Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Camouflaged Courtship

Grandma Demon Chaperone (1917)
Above A cartoon by F. Fox from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, August 21, 1917, p. 7. An accompanying headline title reads: Grandma the Demon Chaperone Is Certain That Clara's New Striped Dress Is Camouflage, and in the cartoon itself Grandma is saying That young man may be keeping his arm to himself but


Anon, "SWEET GIRL" IS SHERIFF: Masher Is Nabbed by Officer in Feminine Camouflage in the Idaho Register (Blackfoot ID), October 14, 1919—

Pawnee, Okla.—When Frank Brown of Meramec accosted a beautiful woman "just too sweet to lie," on a street corner the other night, he was rudely shocked. A strong hand gripped his right arm and a voice that was anything but sweet informed him he was under arrest. In the struggle the "sweet thing's" hair came off and the red ribbon about the left wrist was torn from the sleeve, and the features of the sheriff, smeared with paint and powder, were revealed. Brown was charged with improper use of the mails in attempting to make an appointment with a young woman with whom he was not acquainted.


From Questions and Answers in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 24, 1919, p. 6—

Legs—I would like to know how to reduce the size of my legs. One leg is 14 1/2 inches around the heaviest part of the calf, and the other is 15 inches. I weigh 120 pounds, and my body is otherwise slim.

Answer—The calf of the leg measures 14 1/2 inches in the ideal woman. Wear vertical stripes if you wish to camouflage your perfect calves.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

More HMS President Camouflage News

News article from Mail Online
Above Another news article, this one from the London Daily Mail, reporting on the centenary "dazzle-painting" (freely interpreted) of a World War 1 British ship, the HMS President. It is permanently moored on the Thames in the center of London, where it now functions as a floating events venue.

While the photographs are certainly fun, the text is marred by erroneous claims that "dazzle camouflage was originally inspired by modernist artworks," and that pioneering marine camoufleur Norman Wilkinson was "inspired by cubist and vorticist artworks." To our knowledge, the only vorticist involved was Edward Wadsworth and he (according to his daughter) was not a camouflage designer, but a dock officer who supervised the application of designs devised by others.

It also states that the camouflage pattern on each ship was unique. While that was the initial intention, it proved too ambitious, with the result that the same design was often adjusted and applied to a number of ships, as seen in this example.

In the US, Wilkinson's equivalent was American Impressionist Everett L. Warner, who was hardly a cubist. He did use abstract geometric shapes in his design of dazzle schemes, but it was all highly calculated and purposeful. And yet, recalled Warner, "it was precisely when our work was most firmly grounded on the book of Euclid that the uninitiated were the most positive that the ships were being painted haphazard by a group of crazy cubists."

Finally, the article claims that dazzle camouflage "fell out of favor by the 1940s, because it was rendered useless by the introduction of radar." I can't speak for the UK, but that certainly wasn't the case in the US (or in Germany even), where some of the most outlandish designs were in use throughout World War 2. Indeed, there may even be more photographs of bizarre dazzle-painted ships in WW2 than in WW1.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Newly Camouflaged HMS President

Dazzle-Camouflaged HMS President
World War 1 began in 1914 (the US did not enter the war until 1917), so for the British and others, this is the conflict's centenary year. As a result, all sorts of things are going on. Among them is the dazzle-painting of two British ships, the Edmund Gardner (in Liverpool) and the HMS President, which is permanently moored on the Thames, in the center of London.

HMS President is an actual WW1 ship, and was in fact dazzle-camouflaged during that war. For the centenary, however, it was decided to adorn it in a current, new design, which German artist Tobias Rehberger was commissioned to create. Its completion was announced today in a Guardian article (see above). 

It's a good article with four very interesting photos, but be forewarned that there is an error: The second photo in the article is that of a dazzle-painted WW1 troop ship, mistakenly identified as the USS Leviathan (formerly the SS Vaterland). In fact, it is the RMS Mauretania, a British troop ship which we've blogged about here and here.

more info

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Countershading | Thayer's Disappearing Ducks

from MAS Context (Summer 2014)
We have featured earlier posts about American artist and naturalist Abbott H. Thayer’s use of wooden duck decoys to demonstrate countershading. Additional information continues to surface almost daily. Some of this is detailed in an essay in the Summer 2014 issue of a Chicago-based design and architecture magazine called MAS Context. Here’s the link to the free online version, with the title page above. Other discoveries are below.


Barry Faulkner, Barry Faulkner: Sketches from an Artist’s Life. Dublin NH: William L. Bauhan, 1973, p. 18—

My first vivid memory of [his cousin] Abbott Thayer recalls him crouching in the dust of School Street, demonstrating to Mrs. Weeks, our teacher of drawing in the public schools, his newly evolved theory of Obliterative Gradation, or Protective Coloration—the foundations of his discovery of why birds and animals are difficult to see against their natural background.

