Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 3

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, with apologies to (top to bottom) Thomas Hart Benton, Georgia O'Keeffe, Paul Klee and Balthus.


"Camouflage" in Time magazine (1939)—

Camouflage in the last war meant whirls, blotches, stripes and curlicues with which "experts" made common objects look like a Futurist's bad dream.

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 2

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, with apologies to (top to bottom) Michelangelo Caravaggio, Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky.


Plenty of Camouflage in New York Harbor in New York Times (January 20, 1918), p. 63—

The wonders of camouflage, as it is practiced by the men of the fighting armies abroad, are much pictured and described for American readers, but any New Yorker who wants to inspect its experiments for himself has only to take a ferry boat trip across the harbor on almost any bright day. There he will see at anchor, or coming in or going out, numerous ships whose painted sides reveal such wild extravagances of form and color as make the landsman open his eyes with amazement and mystification.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 1

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, with apologies to (top to bottom) Pieter Bruegel the elder, Arshile Gorky (who taught a course in camouflage to civilians during World War II), Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud.


Sir Alister Hardy, The Living Stream: A Restatement of Evolution Theory and its Relationship to the Spirit of Man. New York: Harper and Row, 1965—

I think it likely that there are no finer galleries of abstract art than the cabinet drawers of the tropical butterfly collector. Each “work” is a symbol, if I must not say of emotion, then of vivid life…It is often, I believe, the fascination of this abstract color and design, as much as an interest in biology or a love of nature, that allures the ardent lepidopterist, although all these may be combined; he has his favorite genera and dotes upon his different species of Vanessa and Parnassius, as the modernist does upon his examples of Matisse or Ben Nicholson. The one-time schoolboy collector will in later life be transfixed with emotion for a moment at the sight of a Camberwell Beauty or a swallowtail—I speak from experience.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Camouflage Artist | British Lieutenant O. Moser

British Navy camoufleur Lieutenant O. Moser (c1918)
Above This is a restoration of an undated photograph from World War I, c1918. The original print can also be found online at the Navy History and Heritage Command (NH 120779), where the caption reads: "Lieutenant O. Moser, Head of British dazzle painting and camouflage for ship." How strange. In all our research of ship camouflage, we've never heard of Lieutenant Moser, much less that he supposedly served as the head of British ship camouflage. The credit for that is nearly always given to Lieutenant Norman Wilkinson. So who was Moser? (Oliver, Oscar, Oswald, Otto?) Please note on the table beside him the dazzle-painted ship model (very British and, most likely, very Wilkinson).


From MEN FROM EVERY STATION IN LIFE BUILDING SHIPS. Even Doctors, Lawyers and Clerks Have Been Whipped Into Shape as Workmen; Much Friendly Rivalry (reporting on operations at the Moore Shipbuilding and Dock Company in Oakland CA) in the Albuquerque Morning Journal (Albuquerque NM), October 14, 1918, p. 1—

Ship camouflage gives every boat from this plant the appearance of some monster futurist painting that has left its frame for a spin on the ocean. The idea is carried out to such an extent that an aviator or lookout gazing down at her is deceived in her size and direction. Each camouflage scheme is worked out to give its own particular illusion.


Below is another restored photograph from the same NHHC archives in which two wooden ship models are positioned side by side, the one on the left having been dazzle-painted in the British manner while the one on the right is unpainted.

WWI ship camouflage demonstration

From SHIP CAMOUFLAGE FUTILE, SAYS NIXON; Asserts German Periscope Reveals Outlines, Regardless of Color Plan in the New York Sun, March 7, 1918, p. 4—

Camouflage of ships is a useless art. No longer does the much heralded war method of concealment hide allied transports from the destructive eyes of the Kaiser's U-boat, according to a statement made yesterday by Lewis Nixon, shipbuilder, at the luncheon of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce…

"The Germans are inventive. They are desperate and they are relying on the submarines," said Mr. Nixon. The peculiar coloring of our ships is of no avail, because they have invented a periscope that reveals the ship in outline, regardless of coloring.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Dazzle-Painted Ship Model | SS Hindustan 1917

Model of dazzle-painted SS Hindustan
Above We recommend a visit to a post (from October 2015) on the Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums blog. It features this photograph of a dazzle-painted model of a WWI-era tramp steamer named the SS Hindustan. Below that is an article that repeats the standard British account of the origin and purpose of so-called dazzle camouflage, supplemented by eight additional photographs of camouflaged ships.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Camouflage in Works That Work (2016)

from current issue of Works That Work
Above Just out is the current issue (Number 7) of the magazine (both print and digital) Works That Work, published in The Netherlands. Among its articles is an illustrated essay by Caitlin Hu titled "The Art and Science of Military Camouflage." More>>>

Dazzle Camouflage Designs Applied Willy Nilly

John Goss book illustration (1919)
This is a full-page illustration from a rather curious book that came out the year that World War I ended. Written by Isabel Hornibrook and titled Camp Fire Girls in War and Peace (Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, 1919), it has an entire chapter about the efforts of a Camp Fire Girl named Sara, who (as shown here) decides to apply a dazzle design to a small boat. Throughout the chapter, there is some wonderful dialog on wartime camouflage and public attitudes toward it. The book's illustrator was John Goss (1887-1963), who headed the graphic arts department of the Rhode Island School of Design, and at one time shared a studio with typographer and book designer W.A. Dwiggins in Boston.

