea bathers.

A lady camouflage corps has camouflaged the wooden battleship Recruit, in Union Square, New York City, in black, white, pink, green and blue.


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CAMOUFLAGE BATHING SUIT IS LATEST STYLE in Boston Post, May 7, 1919, p. 17—

An art of war has survived to these times of peace. It is the art of camouflage which the summertime girl has made her own.  

Even the very bathing suit within which she promenades the sunny sands will not look quite what it is. Camouflaged bathing suits is to be the cry for 1919.

The hot wave brought a striking one to light. It is called the "Sunset" camouflage. This very new suit is black-figured on a white ground with an enormous red setting sun and rainbow colored rays in all directions. So this year the beach frequenters, already grown used to the unusual and the unexpected, may expect to see a hundred setting suns bobbing up and down at sea where once there was one.

More>>

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Article on Gestalt Theory Chosen for Chinese Journal

Leonardo: Journal of the International Society of Arts, Science and Technology (published by MIT Press) is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

To commemorate that, Zhuangshi: The Chinese Journal of Design (published through Tsinghua University in Beijing) has published a special issue in which it has translated into Chinese and reprinted in its pages six selected articles (chosen by the Chinese editors) from all past issues of Leonardo.

We were pleased to learn that one of our articles, titled "Art, Design and Gestalt Theory" (Leonardo 31, No 4, 1998) was among the six articles chosen.

Link to articles on Gestalt theory

Kevin Nute | Embedded Figures in Wright Floor Plans

Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City
There are few books I would recommend as highly as Kevin Nute's Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan: The Role of Traditional Japanese Art and Architecture in the Work of Frank Lloyd Wright (1994). When I first came across that book, I was researching Gestalt theory in relation to camouflage. It was Nute who showed the embedded figure connections between Arthur Wesley Dow's "organic line ideas," traditional Asian lattice motifs, and Wright's floor plans.

I have learned recently that Kevin Nute will be talking about Wright in Japan at the Architectural Interpretive Center in Mason City IA, at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. The event is free and open to the public.

Poster © Roy R. Behrens

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Fashion of Military Camouflage—and Goldfish

Above Camouflage fashion image from En Vogue: The Fashion of Military Camouflage (including posted essay) at the website for Buy The Camo Blend Right Out.

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Sell Camouflaged Goldfish in The Aberdeen Weekly (Aberdeen MS), June 13, 1919, p. 3—

London—Camouflaged "goldfish" have been selling well in London. Common varieties of small fish are being dyed. In about three days the dye wears off.

Before the war England obtained virtually all its goldfish from Germany.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Herbert Barnard John Everett | More Information

As a quick follow-up to our previous post, here's the link to a wonderful essay by art historian Gwen Yarker on British painter Herbert Barnard John Everett. We are delighted to learn that a biography is in process—he deserves it, with more than 1,000 of his oil paintings in UK collections.

Herbert Barnard John Everett | An Interview in 1919

William Orpen, Portrait of John Everett (c1900)
In earlier posts, we've praised the wartime paintings of dazzle-painted ships by British artist [Herbert Barnard] John Everett (1876-1949). Many of his paintings are in the collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich UK. The painting reproduced above is not a painting by Everett, but a portrait of him by William Orpen (c1900). Shown below is one of Everett's paintings of camouflaged ships, titled Convoy (1918). Both works by Orpen and Everett are in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, and are listed by Wikipedia as public domain.

According to art historian Gwen Yarker

In the spring of 1918 he [Everett] was commissioned by the Ministry of Information to complete some drawings and paintings of wartime London docks and the Thames which were subsequently exhibited in America.

In connection with that American exhibition and a subsequent one in London, Anne Morton Lane (London correspondent for the New York Mail and Express) interviewed Everett and prepared a substantial news article. Published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond VA) on Monday, January 13, 1919, p. 7, the article was accompanied by a portrait photograph of Everett (not shown here).

Reprinted below is the entire article—

“DAZZLE SHIPS” HELPED TO CONQUER HUN MENACE
Interesting Story Is Told in Pictures, the Work of Artist John Everett
FORM A REMARKABLE RECORD
Ship Painting in War Time Proves One of Many Methods Used by Entente Seamen to Puzzle German U-Boat Commanders


LONDON, January 12—Recently there was begun an exhibition in New York of pictures which have received the sanction of the British government to be shown outside Great Britain.