The demonstration consisted of two small wooden ducks, mounted on wires, both painted the color of the dirt on which they stood, representing for the moment a natural background. One duck stood out solid and rotund, but the other Thayer had painted darker on its back and lighter on its belly until it had no more solidity than a cobweb. Suddenly a frightened cat bounded between Thayer’s legs, avoided the ungraded duck and dashed into and knocked over the duck it couldn’t see.  Cousin Abbott was as happy as a child at the cat’s vindication of his theory. Mrs. Weeks was entertained, if not enlightened.


George Palmer Putnam, Wide Margins: A Publisher’s Autobiography. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company. 1942, p. 33—

We who were at Dublin [NH, where Abbott Thayer lived] were forever having first-hand lessons in protective coloring. Perhaps it would be dummies of birds set out in conspicuous places. Some were painted as in actual life, their upper parts dark, light below. Others had this reversed, with dark breasts and bottoms, and light backs. Those concocted in nature's way flattened amazingly against any routine background; the light below and the dark above, counteracting shadow and brilliance, made flat planes. These visual decoys we'd constantly trip over. But the others, where nature's process was reversed, stood out brutally in any environment.


Mary Fuertes Boynton, ed., Louis Agassiz Fuertes: His Life Briiefly Told and His Correspondence. New York: Oxford University Press, 1956, p. 119—

[The Thayers’ book, Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom] is weakened only by its tone…and by the ambiguity of some, and prominence of others, of the illustrations. For example, in the photographs of models used to display the effect of countershading, the shaded model disappears so completely that you cannot believe it was ever there in the first place; an altered or falsified picture would have been more persuasive.


Fabian, “The Bushlover” in The Brisbane Courier (Queensland AU), October 9, 1926, p. 18—

An interesting experiment was made a short time ago at the British Museum of Natural History to demonstrate the great advantage of Nature’s commonest color arrangement among living creatures. Most of us have noticed that the great majority of animals are colored darker above and lighter below, and this is true, not only of nearly all our marsupials, but of most of the native birds as well. The rule holds good, too, in the case of fish, and, as more light comes from above than from below, the desired result is that the average fish in water becomes almost transparent and invisible. The British Museum experiment was carried out by Mr. [Abbott] Thayer, of America. He lined a large square box with gray flannel and placed in it two bird models, which were fastened to a rod running through the middle of the box. Both of these were covered with flannel, cut from the same material as that used to line the box, but one was painted dark above and white below, while the other was left in its plain gray. To the surprise of many observers the uncolored bird was decidedly the more conspicuous, and it was stated that at a few yards’ distance the painted bird, by counteracting the normal light and shade, was almost invisible. In Australia this color scheme for birds is a very common one. It is worth noting also that our really brilliant birds are almost always those of the dense shrubs, where protection is comparatively easy, while the birds of the plains and the open grassy spaces are far more protectively colored.


Roger Pocock, “The Art of Concealment: Devices on Land and Sea” in The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania) January 3, 1918, p. 6—

On the permanent staff of the Natural History Museum in London, there are two little wooden ducks…They are dressed in gray flannel, and each housed in a glass case with a gray flannel background. No. 1 duck is dressed in a plain gray flannel, and you can see her plainly at a hundred yards, because of the dark shadows cast by her neck and body, as well as by the brightness of her back. No. 2 duck is slightly whitened underneath to counteract the shadows, and slightly bronzed on top to counteract the light. Even at six feet the showcase appears to be empty. There is no sign of a duck. No hawk, no fox, no sportsman with a scatter gun and a small dog could possibly discover or kill the invisible duck unless she moved or made foolish quacks to guide her enemies. A great many years ago I wrote to Lords of the [British] Admiralty imploring them to go and see the invisible duck who could teach them priceless lessons in the art of concealing battleships and cruisers…


James Devaney, “Nature Notes: An Experiment” in The Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Queensland AU), June 5, 1935, p. 4—

To illustrate just what it is which makes some birds hard to see, an interesting experiment was carried out by the American painter Abbott Thayer, who was also a keen Nature student. He wanted to prove how the darker back and lighter belly is a color scheme which tends to make birds less visible, so he made two wooden ducks as models. These he seated in a box on a perch, and both the interior of the box and the wooden ducks themselves were covered with brownish flannel. The ducks, exactly the same hue as their surroundings, were still plainly visible at a good distance. Then the experimenter [Abbott Thayer], who had an artist’s knowledge of color values, took his brushes and darkened the back of one and painted its under surface a whitish color. That particular duck then escaped notice at a little distance, and was absolutely invisible at about twelve feet, while the other one was very plain. Thayer carried out other experiments with imitation insects to show how Mother Nature gets her camouflage effects.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Braque's Camouflaged Squirrel

Camouflaged Squirrel © Karl Frey
Above Karl Frey, Camouflaged Squirrel (c2009). Digital media. Available for online purchase. Courtesy of the artist.