At about the same time, the application of dazzle-like camouflage patterns to rowboats was all but epidemic (see below), as were cartoon comparisons of dazzle with all sorts of commonplace phenomena.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Making Faces | Masking Wartime Horrors

A delightful time was had yesterday while participating in an art and design conference at St Ambrose University in Davenport IA. Titled FAIR PLAY: Art and Social Justice, the two-day conference began Wednesday (April 6) and continued through the following day. Presenters came from various schools, among them Western Illinois University, St Ambrose, University of Iowa, Grinnell College, Augustana College, and the University of Northern Iowa. Above is the title slide from our own presentation titled MAKING FACES: Masking Wartime Horrors, about the work of Allied artists during World War I, in sculpting facial disfigurement masks for men whose identities had been ripped apart during trench warfare. Thumbnail views of other slides are shown below.


US Major-General Smedley Butler (1881-1940) is a fabled hero, the most decorated US Marine in history. While courageous on the battlefield, he was wonderfully candid in public as well. As quoted by Studs Terkel in Touch and Go: A Memoir, this is how Butler summed up his military career in 1935, in an article in Common Sense magazine:

I spent 35 years and 4 months in active [duty] as a member of our country's most agile military force—the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from a second lieutenant to major-general. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism…Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street…[and] I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1909-12.

In another context, Butler said—

War is a racket. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars, and the losses in lives.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

WWI Ship Camouflage | Smithsonian Magazine

Above As of yesterday, the website for Smithsonian Magazine has posted a special online report on WWI ship camouflage by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie on World War I: 100 Years Later. The entire text and photographs can be accessed here.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Abbott H. Thayer's Camouflage at Williams College

Thayer Exhibition as viewed through duck silhouette
Several years ago, as we repeatedly blogged about then, it became known that a substantial number of artifacts (drawings, paintings, demonstrations, photographs, letters and so on) had been located that pertain directly to the early camouflage research by American artist Abbott H. Thayer (1849-1921). The source for some of these artifacts was the Thayer Family Estate (who had given about a hundred items to the Smithsonian Institution in 1949), while a second substantial cache was in the possession of Richard Meryman, a prominent writer and editor (author of Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life) whose father (artist Richard Sumner Meryman) had been Thayer’s student and a US Army camoufleur during World War I.

Under the sponsorship of Gold Leaf Studios (Washington DC), on behalf of the family estate, some of these artifacts were first shown publicly in the spring of 2013 in an exhibition at the National Sporting Museum and Library in Middleburg VA. The following spring, a second exhibition (featuring much of the same material) was held at the Army and Navy Club in DC, supported in part by the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art. In both cases, the exhibits were accompanied by a full-color exhibition catalog, titled Abbott Handerson Thayer: A Beautiful Law of Nature, edited by Ari Post. The opening for the second exhibition included presentations by a panel of five Thayer and camouflage scholars, among them Richard Meryman.

Now (again beginning in the spring), a third installation of camouflage-related materials from this large Thayer archive has opened only days ago at the Williams College Museum of Art (Meryman’s alma mater). Curated by Kevin M. Murphy and titled Not Theories but Revelations: The Art and Science of Abbott Handerson Thayer, the exhibition opened on March 11 and continues through August 21, 2016. In time, the exhibit will be supplemented by a 136-page catalog, with the same title, prepared by the curator, with a foreword by museum director Tina Olsen. While we haven’t yet seen the exhibition (nor the catalog, which won’t actually come out until June), we have seen some of its components, as is apparent from online photographs.

From those exhibition photographs, it appears that a virtue of this event is the unorthodox manner in which the items are installed. For example, instead of a neutral background, the walls on which the items are hung are covered with an elegant camouflage-patterned wallpaper. The effect is both appropriate and wonderful. Another conspicuous innovation is the use of a cut-out silhouette of a duck, through which one is able to view the exhibition as a disruptive inversion of figure and ground. As we have earlier blogged about, Thayer made frequent use of cut-out silhouettes of animals, soldiers, indigenous warriors and so on. One of the most famous examples of this is a painting of a copperhead snake (with a cut-out silhouette overlay) by his student Rockwell Kent, as was published in the famous book that he produced with his naturalist son (author of record), Gerald Handerson Thayer, titled Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (1909/1918).

Thayer—the artist, the naturalist, and the person himself—is a topic of limitless interest, as confirmed by the ever-mounting surge of books, films, dissertations, magazine articles, and exhibitions about the so-called “father of camouflage” and his two-pronged impassioned commitment to the science and art of concealment that have come out in just the past thirty years. The subject has gone viral, and there are still others now “in press,” including an important documentary film.

By the way (not pertaining to camouflage), one great highlight of the Williams College exhibition is the first public showing (unless I’m mistaken) of one of Thayer’s portraits of his enigmatic model Alma Wollerman, who later became his daughter-in-law. As he often did, he produced differing “end results” (at least three or four, I think) of this one astonishing painting.

Abbott H. Thayer silhouette camouflage demonstration

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Camouflage Artist | John Vassos

Cover of John Vassos biography (2016)
We are awaiting the release of the first book-length biography of the American book artist, designer, and camouflage artist John Vassos (1898-1985). Written by Danielle Shapiro, the biography is titled John Vassos: Industrial Design for Modern Life, and is slated for release in late March 2016 (see cover above).