They are the work of John Everett, a highly interesting and distinguished English artist, who has made a specialty of seascapes and pictures of ships on the high seas and at rest in docks.

Early in the war, when the use of camouflage as applied to shipping became a special and practical portion of defense at sea, as the camouflage of guns, airplanes, munition sheds and other machinery of battles became a component part of war on land, Mr. Everett saw the wonderful possibilities that might accrue from a record of the commerce afloat as a pictorial history in color.

As we all know, now that hostilities have ceased, the mystery that, surrounded all ports and shipping in the allied countries was a necessary as it was dense. Therefore, it was only after many weary months that Mr. Everett, through personal persuasion, practical influence and genuine hard work, was accorded the privilege of His Majesty’s government of visiting the great docks of London and Liverpool, in order that he might make pictures of the amazing transformation, wrought by paint and scientific knowledge upon the units of the fleet.

ALL MAY SOON SEE HOW CAMOUFLAGE WORK WAS DONE

And now that the U-boats have ceased from troubling and the submarines are at rest within British waters, by permission of the government, Mr. Everett is now able to display the fruit of his two or three years work in dockyards, at exhibitions in London and New York.

I went to see Mr. Everett the other day in his interesting and remarkable studio, which is situated off the beaten track of general traffic in a sort of side-tracked field in St John’s Wood, a well-known artists’ quarter of suburban London.

This studio of Mr. Everett’s is a converted barn of great size and with unusual lighting qualifications. Its walls are lined and a large portion of the floor space filled with pictures of ships.

All these ships display camouflage designs, and they represent many vessels that have plied their way between England and America in wartime, but also to many thousands, who have heard of the strange masquerading of ships on the high seas.

In England the painting and designing of sea-going vessels has been carried on under the direction of a department known colloquially as the “dazzle office,” and Mr. Everett was appointed as it illustrator.

Now that the curtain is being lifted from some of the amazing secrets of the admiralty and War Office, Mr. Everett has many interesting things to relate concerning the art of “dazzle-painting” as used, and the possibility of its continuation after the war.

“DAZZLE SHIPS” IS GOOD DESCRIPTIVE TERM

“Although the word camouflage is an excellent one that has been adopted by the Anglo-Saxon tongue since its uses in war time have been discovered,” said Mr. Everett. “I think that the descriptive title of “dazzle ship” is much more illustrative when applied to the use of this art at sea.

And, after all, it is not a very new ideas, because we are told that the Ancient Greeks painted their ships with big eyes and cheeks upon their bows to give them a terrifying expression of wisdom that might serve to confound their enemies.

But we moderns did better than this in war time: we had out ships painted in such a way that their strange colorings, and curious stripings and curves would puzzle the enemy and serve to give rise to uncertainty by dazzling the eyes of the watchful foe.

In fact, as I very early discovered in my work as official artist to the dazzle department, the object of ship painting in war time has really very little to do with the real meaning of the French word camouflage, which means the dissimulation of natural objects with the landscape by protective coloring.

Dazzle-painting was invented by the well-known sea painter, Lieutenant-Commander Norman Wilkinson, RNVR, and it is the only system which has practically solved the problem of the variation of light, and which attains its object not only eluding the submarine by invisibility, but by confusing its observers.

MAKES IT DIFFICULT TO CALCULATE SHIP’S COURSE


“By recognizing the limitations of paint, the art of dazzle as applied to ocean-going ships, pushes back these limitations as far as possible and makes the object of its being not invisibility but distortion: It makes the problem of calculating the course of a vessel extremely difficult.

Each design, as you will notice in the many pictures I have painted of ships, is entirely different from the other. No two dazzle-ships are alike in detail, either in color design, and the success of Commander Wilkinson’s inventions were so marked during all the weary war time months, that they were adopted by every entente nation with a marine service.

I think that this is one of the reasons why my pictures when they are seen in New York will be of extreme interest to Americans. They will then be able to see exactly the source from which came all those wonder ships that braved the perils of the sea during the past four years.

I have shown my portraits of these masquerading voyagers in English waters and British docks—settings that perhaps will be better appreciated nowadays in the New World, because it is so closely linked in these days with the old.”

BRITISH WARSHIP HIT AMIDSHIP, NO LIVES LOST

Among the pictures which will be seen by permission of the British government are HMS Victorian Bringing a Convoy of American Troops into London. Mr. Everett told me that this ship was afterwards torpedoed. She was hit amidships, but by some miracle she was brought into port and no lives were lost. Another picture is of the steamship Shuma discarding timber.