H.W. Janson, "Chance Images" in Philip P. Wiener, ed., Dictionary of the History of Ideas (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973)—

During the most austere phase of Analytical Cubism, when he and [Georges] Braque were working in closely related styles, [Pablo] Picasso one day went to look at his friend's latest work. Suddenly he became aware that there was a squirrel in the picture, and pointed it out to Braque, who was rather abashed at this discovery. The next day Braque showed him the picture again, after reworking it to get rid of the squirrel, but Picasso insisted that he still saw it, and it took another reworking to banish the animal for good.

Note There is also a longer, second version of the same story.



The squirrel is the monkey of Iowa.


Georges Braque, quoted in Alexander Lieberman, The Artist in His Studio (New York: Vintage, 1961)—

I was happy when, in 1914, I realized that the army had used the principles of my Cubist paintings for camouflage.


Joel Agee (remembering his father, writer James Agee), Twelve Tears: An American Boyhood in East Germany (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1981), p. 90—

One day a squirrel bit my finger. I was hurt, more by the feeling that the squirrel had been mean to me than by the sudden little pinch. Jim [his father] squatted down next to me and kissed the hurt finger and explained that the squirrel hadn't meant to hurt me, that it thought my finger was a peanut. That didn't make sense to me at first, but then Jim held up the tip of my finger and said, "Doesn't it look like a peanut?" and it did.


Robert M. Purcell, Merle Armitage Was Here! (referring to the book designer's alleged licentiousness). (Morongo Valley CA: Sagebrush Press, 1981)—

In the world of lust, [President Jimmy] Carter was a peanut compared to Merle Armitage.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Harlequin Crew | Inadvertent Camouflage Plan

Dazzle-camouflaged SS Australford (c1918)

Above (top) Port side and (bottom) starboard view of the SS Australford, a British Commonwealth cargo ship (c1918). Lower on this page is a starboard view of the SS City of Karachi, British Commonwealth transport ship (c1918). The original photographs, made by Allan C. Green, are in the collection of the Victoria State Library AU.

Dion Clayton Calthrop, CAMOUFLAGE ABSOLUTE: Ship That Wasn’t There; Sailed with Harlequin Crew, in Queensland Times (Ipswich, Queensland AU), May 28, 1918, p. 6—

[In a shipboard conversation between Captains Holloway and Mason, the latter says] “…You remember last Thursday, when it was blowing up for dirty weather?”

“I was two hours overdue,” said Holloway.

“I was just about to turn in in to get a snooze before sailing in the morning when the officer in charge came aboard and says to me, ‘Mason,’ he says, ‘you’ve got to find room for Major Dash and his gear.’ That’s correct, ain’t it, Herbert?”

“The very words,” said he.

“Hell, I was full up in the hold and I’d got some goods stowed away on deck, and I tell you I was fair horrified when the major stepped into the light and says to me, ‘Captain,’ he says, ‘I’m a camouflage officer, and I’m just bringing by paints and canvas along with me.’ And there, sure enough, was about twenty kegs of paint on the quayside, and a great bundle of canvas. However, what with a war on and all that, I merely says ‘Yes, sir,’ and got the hands to work fixing these blistering kegs on deck and getting the gear stowed away snug and shipshape.”

“Twenty kegs?” said Holloway.

“Of paint.”

“Bad luck for a keg to come so low as paint,” said Holloway. “I’ve carried lily bulbs and parasols and dried cuttlefish in the China seas but never paint.”

“It was blowing nearly a gale, nor’ by nor’-east most of the night,” the skipper went on, “and, though the wind dropped towards daybreak, there was plenty of sea running. However, I had some stuff to get across, and out we went. The major was full of pluck, and stood it for the first hour, and then his face went all colors till it got blue, and then he gave it up…”

“I’ve seen them like that,” said Holloway.

“I’ve been like it once,” said Mason, “but I put it down to pork chops and stout followed by jam roll, but that’s neither here nor there. What happened next gave me the regular jumps. Them kegs [of camouflage paint] broke away, and then the fun began. One keg bashed up against another keg, and after a time when they was pounding away on deck they began to leak. Old man, it was awful, but it pulled the major together, and we got all hands what could be spared to lash ‘em up fast again. We done that, but the damage was done, and I believe the major would have cried if he’d been alone, not feeling strong at the time. The men was blue and green and yellow. I had one red boot and one purple arm. As for the major—well, if a rainbow could swear, that’s what he was. Lord, I did envy him his education.”

“And a gale blowing at the time?” said Holloway, incredulously.

“Hurricane,” said Mason…

“And the ship?”

“Camouflaged herself proper. Decks swimming with paint of all colors, and the paint streaming over the sides. Why, we was so invisible I could hardly see the ship myself. Come into port with one boat on the port side stove in and the men like a pack of harlequins. Took me and Herbert all our time rubbing each other down so’s we wouldn’t look like a sea-circus.”