If people have heard of Vassos, it is usually because of his innovative Art Deco-era graphic novels, of which the best known title is Phobia, which was initially published in 1931, then reprinted by Dover Publications in 2009, the cover of which is shown below.

Cover of Dover edition of Phobia (2009)

On the other hand, they may also know about his prolific contributions to American industrial design, including TV cabinets and various other devices, while a corporate designer at the RCA Corporation. His design for a RCA Victor Special Model K, Portable Electric Phonograph (c1935) is reproduced below.

It is generally less well-known that he served with the US Army Air Corps during World War II as a camouflage consultant. He also worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA in connection with efforts to support the underground resistance in Greece. In the process, he is said to have secretly parachuted into Greek territory on two occasions.

John Vassos, RCA phonograph design (c1936)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Camouflage Artist | Manley Dewitt Barber

Charles & Anna Drain House, Drain OR
Above Charles and Anna Drain House (1893-1895) in Drain OR, designed by George F. Barber, brother of Manley D. Barber. Wikimedia.

Anon, CAMOUFLAGE IN WAR BY DEKALB COUNTY BOY: Sergeant Manley D. Barber Of American Camouflage Section Describes Some of Strange Operations Employed to Deceive the Germans in the True Republican (Sycamore IL), March 8, 1919—

Camouflage, which has from the beginning of the World War been an important feature of the operations, is something entirely new as carried on in this war, and of more importance than ever before in warfare. Special troops have devoted all their energies to it, and the work of the American Camouflage Section both in the Navy and along the battle lines has excited wonder and admiration. A member of the American Camouflage Section, 40th Engineers, was Sergeant Manley D. Barber, former DeKalb boy and well-known in Sycamore being a relative of the pioneer David West and Love families of Sycamore. He describes some of his regiment’s camouflage operations in a clear and interesting manner in the Knoxville Journal, published at Knoxville TN, where he now makes his home.

After giving an account of the statement of his comrade Private Cooper the paper states: Sergeant Barber was with Private Cooper until February of 1918. He left Dijon and went to Nancy for training with the French. This training was similar to that which we received at home, only more practical and illustrated with frequent trips to the front, said Sergeant Barber. We had frequent air raids during the time I was at Nancy. After the training there, we were sent immediately to the Front. I was in the Toul sector. That was in the time of the old trench warfare, when the line was practically fixed and there was no rapid charging as in the Argonne-Meuse drive. Camouflage is really more effective in defensive than in offensive fighting for the reason that heavy camouflage material cannot be moved easily enough to keep up with a rapidly advancing army. We had to camouflage pill boxes, concrete protections for machine guns. These were sometimes below the surface, but often six feet above ground. We had to cover these with camouflage sheets in stair-steps; that is, there were a series of sheets, each smaller than the other and about five feet apart. This arrangement was made so that the shadow of the upper layers would be absorbed in the outlines of the lower ones, and no distance shadow would be cast by the whole. Sergeant Barber was in the Chateau Thierry drive and contracted trench fever. He was sent to a hospital behind the lines and reported missing for several weeks .

During the Argonne-Meuse drive there was one instance when camouflage men had to make a forest move, he said. A position was taken just behind a low hill, covered with a young forest, east of Fleiville. The guns were placed on the edge of the forest. The problem was to camouflage the guns and yet make no change in the outline of the woods as it might appear on the enemy's aerial photograph. The only thing to do was to move the forest back far enough to cover the guns and about 100 men in that particular unit, which was 20 or 30 feet. Trees were cut from the grove and stuck up in the mud thickly enough to make it look natural. The guns were covered with underbrush (real material being used wherever possible instead of manufactured camouflage) and the change in the whole when seen from an enemy plane would not have been noticeable. As a result, our guns there were never fired on. Camouflage in the winter is about as easy as in the summer. Of course the foliage on the trees helped to a certain extent in the summer, but then in the open the snow covering the nets stretched across the trenches or artillery centers aided quite as much. One of the greatest helps in the study of camouflage was the aerial photograph. That was what we had to deal with in regard to the enemy. In practicing the use of the different kinds of camouflage our own men made pictures of our work and let us see the real effect on an aerial picture. The pictures were usually made at a distance of about a mile and a half. Enemy planes hardly ever dared come any nearer than this because of the anti-aircraft guns.


There is online information about WWI camoufleur Manley Dewitt Barber at the 2007 Knox Heritage George Barber Homes Trolley Tour.  Manley Barber was the brother of George Franklin Barber, a prominent residential architect first in DeKalb IL, and then in Knoxville TN from 1888 until his death in 1915. By the end of the 19th century, George Barber’s architectural firm was the largest in the state. Thirty-five of his elaborate Victorian houses are still standing in Knoxville, with hundreds of others across the country, and in Canada, Japan, China and the Philippines. The Manley Dewitt Barber House (designed in 1905 by George Barber for his brother) is at 1620 Washington Avenue in Knoxville.

According to the online source—

After moving to Knoxville in 1903, Manley worked with George in the architectural firm of Barber and Klintz, and also spent time as a contractor and builder. Manley was best known as a collector of shells and fossils. He found many new specimens which he sent to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC to be named; three specimens were named after him and his collection is said to have been the largest in the United States in 1928. 