“This,” explained Mr. Everett. “is a ship with an interesting dazzle, showing a great deal of light sky-blue picked out with black and white.” Another ship shows a dazzled flour ship, and another the conversion of the Cunard steamship Nanerig into an armored cruiser.

Those and many other pictures of a like kind display with extraordinary clearness something of the practical side of what those who have “gone down to the sea in ships” have had to do in order to confound the enemy.



John Everett, Convoy (1918)
TELL VIVID STORY OF WAR TRAFFIC BY SEA

There is something very dramatic about these pictures of Mr. Everett’s. They give the story of the life of the sea, and the traffic across that great grim stretch of water between England and America with wonderful vividness. The artist confesses that these pictures, painted under circumstances both difficult and dangerous, are the most fascinating work he has ever undertaken.

“The painting of these pictures, which I regard as a sort of diary of the merchant service at sea during war time,” he said, “has given me an immense belief in, and admiration for, this dazzle theory; the whole point of it has been the deception of the submarine as to the course of the ship, thus causing a miscalculation of her distance. You ask me if the dazzle ships will die with war-time; I suppose for practical purposes they will do so.

But it seems to me a pity, for undoubtedly they have lent a beauty and color of ocean-going vessels and have transformed dirty old tramp steamers into objects of remarkable harmony of shape and hue.”

Certainly amongst the strange records which the war leaves behind it, these paintings of “dazzle ships” by John Everett will not be among the least curious. It has been suggested that the dazzled colors might still be used in peace time, not to distort, but to emphasize shipping. As Mr. Everett himself suggests, it certainly might be diverted from its past uses to the purpose of making a ship’s course more clear and thus bringing about an avoidance of collisions.


•••

Note Art historian Gwen Yarker (cited above) is one of seven speakers at a day-long "dazzle study day" that will take place from 9:30 am to 4:45 pm on Saturday, June 30 at the University of South Hampton, UK.  She will be speaking about John Everett's paintings of camouflaged ships.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Teaching Camouflage | The Real Art of War 1917

Top photo shows painted mural concealing the road
In an earlier blog post, we shared drawings and photographs of the use of perspective Illusions as a means of concealing activity, such as the movement of troops and equipment. These were huge, painted canvas backdrops, probably inspired by the theatrical backdrops in stage settings. They are also not dissimilar from the enormous scenic murals that provided the outdoor backgrounds for Buffalo Bill's Wild West performances, including phony boulders made by simply draping canvas tarps. We've now run into yet another example of the use of forced perspective in World War I. The article, reproduced above, was an unsigned full-page article called TEACHING CAMOUFLAGE, THE REAL "ART" OF WAR, TO AMERICA'S SOLDIERS, published in the St Louis Dispatch (Sunday, July 22, 1917, pp. 9-10). The entire text of the article is reproduced below—

To the German observers this perspective looked just as it had the night before. In reality they were looking at a cleverly painted screen behind which heavy guns were being placed. Drawn from a photograph.

It is the painting cannon, depots, hangars, piles of ammunition, and other war materials to blend with the surrounding landscape and be invisible to aviators. Even a countryside has been transformed so that troops could move behind a screen unknown to the Germans. American painters already have formed an organization to volunteer for service.

CAMOUFLAGE—Humbugging disguise; its main principle is the destruction of outline by paint or other artifice. See Camoufle; Camoufleur.

Such is the made-to-order definition of one of the newest words in our language, put there by the necessities of war. It will not be found in any dictIonary as yet, but it will soon be there in its proper place, precise and up-to-date. The adaptive and imaginative Frenchman coined it; the Britishers were slow to take up this new art of concealing themselves and their equipment from the common enemy. In fact, so much so that their chief protagonist, H. G. Wells, goes after his compatriots in this fashion:

"The principle of breaking the outline does not seem to be fully grasped upon the British front. Much of the painting of guns and tents that one sees is a feeble and useless dabbing or strIping; some of the tents I saw were done in concentric bands of radiating stripes that would on the whole increase their visibility from above. In one place I saw a hangar painted a good gray-green, but surrounded and outlined by white tents. My impression—and it may be quite an unjust one—was that some of our British Colonels misunderstand and dislike camouflage.”