“What did the major do?” asked Holloway.

“Him? He was a rare good ‘un. He finished the job when we fetched up our moorings. ‘Captain,’ he said, ‘I’m a superstitious man,’ he said, ‘and what Nature bean I’ll finish.’ And he done it.”

Holloway turned his eye seawards, and let his gaze rest over the crowded harbor. In the panorama before him were troopships, destroyers, lighters, mine-sweepers, motor boats, and fishing xxxx, with an airplane overhead.

“Your boat there?” he asked.

“She’s there,” Mason replied. “But you’ll never see her. She’s so camouflaged, she’s lost. I can’t see her with nothing but a kaleidoscope.…”

Dazzle-camouflaged SS City of Karachi (c1918), starboard
more info

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Edward Morton | More Milwaukee Camouflage

Restoration of WPA mural by Edward Morton (1938)
Above A Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) mural (titled Winter Sports) by Wisconsin artist Edward Morton, commissioned in 1938 by the US Government for permanent installation in the post office at Oconomowoc WI. In the 1970s, the mural was taken down and thereafter kept in the basement. Fortunately, it was restored in 2003, and is once again on public display in the post office.


Many years ago, we taught for more than a decade at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. So did an aging artist named Edward Morton, who was then an adjunct instructor of drawing. I had just published a book on art and camouflage. If I had known better, I would have talked to him at length, in part because one day he said that he had served as an army camoufleur during World War II. I didn't follow up on it. He has long since died—and now I have plenty of questions to ask.

A few weeks ago, I ran across an article from the Milwaukee Sentinel (December 11, 1944), which includes a photograph of the young Ed Morton, home on leave from the army, painting a portrait of his wife. Here's what the article says, followed by the news photo—

On leave from camp at Maldon MO, Sergeant Edward L. Morton turned from painting things that do not exist to painting things that are real. In the army, Sgt. Morton is a camoufleur, but in civilian life he was an instructor at [Milwaukee's Layton School of Art] and won prizes for his own work at State Fair art shows. Here he is completing a portrait of his wife Dorothy, at the home of her parents…

Edward L. Morton, US Army camoufleur (1944)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Camouflage Artist | Milwaukee's Eric Gugler

Eric Gugler (c1918), structural deception ploys
Above Eric Gugler, three-stage diagram for a World War I ship camouflage proposal (c1918) in which actual structural changes are made to the height and positioning of a ship's masts, smoke stacks, and other features in order to throw off the course calculations of U-boat gunners.

Comparable diagrams were initially made public in an article by Robert G. Skerrett, "How We Put It Over on the Periscope," in The Rudder. Vol 35 Nos 3 and 4, March and April 1919, pp. 97-102 and 175-179 (recently reprinted in our SHIP SHAPE: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook as "Hoodwinking the Periscope" (pp. 122-151)). The diagram shown here was published in Albert Roskam, Dazzle Painting: Kunst Als Camouflage: Camouflage Als Kunst (Netherlands: Stichting Kunstprojecten en Uitgevergij Spijik, 1987), which attributes it to the National Archives, but the style suggests the possibility that it may have been redrawn.


Gugler is a prominent name in the printing industry in Milwaukee WI. It begins with a German-born engraver named Henry Gugler, Sr (1816-1880), who came to the US in 1853. During the Civil War, he was an important engraver for the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington DC, producing, among other famous works, a life-sized steel engraving of Abraham Lincoln. In the 1870s, he moved to Milwaukee and became a partner with his son Julius Gugler (1848-1919) in the H. Gugler & Son Lithographing Company.

According to certain sources, Julius Gugler was a poet as well as a printer. Among other art-inclined family members were his daughter Frida Gugler (1874-1966), a painter who had studied with William Merrit Chase, and her younger brother, Eric Gugler (1889-1974), who achieved considerable success as a muralist, sculptor, interior designer and architect.

Notably, in the early 1930s, Eric Gugler worked closely with FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt in the expansion, replanning and redesign of the West Wing of the White House, including the current Oval Office. He designed the Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial (with sculptor Paul Manship), the FDR Memorial, a memorial to Eleanor Roosevelt at the United Nations, the Harvey Firestone Memorial in Akron OH, the World War II Memorial at Anzio Beach in Italy, a memorial for the Mayo Brothers in Rochester MN, and several buildings on the campus of Wabash College in Crawfordsville IN. He was also involved in the design of Arthurdale WV, the first New Deal federal subsistence housing project (c1933).

Unfortunately, almost no one is aware that he was also an early participant in the development of ship camouflage during World War I. That (and the efforts of other artists) was alluded to in a brief article in the Milwaukee Journal (December 9, 1918), which reported on a talk that week at the Rotary Club by the director of the Milwaukee Art Institute, Dudley Crafts Watson (guardian of Orson Welles). "The coming of war helped American art in an amazing manner," Watson claimed. "When the war broke out, it was a great problem what American artists would do to help win the war. The answer was found in the tremendous help given the country in their work in getting out effective Liberty Loan and other posters as well as in the camouflage departments of both army and navy."