Robert Williams Wood | Carrot in Camouflage

Robert W. Wood, How to Tell the Birds From the Flowers
Above One of the comparative illustrations in How To Tell the Birds from the Flowers: A Revised Manual of Flornithology for Beginners, with verses and illustrations by Robert Williams Wood (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1917). A later edition was published by Dover Publications in 1959. Wood (1868-1955) was a prominent American scientist. In his children's book, each comparative image is accompanied by a nonsense verse. This one reads as follows—

The Parrot and the Carrot one may easily confound,
They're very much alike in looks and similar in sound,
We recognize the Parrot by his clear articulation,
For carrots are unable to engage in conversation.


Anon, The Versatile Carrot in the Urbana Daily Courier (Urbana IL), May 28, 1919—

There is nothing like a war to change the status of things. Look, for example, at the humble carrot. Before the war it was one of the lowliest of all the vegetables, seldom used except for stews or New England boiled dinners, but it certainly has been doing its bit in the culinary line recently. It has become a past master in the art of camouflage. Grated raw, it is said to be a very good substitute for eggs in certain things. Little slices dried become raisins and currants, and other bits, treated a little differently, masquerade as candied orange and lemon peel. Orange marmalade and certain kinds of jam are made of them, and large chances of them boiled and sugared make wonderful candied fruits of very kind—pineapples, pears, apricots, cherries—and are used by many caterers to give their war cakes and puddings a prosperous and festive look.

Paul J.E. Dezentjé's Art of Camouflage

Above Title panel from Paul J.E. Dezentjé's The Art of Camouflage blogpost at foundnyc.


Anon, A GOOD WAITER in Urbana Daily Courier (Urbana IL), 27 December 1919, p. 1—

In a restaurant in Chicago most of the waiters were returned sailors and soldiers. A traveling man came in and ordered roast beef with tomato sauce over it and a bowl of noodles. The waiter shouted, “Camouflage the calf and a bowl of submarines.”


Anon, SCHOOL NOTES in  Nashua Reporter (Nashua IA), January 17, 1918—

Hank Dana has been nominated for the Naval Academy at Annapolis MD. Gilbert Haugen of this district will take the examinations for the school some time in the near future. Hank should make good and the result of his application will be watched with interest. Hank has been camouflaged for the past few weeks with a mustache which graced his upper lip but since the news of his nomination has come out from behind the brush.


Anon, LeMars Globe-Post (LeMars IA), August 19, 1943—

Pvt. Norman Rohlfs of Craig enjoyed a 3-day pass over the weekend at the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Rohlfs, at Craig. He is at present stationed at Harvard NE with a camouflage unit. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Camouflage Artist | Walter L. Tubesing

French camoufleurs armband insignia (not the US version)*
Walter L. Tubesing (1889-1949) was an American artist from St. Paul MN. He is of particular interest because he was among the artists who comprised the first American Army Camouflage Corps during World War I. He began his training (along with 250 others) at Camp American University (Washington DC) in September 1917. While in training there, he was listed as having contributed to issues of The Camoufleur, an illustrated camp newspaper that we've blogged about before.

Their training continued in the US for four months, and then the unit was reassigned to France (landing at Brest). Corporal Tubesing served as a camoufleur in France (Paris, Dijon, Nancy, Chateau Thierry and St. Michiel) for the rest of the war. At Dijon, he and other soldiers worked with French women in producing camouflage netting, and contributed to the camouflage of YMCA tents (see example below), where childcare was available for the French workers. He and his fellow camoufleurs even produced a circus-themed musical show for the French children.

Camouflaged YMCA tent in France, c1918. Public domain.

When his Tubesing’s unit returned to the US in February 1919, he was among those listed in an article in the society pages of the Washington Times (February 9, 1919, p11), which reported on the fundraising activities of the League of American Penwomen. Through the courtesy of the Fortieth Engineers, the article notes, members of “the Camouflage Section will make the posters and decorations” for the organization’s upcoming carnival ball. It also offers this aside—

Men of the camouflage corps are seen on the streets of Washington wearing funny looking yellow lizards on the left shoulder. The lizard is really a chameleon, a “critter” which changes color according to the background on which it is placed. The insignia therefore is significant of their work.

The following is a list of the camouflage artists who contributed to the carnival ball (including our many corrections): "Leslie Thrasher, H. K[err] Eby, A. Bloudheim, H[enry] R. Sutter, A. Rottnere [probably Abraham Rattner], G[eorge] B[radford] Ashworth, Fred[eric] S[eymour] [called Feg] Murray, Robert Laswent [maybe Robert Lawson], Joseph Cox, [Frederic] Earl Christie [Christy], Frank [Francis William] Swain, Don Methvin, Walter Tubesing, Howard [Ashman] Patterson and [William]Twigg Smith."

A month later, Tubesing’s work in camouflage was described at length in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune (March 9, 1919), in an article titled CAMOUFLAGE IN WAR WORK; ARTISTS TOIL AS FOE SHELLS FLY. Corporal Walter Tubesing, Back From the Front; Shatters Several Illusions. Fish Net, Chicken Wire, Burlap and Canvas Important Tools of Workers. A photograph of the artist (not clear enough to publish here) appeared with the article.

The article states that “Mr. Tubesing lives at 714 Ashland Avenue, St. Paul, but is a member of the Attic Club in Minneapolis and has a studio here.” Through other sources, we learned that he was married to Lura Tubesing, and that, in 1940, they lived at 1854 Jefferson Avenue in St. Paul.