Be that as it may, America is for this now highly developed trick-of-war, brush, tube, palette and all. Two hundred of the foremost artists of New York and other cities have already responded to the call, and when our cannon roll out towards the front they will Iook like the grassy ground, from above; and our hangars and our camps and our depots for munitions and supplies will be peaceful bits of meadowland or forest, as viewed from the German aeros circling the blue; a tarpaulin covering a pile of big shells lyIng in a roadway will have the dust of the road and the green of its edges reproduced upon it—our army is for the camouflage, first, last and all the time!

Sherry E. Fry and Barry Faulkner, two New York artists who were the recipients of the American prize to Rome. were the prime movers in the American camouflage. They enlisted the aid of several others—Walter Hale, Edwin Blashfield, J. Alden Weir and men of similar distlnction and called a meeting. The American Academy of Design went in, and the Architectural League, followed by the Society of Illustrators and the Society of Scene Painters. Mr. Blashfield was made chairman and Mr. Fry secretary. Then Washington was notified, and an appreciative letter returned from the office of the Chief of Staff.

A battalion of four companies of the camouflage Is tentatively proposed for each field army of from four to six divisions. Each company will consist of a Captain of camouflage, with three or four Lieutenants, eight or 10 Sergeants, 15 to 20 Corporals and the remainder privates. Its members wlll be put on a strictly military basis as to pay and allowances. A committee of the War College Division is now studying camouflage with a view to making definite recommendations to the Secretary of War. In the meantime the New York volunteer artists have been asked to submit technical details as to material and functions.

Abbott Thayer of Dublin, N.H., was the fIrst person ever to take up the art of concealment when he began the study of the protective coloring of animals 25 years ago. He noted that such beasts as the zebra and okapi were parts of the landscape at a few yards distance and he evolved the prlnciple that the breaking or outline was the destruction of visibility.

Little was thought of camouflage at the onset of the present big conflict. There were white kid gloves—fatal targets for German snipers—and waving plumes; the burnished cuirass and the pennoned lance. Then the two contending lines dug themselves in and locked horns. Concealment became everything—concealment from the aero with the telescopic eye; from the artillery observation station, binocular-eyed; from the practiced glance of the sharpshooter and the keen vision of the patrols. French artists in the ranks busied themselves; a new branch of the art military was born—camouflage.

Today it is highly developed. There are two branches, invisibility and imitation. A supply train may look like a row of cottages; that is imitation. A screen tops a great gun so that the green of the screen blends with the grass of the meadow; that is invisibility. And there Is a third offshoot—the art of making compelling replicas of camps, guns, piles of supplies, trenches, ammunition depots and the like, which are not bonafide at all, but the aero man thinks they are and wastes his bombs and energy at attacking nothlng worthwhile.

Such is the great game of hocus-pocus. The French, grasping the idea of the zebra’s stripes and the leopard’s spots, paint their tents in map-like shapes of strong green and bright yellow. At short distances the objects so painter are completely swallowed up in the landscape. An airman will have to fly dangerously low to spy out the trick.

French women work zealously at camouflage—“a tip to American women now drilling in khaki, utterly useless,” says one officer of the American unit. They weave countless square yards of a special open green fabric out of rushes, which can be stretched between poles, or spread out on roofs of supply depots, or on sheds with extreme rapidity.

“We propose to makes ours,” says Mr. Fry, “of American chicken wire fencing or grillage. This will give us a substantial background in which to weave whatever green substance we need to blend with the particular landscape in hand.”

Some great feats of camouflage have been pulled off in the past few months by the clever French poilu-camoufleurs. It was necessary that a large force of troops be moved along a road swept by German artillery at the first sign of anything doing. In a snug place of concealment behind the lines the artists painted on a screen that entire stretch of exposed roadway, with its background, as if it were to be a scene on the stage. Then in the night it was mounted on piles on the side of the road towards the enemy, so that when day dawned the German saw nothing extraordinary—there was the familiar road, as of the day before, wholly barren of human movement. But behind the screen along that road thousands and thousands of French soldiers were quietly marching to take their new positions, a water cart rolling along every 100 yards between the companies to keep down the dust.

Another time the German positions commanded a railway track far into the distance behind the French lines. That whole track, signals, rails and ties, and the tress that fenced in the line and hills on the horizon, were all painted on a wide screen and set up in the night across a village street which was needed. The enemy never found out the trick.

It is no safe occupation, this camouflage. The camoufleur, to achieve the right perspective, must take flights over his objectives. He must set up his whimsies at the most exposed points. Aero and auto and motor cycle must be used by him to get about, nor can he carry weapons of offense while he works. With everyone else, he must take a sporting chance.