Milwaukee-born architect and WW1 camoufleur Eric Gugler

As an aspiring artist-architect, Gugler studied at The Armour Institute (now the Illinois Institute of Technology) and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, then also earned a BA degree at Columbia University in 1911. For three years, before the war began, he also studied at the American Academy in Rome. Subsequently, he set up an architectural office in New York. In the 1930s, he married Broadway actress and dancer Anne Tonetti, who had been a protegé of Isadora Duncan.

So far, we haven't been able to find very much about his involvement in camouflage. We do know that he attended the "camouflage school" that was set up by muralist William Andrew Mackay, who, like Gugler, presumably also admired Theodore Roosevelt. And we also know that he was particularly interested in the use of perspective distortions (as in the diagrams shown above).

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Frederick Waugh, Camouflage and Dickie Dare

Coulton Waugh, Dickie Dare (1943)
Above (detail) Coulton Waugh, portion of the comic strip Dickie Dare (showing "dazzle camouflage" on the right), from the Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg PA), December 27, 1943.


Ray Goulding of the Bob & Ray radio comedy team was a high school classmate of beatnik novelist Jack Kerouac. Film actress Anne Baxter was the granddaughter of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was also related by marriage to New York urban planner Robert Moses. Western gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok (James Butler Hickok) was related to Civil War general and politician Benjamin F. Butler, as well as to Adelbert Ames II (inventor of the Ames Distorted Room) and to writer George Plimpton. Humorist S.J. Perelman was the brother-in-law of novelist Nathaniel West. And finally (this is the punchline) American artist and ship camoufleur Frederick Judd Waugh (whom we have blogged about before) was the father of cartoonist (Frederick) Coulton Waugh (1896-1973), best-known for the comic strips Dickie Dare and Hank.

The elder Waugh died in 1940. In browsing through various panels of the younger Waugh's Dickie Dare, we've found several references to camouflage, including indirect homages to his father's designs for WWI-era "dazzle camouflage" (see example above).

The F. Coulton Waugh Papers are housed at Syracuse University, while other Waugh Family Papers are in the collection of the Archives of American Art. Among the folders in the latter is one described as "World War I Material, circa 1914. Likely Coulton Waugh's, possibly Frederick Judd Waugh's." Since it was the father (not the son) who served in the war, our suspicion is that this may be his material. It may even pertain to ship camouflage.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Camouflaged as POTTED RAT

George Belcher cartoon, Punch (1917)
Above Cartoon by George Belcher from Punch (November 29, 1917), p. 365. The caption reads: Officer: Why were you not at roll call last evening? Defaulter: Well, Sir, with this 'ere camp camouflaged so much, I couldn't find my way out of the canteen.


Anon, CAMOUFLAGE in Brecon County Times, Neath Gazette and General Advertiser (Wales), June 22, 1918 (Supplement)—

I chanced to be in the village post office and an oldish farmer's wife came in with a parcel. When she had gone I noticed two words printed in thick letters of ink above the address.

"Good heavens!" I said, "the meat shortage isn't so bad as all this, surely?"

The postmistress laughed.

"That's Dame Brown's patent for safety," she said. "The old lady sends her soldier grandson a pot of rabbit every week. The pot got 'lost' sometimes in the journey, and she hit upon an idea for labeling the contents. Every week she calls, and always those two words are boldly printed on the wrapper, POTTED RAT. The parcel never miscarries now."


Anon in Abergavenny Chronicle (Wales), February 28, 1919—

…[So-and-so] said now the war was over it was time the English language was taken out of khaki and put in plain clothes. People were heartily sick of such words as barrage and camouflage.


Anon, CAMOUFLAGE IN THE WOOD in Brecon County Times, Neath Gazette and General Advertiser (Wales), September 7, 1918 (Supplement)—

The drafting of men for military service has brought to light some queer occupations, but surely none more out of the ordinary than that of the man who makes imitation pheasant eggs. A man before a Surrey Tribunal said his job was to make an egg which hoodwinked the sitting pheasant. The real eggs were transferred to a broody hen's keeping until near the time of hatching, and the hen pheasant kept at her job by means of the artificial "eggs." Then the real eggs were brought back to be hatched out by a mother who could look after them. These artificial "eggs," it seems, mislead the hen pheasant entirely, and cause foxes, hedgehogs and such marauders furiously to think. It seems rather like a yarn, but the Tribunal accepted it, and gave the man six months' exemption.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bewildering Stripes in Ship Camouflage

Above (top) Starboard side view and port side view (bottom) of the SS Orissa, a British Commonwealth steam ship (c1918) in striped zébrage camouflage. A third view is at the bottom of this page. The original photographs, made by Allan C. Green, are in the collection of the Victoria State Library AU.