In the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (Brainerd MN), on April 4, 1949, page 4, there was news about his death. He died in St. Paul at age 60 on April 1, 1949, in the collision of a car driven by Alvin Hofstedt (age 35), a co-worker in St. Paul, and a Northwestern Railway passenger train, at a grade crossing near Tubesing’s home.

* Image is a detail from Hardy Blechman, DPM: Disruptive Pattern Material: An Encyclopedia of Camouflage (London: DPM, 2004), p. 274.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Dazzle Camouflage Animated | Designer Joe Myers

Joe Myers, Dazzle Camouflage (2015)
Graphic designer Joe Myers, who earned his degree at Northern Illinois University, has made a delightful short animation about dazzle ship camouflage. It combines his graphic components with excerpts from a radio interview that was originally broadcast on 99% Invisible. Such fun—it's well worth a visit.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Martin Stevens on Cheats and Deceits in Nature

Book jacket for Cheats and Deceits (2016)
A wonderful new book by zoologist Martin Stevens is out today in the UK, with US release to follow. Titled Cheats and Deceits: How Animals and Plants Exploit and Mislead (great title!), it is a timely follow-up to his other two recent volumes: Animal Camouflage: Mechanism and Function (2011) and Sensory Ecology, Behavior and Evolution (2013), all from Oxford University Press. Here is the jacket description from the latest, followed by an author’s bio from—

In nature, trickery and deception are widespread. Animals and plants mimic other objects or species in the environment for protection, trick other species into rearing their young, lure prey to their death, and deceive potential mates for reproduction. Cuckoos lay eggs carefully matched to their host's own clutch. Harmless butterflies mimic the wing patterning of a poisonous butterfly to avoid being eaten. The deep-sea angler fish hangs a glowing, fleshy lure in front of its mouth to draw the attention of potential prey, while some male fish alter their appearance to look like females in order to sneak past rivals in mating. Some orchids develop the smell of female insects in order to attract pollinators, while carnivorous plants lure insects to their death with colorful displays.

In Cheats and Deceits, Martin Stevens describes the remarkable range of such adaptations in nature, and considers how they have evolved and increasingly been perfected as part of an arms race between predator and prey or host and parasite. He explores both classic and recent research of naturalists and biologists, showing how scientists find ways of testing the impact of particular behaviors and colorings on the animals it is meant to fool. Drawing on a wide range of examples, Stevens considers what deception tells us about the process of evolution and adaptation.


Martin Stevens is Associate Professor of Sensory and Evolutionary Ecology in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter, UK. His research work and teaching focuses on animal behavior and their sensory systems and ecology. Most of his work aims to understand the evolution and function of animal coloration, including camouflage, mimicry, and warning signals, from the perspective of animal vision. His work has included studies on a wide range of animals, including fish, reptiles, birds, insects, crabs, and primates. Martin's work has frequently covered topics related to deception, including mimicry by brood parasites ("cuckoos") and anti-predator coloration, including camouflage, eyespots, and mimicry. He has published over 80 scientific manuscripts, two textbooks, and a general audience book on deception in nature. Martin's research is frequently covered in the international media and he has taken part in a wide range of TV, radio, and magazine productions and given public lectures around the world. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Women's Dazzle-Painting Team at NYPL

Above and below are public domain news photographs (1918), showing members of the Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps applying dazzle camouflage to a tank that has been placed in front of the New York Public Library. In the first photograph, the high contrast disruptive shapes are beginning to be evident. In the photo directly below that (apparently taken earlier), one of the tricks of the trade is revealed: they are marking in the boundaries of the colors with white chalk, a method that was commonly used by the teams who painted camouflaged ships.


Anon, ANOTHER KIND OF CAMOUFLAGE, in Popular Science, November 1918, p. 18—

In war work, as in nature, there are two kinds of camouflage coloration: one is designed to make the camouflaged object harder to distinguish from its surroundings, the other to make it even more conspicuous than it would otherwise be. The latter, however, in war work is restricted to objects used for recruiting purposes. The ocean-going freighters at anchor in the North River, off Manhattan Island, or in any other large harbor, are examples of the first kind. The [object in the three photographs shown here] is an example of the second, undergoing its camouflage painting at the hands of members of the Camouflage Corps of the National League for Women’s Service.

The tank stands in front of the New York Public Library. The young women at work in overalls are making its surface a crazy-quilt of the most violent and incongruous colors imaginable—colors that command the attention of every passer-by. The object is to aid recruiting for the tank service.

The effigy topping the tank’s turret, which seems to be a cross between a puma and a Teddy bear, was put there to make it harder—to overlook the tank.


ANON, Women War Workers of the World, in The Touchstone and American Art Student Magazine (New York) Vol 3 (1918), pp. 513-514—

The National League for Women’s Service has recently inaugurated a Woman’s Reserve Camouflage Corps. Although the course is unofficial, it is the aim of the corps to be of service to the Government at home and abroad. This division of women’s service is yet too young to have accomplished notable results, although they have helped, under Henry Reuterdahl’s supervision, in painting the land battleship Recruit in Union Square, camouflaged the tank in front of the Public Library, New York City, painted trench tables so that they look like the land and shrubs all around them, and painted snipers’ suits for men to wear when creeping among the rocks and bushes.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Duplicitous Roadsters Camouflaged and Otherwise

Advertising auto (c1919), Conover T. Silver
Above and below Views of World War I-era cleverly modified roadsters  designed by Conover T. Silver (C.T. Silver Motor Company, New York), for patriotic postcard use (below), and later, during Prohibition, as promotional advertising for “near beer” made by Anheuser-Busch (above).