Already we see a little of the new art in New York. One army tug down the bay is painted a dull gray, with black horizontal wave lines all over it, hull, cabin, pilot house and all. Army motorcycles are painted olive drab, with maroon stripes. The official automobiles that whisk around the machine guns are similarly colored.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Canada | Artists, Poets and Camoufleurs

Brochure [detail] for In Broad Daylight
Above and below Screen grabs from an online brochure in connection with an OpenStudio visiting artist exhibition, titled In Broad Daylight by Kathleen Ritter, at the Contemporary Printmaking Centre in Toronto CA, 2017. Also see her exhibition Camoufleurs.

Also featured in the brochure (as shown below) is a poem titled The Pickpocket and the Sloth by Ella Dawn McGeough.


Dazzle Camouflage Exhibit at St Barbe Museum UK

Poster for St Barbe Museum Dazzle Exhibition Workshop (2018)
Above Just recently posted is this magnificent poster, featuring a WWI-era painting of a dazzle-painted ship by British artist Harry Hudson Rodmell (1896-1984).

The poster is advertising one of the events that supplement an important exhibition—titled Dazzle: Disguise and Disruption in War and Art—at the St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, in Lymington, Hampshire UK. This major exhibition, curated by author and historian James Taylor (working in liaison with Steve Marshall) opened on June 16 and continues through September 23, 2018.

It features original ship models, ship camouflage plans, and historic artworks, including unforgettable views of camouflaged ships by Norman Wilkinson, Edward Wadsworth, Montague Dawson, and John Everett. What a remarkable opportunity—to think that these important works will be on view at one time in a single place. Don't miss it.

Exhibition webpage at St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery
We would have hoped to have been there, to particpate in a day-long "dazzle study day" from 9:30 am to 4:45 pm on Saturday, June 30, at the University of South Hampton. See schedule on website.

There are seven major speakers, including James Taylor (the exhibition curator), architect Camilla Wilkinson (granddaughter of dazzle system originator Norman Wilkinson), Simon Stephens (National Maritime Museum), Ed Yardley, Gwen Yarker, Sue Prichard, and Liv Taylor.

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Don't forget the on-going French camouflage exhibit as well (mentioned in an earlier post) that continues through December 31, 2018, at the National Maritime Museum in Brest, France.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

New Find | Edward Wadsworth's Ship Camouflage

Above What a complete surprise to have found this, on the cover of the magazine section of The Detroit Free Press (Sunday, July 20, 1919). We've blogged about it before, seven years ago in May 2011, because we had a found a photograph of British Vorticist painter Edward Wadsworth in the process of completing this famous painting. Wadsworth was one of the few Modern-style artists who had actually served as a ship camoufleur during World War I. Most were academy-trained traditionalists, or Impressionists at best. To experience its full impact, you can see a color version here.

When this black and white reproduction was published, there was a caption below it that read—

Above is a reproduction of Lieut. E. Wadsworth's striking Navy picture, entitled Dazzle Ships in Drydock at Liverpool—dazzle, of course, being English for camouflage. This is a big, vital and realistic piece of painting, notwithstanding the necessarily cubistic look of its angular, geometric pattern, scientifically designed to confuse the eye of the hostile range-finder at sea. This reminds us that the invention and application of dazzle camouflage is perhaps the greatest of several factors contributed by artists to the winning of the war, as it enabled Canada and the United States to transport their armies to France in comparative safety, and then, after putting them into the fight, protected them with more camouflage of the military kind.

More on Iowa-born Ship Camouflage Artist Carol Sax

Above In August 2017, we featured a long blog post on an Iowa-born theatre designer named Carol Sax, who had taught scenic design in Baltimore, and served as a ship camoufleur for the US Shipping Board during World War I. We've since found another (slightly different) version of the same article, featured (apparently) in a different edition of the Des Moines Register on the same day (February 2, 1919, p. X7. It includes a photograph of Sax (from Ottumwa) as well as a dazzle-camouflaged ship.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ship Camouflage Website Revised and Updated

Introduction
We've embarked on a major revision, a complete overhaul, more or less, of our World War I ship camouflage research website. Above is a screen grab of a portion of the introduction or home page. At the top of that page is a black-and-white bar, each section of which links to one of five other pages: events (a timeline or chronology), the process of ship camouflage, the people or camoufleurs, ship camouflage plans, and a list of books, articles and media sources. Below are additional screen grabs of portions of those pages. In the coming days and weeks, more changes will be posted.