Norman Wilkinson, "Dazzle Painting of Ships" in The Nautical Gazette (September 13, 1919), p. 177—

Some time before the end of the war we had arrived at the striped type of design [for ship camouflage] which was the most successful type. These striped designs were commented on by a great number of seamen as being by far the best for upsetting the calculation of a ship's course.


Rudolf Arnheim, Parables of Sun Light (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989)—

Nothing is more humbling than to look with a strong magnifying glass at an insect so tiny that the naked eye sees only the barest speck and to discover that nevertheless it is sculpted and articulated and striped with the same care and imagination as a zebra. Apparently it does not matter to nature whether or not a creature is within our range of vision, and the suspicion arises that even the zebra was not designed for our benefit.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Warship Camouflage as House Painting

SS Polladern (c1918) in dazzle camouflage
Above Port side view of the SS Polladern, a British Commonwealth cargo ship (c1918). The original photograph, made by Allan C. Green, is in the collection of the Victoria State Library AU.


John A. Smith, ARTISTS AT SEA: House Painters Protect Ocean Life Lines in Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Queensland AU), April 17, 1939, p. 3—

Amongst the preparations against a possible war made by the Government are arrangements for every ship to be "dazzle painted" within a few hours. Landlubbers believe that ships are camouflaged in wartime in order to reduce their visibility. But a vessel camouflaged in the modern manner screams for attention. Its enemies, the submarines, cannot help but see it. It achieves a degree of safety not by becoming invisible, but by a more subtle method. There is a world of difference between the approach of the camouflage artist to the problems of a fixed object such as an aerodrome or a gun battery and of a sea-going vessel. The roofs of military aerodromes today are painted in order to make them blend as far as possible with the surrounding country. But when the artist attacks the sides of a liner with his air sprays and brushes his object is to make the commander of an enemy aircraft unable to believe his own eyes! "Dazzle-painting" is a more correct name than camouflage for the art as used on the sea; it is the term which was generally adopted before the Great War came to an end. 

…The mechanics of "dazzle-painting" were practically identical with those of mural decoration and scene painting, and hundreds of men who in civil life had followed these and similar crafts—including house painters—were enrolled at Devonport and hoisted like flies over the sides of sample vessels. They worked under the direction of naval officers and draughtsmen. They had the right to feel important for on the results of their work depended ocean-going mechanical miracles aggregating in value millions of pounds, the safety of thousands of lives, and the supply arteries of Allied forces.

Robert Gibbings (1921), The House Painters

Anon, "Compendium of Foreign Phrases" in Lansing Warren, En Repos and Elsewhere Over There: Verses Written in France, 1917-1918. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1918, p. 105—

The last place for a real artist is in the camouflage department. What is needed is a good cubist or futurist, or, in the finest and most delicate work, a house painter.

additional sources

Thursday, June 12, 2014


R.W. Eddy (1919)
Above Cartoon by R.W. Eddy from Cartoon Magazine (1919).


Anon, "CAMERA GUN" IN FANTASTIC US SHOOTING CASE in Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, New South Wales), January 2, 1947, p. 3 [adapted]—

New York, January 1—New Year's Eve crowds, hurrying homeward, were spectators of a crime as fantastic as any mystery thriller when a woman pointed what she thought was a camouflaged camera at another women waiting for an underground train in Times Square.

When she pulled the "release" a sawed-off shotgun concealed inside went off, blasting Mrs. [Nancy Smith], age 28. With her left thigh shredded by pellets, Mrs. [Smith] fell screaming, while hundreds of startled spectators scattered and ran in all directions.

The police grabbed Miss [Pauline Jones], age 19, who still held the package. She hysterically told them she believed she was taking a picture of Mrs. [Smith] with a camera.

Between sobs she told her story. Several weeks ago, she said, she was employed by an insurance investigator, who told her to investigate a jewel robbery and wanted Mrs. [Smith] photographed. The investigator met her today in the underground station and handed her a package, which was about fourteen inches long with a small hole in it.

"This is a camouflaged camera," the man told her. Then he said, "Follow that woman and take a picture of her."

As the other woman walked in her direction she pulled what she thought was the camera shutter. There was an explosion and Mrs. [Smith] fell. A man rushed up to Mrs [Smith], spoke to her, and then fled.

A bystander rushed up to help the wounded woman, who said to him, "I am going to die. He threatened me before. This time he got me. He can have me now if he wants me. I am crippled. What happened to the police? I called them, but he was too smart for them."

Later, Mrs. [Smith], who is not expected to live, told the police that the man was her husband, [Gregorio Smith], age 30, who wounded her less than two months ago with a pistol.

Miss [Jones], almost hysterical, told the police that the investigator had given her packages supposed to contain a camera on previous occasions, and that she had taken "a picture" of Mrs. [Smith] a couple of weeks ago. The investigator told her that that picture was "no good."