Anon, AUTO THIEVES BUSY IN WEST: Iowa Suffering Worse Affliction Than in 1917 Through Camouflage Bandits, in The Standard (Springfield MO), July 6, 1918, p. 19—

Auto thieves are reaping a bountiful harvest all over the middle west this year. Over 2,000 cars were stolen in Iowa alone during 1917, and the operations of card bandits during the first half of this year indicate that their total steal for 1918 will far exceed last year’s record.…

According to the authorities, there are today half a dozen clever gangs operating in Iowa for the sole purpose of stealing autos. Their ingenuity in making away with machines, and then disguising them so that they cannot be recognized, is said to be almost beyond belief.

One pair of bandits, still at large, has a trick of getting away with a car that is real camouflage. The pair drive up in greasy mechanics' overalls, approach a car, parked in front of a building or garage, and commence to tinker with the engine. For several minutes they work industriously at their apparent task. Then they jump in the machine and ride away. Even the most suspicious person would mistake the pair for a couple of mechanics assigned to look over the auto in question.

…After the pair get out of town with the machine they usually take it some place to have it repainted. The license number is changed, and the stenciled number on the engine block ground off, and a new number put on.

Patriotic postcard (c1917), Conover T. Silver

Anon, AUTO THIEVES WORK BOLDLY, in Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita KS), December 9, 1918—

The up-to-date [auto] thieves operating in Rochester NY drive their loot out into unfrequented parts of the country, run the car in a field and camouflage it to resemble a broken down shed, hay stack or pile of brush. The police have recovered a number of these camouflaged cars since the scheme was discovered through a confession.…

John G. Williams, an Omaha NE pioneer, at a meeting of the Nebraska Roads Association, called to discuss the passage of the anti-auto-theft law, “with teeth in it,” recommended hanging as a punishment for auto stealing. “If we string up a few of them it will discourage the others,” he said. “It discouraged the horse thieves in the old days,” he said.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Patternalia Meets Camoupedia

Cover, Patternalia by Jude Stewart
Jude Stewart is a Chicago-based writer. Back in 2013, she published a five-part online series about the visual history of camouflage at Believer magazine. That same year she also published a book (with lively text and graphics combined) titled ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color (Bloomsbury USA, 2013) .

In recent months, she has come out with an inevitably suitable sequel, titled Patternalia: An Unconventional History of Polka Dots, Stripes, Plaid, Camouflage, & Other Graphic Patterns (Bloomsbury USA, 2015). Anyone interested in design, vision and camouflage will find this book of value, including the following memorable quotes—

Albert Einstein

One you can accept the universe as being something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something, wearing stripes with plaid is easy.


R. Buckminster Fuller, I Seem To Be A Verb

Man is a complex of patterns, or processes. We speak of our circulatory system, our respiratory system, our digestive system, and so it goes. Man is not weight. He isn't the vegetables he eats, for example, because he'll eat seven tons of vegetables in his life. He is the result of his own pattern integrity.

Cover, ROY G. BIV by Jude Stewart

Saturday, December 19, 2015

D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson on Camouflage

Above Photograph of D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, and (to the left) cover of a recent edition of his famous book (originally published in 1917).


From CAMOUFLAGED CRAB in Ashburton Guardian (Ashburton NZ), May 15, 1919, p. 5—

Professor D'Arcy [Wentworth] Thompson [Scottish mathematical biologist, and author of On Growth and Form] had some interesting things to say about crabs at his recent lecture at the Royal Institution, London.

There was one crab of the "spider" variety which, he said, turned the top of its shell into a sort of garden. He was often to be seen taking cuttings of marine vegetation and carefully planting them on his back, where they took root among the hairs, which meanwhile held them in position.

"This little [sic] creature," said Professor Thompson, "is a master, if not, indeed, the inventor, of what we have come to call camouflage."…

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Camouflage | A Checkered Past

USS Panaman (c1918)
Above US government photograph of the port side of the USS Panaman (c1918) in dazzle camouflage. Courtesy US National Archives.

Anon, CAMOUFLAGE FIRST USED IN OUR INDIAN WARS, in The Milwaukee Journal (Milwaukee WI), January 22, 1942, p. 16 (reprinted from the Bulletin of the National Paint Association)—

The origin of the word camouflage has, it seems, been left in the shuffle. One of the stories told in connection with it is that during the Indian troubles in the southwest, one Jacques Camou• built a circular mud fort. This fort has large square openings at regular intervals around the walls in a single line. Through these the garrison of the fort used to fire. As the Indians’ shots often found their mark through these openings, Camou painted the entire fort like a checkerboard with large, black squares on a white field. This confused the Indians so that they were unable to determine which dark square to aim [at].

• There was in fact a 19th-century French general named Jacques Camou (1792-1868), but we haven’t found any connection with the American Indian Wars, nor with camouflage.


Anon, CAMOUFLAGE OF MODERN WAR KNOWN ANCIENTLY in The Deseret News (Salt Lake City UT), February 1, 1941, p. 4—

In the war between the states in America, trenches and breastworks were concealed by branches of trees, and merchant ships often painted their hulls black with gun ports simulated in white, thus taking on the appearance of men-of-war. Similarly fort walls were checkered in black and white during the World War to confuse gun locations.