Chronology

Process

People

Plans

Sources


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Our Tiger Saskia Just Died | Rest In Peace

RIP Saskia the Cat (2018)
Above Our cat Saskia just died. It's a quiet Sunday morning here, and she died peacefully at home about an hour ago. She lived with us (tolerated us really) for eighteen years, which is a pretty long time for a creature who began life as a forlorn feral farm kitten.

She never allowed us to tame her, although she surely loved her mom. She loved to be held and squeezed by her mom—whom she also liked to bite, without warning. She craved belly rubs as intensely as she despised having her nails clipped. An episode of nail clipping, the mere mention of the word "clippers," or leaving her home alone for a day, were unpardonable causes for not speaking to (or even looking at) her mom for hours afterwards. Her father didn't exist (unless she was hungry for tuna).

Saskia was a perfectly beautiful tiger, a walking haute couture "poster child" for the stipey optical elegance of animal camouflage. She was named after Saskia van Uylenburgh, the model and eventual wife of Rembrandt. Our Saskia spent a lot of time in Mom's studio.

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William Blake—

Tyger, tyger, burning bright / In the forests of the night / What immortal hand or eye / Could frame they fearful symmetry?

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Woodpecker Compared to Dazzle Camouflaged Ship

Hypothetical ship camouflage / ivory-billed woodpecker
Above Provocative justaposition of John James Audubon's portrayal of a woodpecker with the design of a hypothetical camouflaged ship in the style of American artist Corita Kent.

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Unsigned, CAPTAIN SAW U-BOAT OFF NEW YORK HARBOR In The Washington Times, July 26, 1918, p. 13—

Boston, July 26—The captain of a coal steamer now at this port believes he sighted a large German submarine off Fire Island NY last Sunday at noon. He was confident she was German, he said, as her superstructure was different from that of American undersea boats. She was lying on the surface a mile distant.

There was a light fog at the time and the captain of the coaler expressed the opinion that the haze and the steamer's camouflage prevented the submarine from sighting him.  He estimated the length of the submarine at between 300 and 400 feet.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

How a Wild Ass Looks to a Color Blind Lion

Thayer photograph in Central Park
Above Photographic comparison of a stuffed zebra and a wild ass in Central Park in NYC, from Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom by Gerald Handerson Thayer. New York: Macmillan, 1909/18. The caption reads: Artificial ass and zebra, looked at from the low viewpoint of an ambushed lion, showing the effacing effect of the stripes in actual operation (facing p. 136). The entire book is available online.

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Unsigned, HOW A WILD ASS LOOKS TO A COLOR BLIND LION. Artist Thayer Demonstrates His Theory of Concealing Coloration. IN CENTRAL PARK’S WILDS. Lay Crowd Sees Zoological Demonstration of Idea That Col. Roosevelt Attacked in The Sun (New York), March 12, 1912, p. 7—

If Col. [Theodore] Roosevelt finds time to take from his multifarious activities on the first cloudy day after today he can run up from the Outlook office to the 81st Street entrance to Central Park at 10 am and see how a wild ass looks from a lion’s viewpoint. If this please him he can also see how a zebra looks from a ditto viewpoint on a cloudy day in the Sotik [Kenya]. But better than all he can verify his expressed opinion of how Abbott H. Thayer, portrait painter and father of the Thayer theory of concealing coloration in the animal kingdom, looks from an African faunal naturalist’s viewpoint.

Mr. Thayer will necessarily be in proximity to the wild ass. The faunal naturalist has said of the artist amateur in the field of zoology and ornithology that he was “wild,” that being one of the minor characterizations indulged in by the faunal naturalist in his “Revealing and Concealing Coloration in Birds and Mammals,” by Theodore Roosevelt, author’s edition extracted from the bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.

Just because Mr. Thayer did not trot out his wild ass and his zebra—both stuffed, but very lifelike—at the demonstrations he gave in the wildernesses of Central Park and the lot behind the Museum of Natural History yesterday morning Col. Roosevelt was not there. Nothing so picayune as stuffed hummingbirds perching on an azalea flower or a dummy filly loo bird nesting next to a neolithic brick in the back yard of the museum could lure a hunter of big game to forsake conferences and such, even though this was to be Mr. Thayer’s last word in a controversy upon which he entered unafraid with the premier stalker of the oryx. So Mr. Thayer had to be contented with an uninterrupted demonstration of the counteraction of rotundity and the immutable law of countershading as applied to the coloration of a bluejay, a canvas duck, twenty-nine hummingbirds and a chrome colored dog.