Later, Miss [Jones] visited Mrs. [Smith] at the hospital and said to her, "I am awfully sorry I shot you. I thought I was merely taking a photograph."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Removing the Crazy Quilt Camouflage Coat

Charles Grave in Punch (1918)
Above Cartoon by Charles L. Grave (aka Chas) in Punch, July 17, 1918, p. 43. The caption reads: Skipper of Tug (to careless hand): "Ho! So you've caught the blinkin' cammy-flarge 'abit, 'ave year?"


Anon, in the Barry Dock News, December 19, 1918, p. 8—

Signs of peace are becoming more evident every day. The steamer Island Liard, lying at Barry Docks, is the first ship in Barry to have the old funnel colors, which were obliterated during the war, repainted. The camouflage is also being done away with on many ships.


 Anon, WOODEN SHIPS TO BE BLACK: Gray Paint To Be Exhausted By Builders First, However, in the Sunday Oregonian (Portland OR), March 16, 1919, p. 20—

…The painting features of wooden ship contracts have undergone changes since the war started. Inasmuch as it was first prescribed that the hulls have three coats of gray paint, while soon after the foremost members of the fleet were afloat the shipping board ordered camouflage designs to be added, that being substituted for the third  coat [of gray]. The lack of positive knowledge that German raiders in the Pacific had all been disposed of and the chance that wooden ships might operate in the Atlantic were responsible for the camouflage. With the signing of the armistice, the "crazy quilt" coat was left off and plain gray provided.


 Anon, REMOVING THE CAMOUFLAGE in the South Wales Weekly Post, April 26, 1919, p. 4—

Many of the boats detained in Swansea Docks owing to the strike are seizing the opportunity of removing the weird camouflage colors of wartime, and are once more resuming a respectable appearance.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Crime Spree | The Perfect Camouflage Artist(s)

Fougasse, Punch cartoon (1918)
Above Cyril Kenneth Bird (aka Fougasse), "The Perfect Camouflage Artist" (Before and After) in Punch, November 20, 1918, p. 331.


Anon, THIEVES USE CAMOUFLAGE in Indianapolis News, August 7, 1920—

Columbus IN, August 7—Jesse McNeal, a farmer living east of this city, noticed footprints in his potato patch and was unable to account for them until he started digging potatoes for his own use. He learned that thieves had entered the patch, robbed many hills and had replaced the plants so skillfully that the loss could not be learned until an attempt was made to dig the potatoes.


Anon, POTATO CROOKS BEWARE! in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 27, 1920—

Pachogue NY, September 27—If anyone comes up before County Judge George Furman of Suffolk County for stealing potatoes he probably will "get all that is coming to him." Judge Furman had an acre of potatoes planted this spring and spent over $125 in planting and raising them. There would have been a crop of over 200 bushels, but the Judge harvested only 100 bushels. Thieves took the balance. To camouflage their operations they pulled up the vines, took off the potatoes and stuck the vines in the ground again.


Anon, ST LOUIS THIEVES CAMOUFLAGE SAFE WHILE THEY ROB IT in Albuquerque Journal, January 31, 1933—

St Louis, January 30—Camouflage was employed by burglars who looted a grocery company's window safe of $350 and some checks last weekend.

They turned the strong box around so the back would be visible from the street, pasted eight dummy hinges, two false knobs and a likeness of a dial on the back and set to work.

Moonshine & Camouflaged Shenanigans

Will Vawter, "More Camouflage" (1918)
Above "More Camouflage" by John William (Will) Vawter, from Life magazine (1918).


Earle Bowden, MOONSHINING IS PROFITABLE BUT DANGEROUS, in Panama City News-Herald (Panama City FL), July 11, 1950, p. 6—

Most moonshiners keep chickens, hogs and cattle nearby for camouflage reasons. They must have legitimate excuses for buying chicken feed, grain and scratch feed.



Speed, daring, deception, invention, camouflage and cunning combined with nerve of a high order; utilization of every known means of transportation, from the Indian papoose's place on the back of a squaw and packets tied on drifting sheep to speedy scout planes designed for war, are devoted nowadays to delivering liquor purchased in Canada to cities hundreds of miles below the northern boundary of the United States.…

Funerals designed with the artistry of professional stagecraft, calling every member of a large cast to act with ability, were used successfully for a time. Spare tires of automobiles are chestnuts now, as are reserve tanks hidden within gasoline tanks.


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

Police in Petersburg VA captured a Haynes car loaded with fifty quarts of whiskey and drove the car to the police station garage, where they left it to go inside and make out their reports. When they returned to the garage the car was gone—whiskey and all. No clue.