Since initially posting this, we've run across numerous references to an exotic British sea fort, built in 1859, near Portsmouth, England. Known as Spitbank Fort, it is circular (see below) like General Camou's fortress, and at least part of its surface was covered at various times with an alternating pattern of light and dark checkered squares, some of which may have been gun ports. 

Spitbank Fort Postcard

Spitbank Fort was given up by the government in 1982. Since then it has been privately owned, and now functions as a luxury spa hotel and retreat

Spitbank Fort

Mud to Mufti | Oleo in Camouflage

Camouflaged armored car (c1918)
Above Disruptively-painted WWI Rolls-Royce armored car (with turret machine gun removed), mired in mud, on the French battlefield (c1918). See comparable Rolls-Royce below, minus camouflage.


Anon, from  OLEO PAINTERS SUED in The Stars and Stripes, July 19, 1918—

Over-artistic oleomargarine producers have been sued by the [US] Government for coloring oleo in lifelike imitation of the best creamery butter.


Anon, MORE JOY TAKEN OUT OF LIFE: THERE WILL BE NO KICK LEFT IN PATENT MEDICINES JULY 1 in Rock Island Argus (Rock Island IL), May 26, 1919, p. 2—

Another function of the laboratory [newly established at the Bureau of Internal Revenue] is to protect the unknowing housewife from the sale of adulterated butter…

On oleomargarine camouflaged to resemble butter, there is a tax of 10 cents a pound, and on uncolored oleomargarine a tax of a quarter of a cent a pound, substantial evidence of the government’s purpose to see that the public gets what it pays for. Hotel proprietors or boarding house keepers who color oleomargarine and serve it to their guests are subject to the same penalties of fine and imprisonment as are visited on the manufacturer and retailer. “Butter is butter and oleo is oleo, and never the twain shall be confused,” is the maxim of the government.

WWI Armored Rolls-Royce c1919), Wikipedia.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

J. André Smith and Camouflaged Tents

J. André Smith (1917), WWI camouflaged tents
Above In the November 1917 issue of the Architectural Record, American artist and architect J(ules) André Smith (1880-1959) published a lengthy article on “Notes on Camouflage” (pp. 468-477). Among the ink wash drawings that accompanied the article was a view of disruptively camouflaged tents (shown here), as compared to those without camouflage.

The effect was all but identical to an approach that was used in New Zealand, at Camp Louvencourt, during the same war, as shown in a photograph (see detail below) by Henry Armytage Sanders, from April 1918. The original is in the collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

WWI camouflaged tents in New Zealand (1918)
In Smith’s article, he includes the following passage from Italy, France and Britain at War by H.G. Wells (a criticism of British Army camouflage)—

…many of the British tents look as thought they had been daubed over by [a] protesting man muttering “foolery” as he did it. With a telescope the chief points of interest in the present British front in France would be visible from Mars…[such that] the effect of going from behind the French front to behind the English is like going from a brooding wood of green and blue into an open blaze of white canvas and khaki.

Wells' remark is of value, writes Smith—

…in that it points out forcibly that camouflage is not merely a matter of daubing paint, but that it calls for the right sort of daubing and the right sort of color and, above all, demands skillful consideration and direction. In other words, it is an art and not the thoughtless application of a theory.

Reflecting on how different nationalities may arrive at different results, he later concludes—

Just what the American camoufleur will bring to this new art is still too early to predict…The art is still in an early stage of development. If the French were ingenious enough to invent it and the Germans to copy it, it is safe to say that we Americans shall first of all systematize it; we shall make a business of it—not a cut-and-dried business, but one directed with level reasoning and touched by American humor and inventiveness.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Camouflage Artist | J. Clinton Shepherd

American artist J. Clinton Shepherd
J[oy] Clinton Shepherd (1888-1975), an American muralist, illustrator and sculptor, is typically referred to as a “pulp artist” because of the illustrations he made for lowbrow publications. There is a biographical article about him on Wikipedia as well as on the website called Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists (including work examples). Less widely known is his involvement with camouflage, during both World Wars.

Shepherd was born in Des Moines IA, where his father was a men’s clothing salesman. After graduating from high school in 1906, he enrolled at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. He dropped out in 1909, at which time he and a younger brother traveled to the Northwest, apparently looking for adventure. According to some sources, they ended up living briefly with the Crow Indians.

By 1910, he had returned to the Midwest, where he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago until 1914, and thereafter worked as an artist. Prior to World War I, he served as a bugler in the Illinois National Reserve (despite an apparent hearing defect). After the US entered the war, it appears that he served in the Air Corps from 1917-1919. According to an article by Helen Van Hoy Smith, titled TROOPS, CIVILIANS LEARN CAMOUFLAGE ART, The Miami News (September 13, 1942), it was during his war service that Shepard gained “practical knowledge of it [camouflage].”

In 1919, Shepherd and his artist wife (née Gail English, also a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago) moved to New York, with the hope that he would flourish as a professional illustrator. During the next decade, he enjoyed considerable success as a magazine illustrator for Collier’s, Saturday Evening Post, Woman’s World, and other newsstand magazines. From 1925 until 1938, he lived in Westport CT, where, following the decline of more prestigious publications, he turned to making a living by painting covers for cheap pulp publications. He also returned to his interest in Western subject matter, and produced a series of bronze sculptures, not unlike those of Frederic Remington.