The dog, it may be stated parenthetically, was a volunteer subject, and by making itself perfectly visible in the operation of running away with one of the dummy birds thereby demonstrated that Mr. Thayer’s theory as applied to chrome dogs may be all right in the barren where such dogs come from, but not in the entirely artificial conditions in and about 81st Street and 8th Avenue.

The artist-naturalist opened his ocular refutation of Rooseveltian criticism by ranging on the ground back of the museum a dozen or more birds of dun colored canvas hue. Everybody who gathered to view the experiments agreed that the birds as they lay on the dead grass were really very visible. Then Mr. Thayer took an assortment of paintings and began to daub deceiving lines and splashes on the hurricane decks of three or more of the birds. Everybody agreed that when the countershaded the birds by painting—counter shade is the exact term—they became really very invisible.

There was just one thing which he couldn’t persuade Col. Roosevelt to accept, Mr. Thayer explained—the counter action of a rotundity and countershading. Wasn’t it plain enough that when a bird is round—and it may be said that most birds are more or less round—that he is lighter on the underneath side than he is on top the tricks of these shadows appear to counteract that bird’s natal gift of rotundity? Yet Col. Roosevelt had just a short while ago written Mr. Thayer from the Outlook office that “if a man wears a black frock coat and white duck trousers that man will not become by that fact invisible whether he is a rotund or a thin man.”

It began to filter in upon the consciousness of several in the crowd of spectators that Mr. Thayer did not agree with old Dr. Darwin and William Wallace [sic: should be Alfred Russel Wallace] and those other persons who worked it out that the stripes and dots and zigzags on all birds and mammals, with the exception of genus homo, were not designed necessarily for their protection. Mr. Thayer, who is an artist first and a naturalist only through his art, believes that the Almighty colored the flamingo as he did so that the stealthy crocodile would mistake the bird for a sunset on the Nile and not snap at it. Animal coloration is for protection, according to the theory which Mr. Thayer expounded yesterday to a policeman and about 150 people in plain clothes.

The spectators moved over to Central Park upon Mr. Thayer’s invitation and there they beheld the bluejay test. Mr. Thayer laid a sheet down where shadows would streak it; that represented snow in the winter home of the Canadian jay. Then he laid several stuffed jays on top of the sheet and defied anybody to distinguish the bluejays from the bluish shadows on the sheet. It is not the province of The Sun to decide any private bets, but one might say that if a person couldn’t—

After that came the hummingbirds perched amid the flowering glory of some specially imported azaleas and cinerarias. Because the birds were so particolored, Mr. Thayer explained, and not monochromatic, their outlines were blurred and they were rendered invisible even though they had ruby throats and emerald backs. Counteraction of rotundity again and there you were! A hummingbird from a hawk’s viewpoint—if hawks eat hummingbirds—would be—nothing.

Maybe it takes an artist like Mr. Thayer or Edmund Russell [Shakespearean actor?] to comprehend these fine points in optics and to get a wild ass from a lion’s viewpoint. But Col. Theodore Roosevelt, he says that no zebra ever deceived him by appearing like the evening sky against a foreground of reeds and he’d have a small opinion of a lion who would get only that impressionistic stuff when there was a meal behind it…


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Mary Fuertes Boynton, "Abbott Thayer and Natural History," in Osiris Vol 10, 1952, pp. 542-555—

Mr. Thayer placed a model of a zebra not many feet back from the bridle path in Central Park, New York City, and the story goes that no one reported seeing it, not even the mighty hunter Theodore Roosevelt, who rode daily on that path and maintained in print that the zebra was the most conspicuous of animals [p. 546].

Friday, March 30, 2018

Why Not Try Women Camouflage Artists?

Artist unknown (1917), newspaper cartoon
Above The use of artists as camouflage designers in World War I coincided with the Women's Suffrage Movement. It led to sardonic comparisons of wartime camouflage with the historic use by women of cosmetics, dyes, clothing and fashion-based adjustments. Would it not make sense, this cartoon asks, to assign the task of camouflage to women?—After all, "they've been doing it all their lives." The social context of all this is discussed in an essay published recently, titled "Chicanery and Conspicuousness: Social Repercussions of World War I Ship Camouflage," which is available online. The cartoon above was widely published in American newspapers, such as in The Ogden Standard (Ogden UT), December 3, 1917, p. 11.