J. Clinton Shepherd (left) and Gail Shepherd, completing mural

From 1938, Shepherd lived and worked in Palm Beach FL. There, he taught at Barry College (now Barry University) in Miami, and served as the director of the Norton Gallery School of Art. As is documented in the news article cited earlier (supplemented by two press photographs), during the summer of 1942, he offered a free class for soldiers and civilians on how to design camouflage based on his own WWI military experience and “a working knowledge of camouflage as an artist.” The class consisted of “building and camouflaging a model town but which contains certain military structures.”

The article goes on to say that “Mr. Shepherd accompanied the lessons in camouflage with lectures and drawings. The camouflaged town represented several different methods of camouflage.” He also “called attention to the fact that nature provides the best examples for the camoufleur…Since time immemorial, men in wars have emulated nature in their recourse to camouflage.”

J. Clinton Shepherd, Self-Portrait (1946)

From 1947 until his death in 1975 (at age 86), Shepherd continued to work as a portrait artist and muralist in Palm Beach.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Camouflage Artist | Edward Hurst

Charcoal drawing, Edward Hurst
Above Charcoal portrait by American artist Edward Hurst (c1930).


Edward Hurst (1912-1972) was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Without completing high school, he moved to New York to study at the Art Students League with George Luks. He also studied in Europe at the Academy in Florence, Italy, in London, and at the school of Moritz Heymann (with whom Hans Hofmann had also studied) in Munich, Germany. Primarily known for his still-life paintings and commissioned society portraits, Hurst spent much of his life in New York and London, while also maintaining a studio in Knoxville. 

According to a news article in the Berkshire Evening Eagle (Pittsfield, New York) (June 4, 1948, p. 4) titled EXHIBIT OPENS HERE TOMORROW, during World War II, “Mr. Hurst left his canvases to teach camouflage to soldiers in the United States Army.”

Saturday, November 28, 2015

German Ship Camouflage (Tarnung)

Camouflaged WWII German minesweeper
Above (and below) photographs of disruptively patterned WWII German ships (called Sperrbrecher) used for detecting enemy mines or minesweeping (c1941). One often hears that disruptive ship camouflage was all but phased out in WWII, or that the patterns were more restrained than previously, but some German ships (such as minesweepers) were conspicuous deviations from that. Comparable examples can also be found in German WWI ship camouflage.


Anon, CAMOUFLAGED SHIP AND FREIGHTER COME CLOSE TO COLLIDING IN RIVER, in The Republican-Journal (Ogdensburg NY), August 23, 1918, p. 8—

A camouflaged ship, en route eastward on the St Lawrence River, and a large freighter bound westward, narrowly escaped collision near Brockville [NY] about 6 o'clock Tuesday evening. The proper signals were sounded, it is stated, but for some unknown reason they were misunderstood.


Anon, CAMOUFLAGE WOULD SAVE SHIP, in The Pulaski Democrat (Pulaski NY), September 17, 1919, p. 6—

A submarine can spot a ship five miles away, estimate its course, submerge and later intercept it. But this ship might have a keel painted fifty feet down its side and the actual keel blocked out. This would give it the appearance of traveling in a course that was quite off the actual course. The calculations of the submarine would be quite wrong and the ship would not be intercepted at all. It would be saved by the deception of its camouflage.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Milwaukee Art Museum Camouflage

Panoramic lithograph (detail) of Milwaukee WI (1898)
Above A detail of a panoramic view of downtown Milwaukee WI (East Water Street looking south), published in 1898 by the Gugler Lithographic Company. The Guglers played a prominent role in commercial printing in Milwaukee. The firm's founder's son, Julius Gugler, was the father of artist Frida Gugler (1874-1966), who studied with William Merrit Chase, and designer-architect Eric Gugler, who actively contributed to World War I ship camouflage. We discussed all this in an earlier post, but more recently have run across the following excerpt from an article by Dudley C. Watson, titled PASTOR SHOWS TALENT IN THE FIELD OF ART in The Milwaukee Journal (Sunday, June 9, 1918), p. 3—

The artists of Wisconsin were invited to meet at the [Milwaukee Art] institute Wednesday night [on June 5, 1918] to form a Wisconsin committee of the division of pictorial publicity…

Among the artists who were present at the Wednesday meeting were Frida Gugler, Alice Miller, Emily Groom, Julia Allen, Mabel Key, Raymond Sellzner, Armin Hansen, Gaetano Busalacchi, Irvin Kramer, Roland Tiemann, Hans Saltenberg, F.W. Heine, D[udley] C[rafts] Watson, Francesco Spicuzza, Carl Holty, and A.F. Brasz, Oshkosh.

It has been suggested that the local committee might work out some experiments in ship camouflage, providing an old hull could be procured and placed out in the basin of our [Lake Michigan] harbor. Ship camouflage is still in its infancy and who knows but our Wisconsin artists might discover or invent something that would save hundreds of lives. At the meeting on Thursday it is hoped that some way to obscure the hull will be revealed…

Dudley Crafts Watson (1885-1972) was the (first) director of the Milwaukee Art Institute (later called the Milwaukee Art Society, and now the Milwaukee Art Museum), serving from 1913-1924. He was related to filmmaker Orson Welles (who had been born in Kenosha), and became Welles' guardian after the deaths of his parents. After leaving Milwaukee, Watson was associated with the Art Institute of Chicago as an official lecturer.

Note See also earlier post about Milwaukee artist and WWII camoufleur Edward Morton.