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Arthur “Bugs” Baer, CAMOUFLAGE in The Daily Missoulian (Missoula MT), September 2, 1917. Special Features, p. 1. Even when the content is offensive, you have to admit that Bugs Baer had a way with words. He was a well-known American journalist and humorist, and indeed it was Bugs who came up with the nickname the "Sultan of Swat" for Babe Ruth

This war is being fought on words that ain’t in the dictionary. Old man Noah Webster knew a few spoonfuls, but he didn’t know any more about camouflage than a hog does about Sunday. You can lamp his dictionary until you sprain an eye, but you won’t apprehend anything about camouflage in his unabridged word garage. Camouflage is a bilking industry with the libretto and music written by the French. The theory is to swindle the Germans’ eyes. The Frenchmen cover themselves with lots of leaves. They got the theory from Adam and Eve, but ain’t paying royalties.

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After he is camouflaged up in a set of form-fitting leaves, the Frenchman ankles off for a short vegetarian stroll toward the kaiser’s trenches. Some husky boche tosses his optic toward him, but figures him out for a dododendron bush goes democratic and poor old Haus is listed among the slightly killed, totally wounded or partially missing.

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The idea of camouflage is to gyp the enemy. Give him one five for two tens. You heard about the cowboy who called on his best girl and found her bivouacking in another cowboy’s lap. He pulled out this 45-caliber revolver to shoot the beauty spot off her false, deceiving chin, when she looks at him like page 256 in any of Ouida’s novels.

“Do you believe your dearie, or do you believe your eyes?” she piped.

The poor fish believed his dearie, and they got married and lived snappily ever after. She had that fool cowboy all camouflaged up with her metropolitan tongue and city ways.

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Still, camouflage is no novelty among the unfair sex. A flapper will high-heel along the macadamized turf, all ambushed up in a swarm of Djar Kiss. She will have a gang of summer furs lurking on her shoulders and a mob of paint, powder and other beauty utensils loitering on her face. She will have a complexion fairer than a supreme court decision. But when she gets home and starts to uncamouflage, she puts on ten years for everything she takes off. She has one of those removable complexions. By the time that she has moulted her blonde hair, shed her automatic teeth and discarded her mechanical eye, she is older than hieroglyphics, and gaining every lap.

She has one of these folding complexions that you can carry in your handbag. The French have no monopoly on that camouflage institution. Yea bo.

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Under the modern regime of beauty camouflage, everything about a woman’s complexion is detachable except her ears.

There are different branches of study in the camouflage curriculum. In Washington the senators have oratorical camouflage down to a science. Their speciality is painting word pictures, using their chin as a brush. There isn’t a battle that the senate can’t win with a few maxillary calisthenics. Rhetorical camouflage is great stuff, but you can’t bridge the ocean with a pontoon of words. Any union senator with his vocal camouflagers on can guild a fleet in three paragraphs or raise an army with a few chin excursions. Aesop’s jackass had the camouflage idea when he attended the zoo bal masque wearing the lion’s coat and vest, but a few chirps of his fool mule tongue gummed his camouflage.

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The gent who disguises himself behind a camouflage of women’s skirts in order to escape military service is smaller than the republican vote in Alabama. A guy that little can ambush himself behind a cancelled postage stamp. The slackers are utilizing a camouflage of women’s skirts, dependent relatives, conscientious objections, flat feet, weak heart and weaker knees. Which is a camouflage that fails to camouflage by quite a few flages. And a culprit who tries to hide behind a woman’s petticoats would have to pass his career in a bureau drawer. That’s where the ladies are wearing their pettiskirts. Nope, we ain’t married, but we read the Delineator.

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By camouflaging yourself as a porcupine with a flat wheel, you can secure enough elbow space in the subway to draw in a breath edgeways once in a while. But as drawing in a subway breath is suicide at a nickel a ticket, this camouflage is rather intricate.

Peace hath her camouflages as well as war. With a little cranial dexterity and a few cerebral gymnastics, camouflaging can be utilized to alleviate the inconveniences of civilization.

There will be a camouflage for every ill.

Of course, in the case of a poor henpecked husband we can paint no disguise with a brush.

The only camouflage will be distance. And you will have to point that with your heels.


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