…The up-to-date 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 old-timer from Omaha NE] 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."…


Anon, CAMOUFLAGE LATEST PROVIDENCE DRINK, in Huntington Herald (Huntington TX), June 21, 1918—

Providence RI, June 21—A drink called "camouflage," sold to soldiers and sailors in certain cafes here and calculated to intoxicate in jig time, is responsible for the closing of one hotel and several cafes are under suspicion. The agents of the department of justice says girls pilot the soldiers and sailors to the cafes, where the drink is sold without question.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Centenary of World War 1 Camouflage

14-18-NOW website
Above Throughout the UK, Europe and elsewhere, starting this year and continuing through 2018, all sorts of things are being planned in connection with the World War 1 Centenary—exhibitions, events, publications and online information blogs. Shown here for example is the opening page for an extensive website on 14-18-NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions (a convenient way to keep updated), maintained through the efforts of the Imperial War Museum and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport. The image above is one of a series of woodcuts by British Vorticist artist Edward Wadsworth who, as a dock officer during World War 1, supervised the painting of more than 2,000 dazzle-painted ships.  

Below is the colored camouflage plan for the starboard side of the HMS Highflyer.

Dazzle camouflage plan for HMS Highflyer
Another helpful current source is the BBC's multimedia guide to WW1, with an especially rich section on ship camouflage, including the diagram posted below.

Diagram of HMT Olympic camouflage

Monday, May 26, 2014

What Was It Like To Paint A Ship In Camouflage?

Above Port side (top) and starboard side of the SS War Magpie, a British cargo ship, painted in dazzle camouflage. The designs on the ship's two sides are deliberately different, in the hope of increasing  confusion and preventing identification, when viewed through a U-boat periscope. The original photographs, made c1919 by Allan C. Green, are in the collection of the Victoria State Library AU. When ship camouflage was first applied, the colors were vivid and sharply defined, but after a few months at sea, it began to deteriorate, as is evident here.


What was it like to paint a ship in camouflage? We've seen a handful of photographs of ship camoufleurs at work. And now and then we've run across brief eyewitness memories of the process of actually painting a ship. But the following is the most detailed account we've found so far. Its American author is not credited, but it is stated that the essay first appeared in The Christian Science Monitor. We found it in reprinted form in THE WHY AND HOW OF DAZZLE in The Daily News (Perth, Western Australia), May 19, 1919, p. 4—

They certainly did look strange, those ships; patched and lined, like grandmother's crazy quilt with broad black, white and blue bands and stripes, gray, green, and almost every color save the mythical sky-blue-pink.

Passengers on the ferries lined the rails and made many and varied comments on their strange appearance.…

Painting a ship is very simple—theoretically—just take a brush and paint and "go to it"—just like that. Of course we [American ship camoufleurs] had a plan, a design furnished by the Navy Department, which showed a view of the two sides of the ship (the sides were different, by the way), and a husky gang of painters, but ship painting is different from painting a house; much larger, oh vastly.

When we first stood under the bows of a newly launched tank steamer and looked up at her, she was an appalling thing to a novice. Thirty-five feet out of water the bow towered, a sheer wall of steel, flaring outward at the top to make it doubly difficult. On that curving rampart we had to make accurate lines in curves, and beautiful parabolas (I think that is the word). At any rate, I would have given the old family clock and all my loose change just that minute for a pair of foot warmers.

It wasn't so bad after we started, though the first ship was far from a model. Slinging stages over the bow, we put two painters on them with poles and chalk, and by gestures and megaphoned instructions from the wharf had them spot in points on the curves and connect them.•

It is quite impossible, unless one is highly experienced, to draw these curves and lines when standing close to the ship. One needs to be 100 feet away properly to judge the proportion; and the effectiveness of the design depends largely on its accuracy. Later we learned to use a mirror, flashing the spots on the side one after the other along the course of a curve, and stretching a long chalk line for the straights snapped by a man in the center. Sometimes we used long "battens," strips of thin board, bending them to the proper curve, and a 20-foot fish pole with a brush on the tip helped to strike in the more complicated forms. Strange as it may seem, the hardest forms to apply to a ship are long parallel straight lines which converge to points near bow or stern. For some reason we never could seem to get the angles just right. 

It was no place for a dainty man, when working on the floats alongside, for a rain of things descended on us. Bolts, hot rivets, scraps of iron, and heavier things like lumps of wood and heavy pieces of rope, when working in the shipyards, come down at unexpected intervals. No use yelling up at the man on the deck to be careful—with 500 men hammering and drilling and reaming, conversation is at a discount. You can only dodge and grin cheerfully at the painters.

Then again tugs and steamers have a way of pulling a heavy wash into the slips when one is on a high staging 12 feet or so above the water. The float rocks violently without the slightest warning, and if you have not fallen overboard at the first roll you drop on your hands and knees and grip until the float is fairly still again. When this is past, and you are congratulating yourself, some enthusiastic painter tips over his pail of dark blue, or whatever color he happens to be using, directly above you, perhaps, or the cook happens to think of some refuse that needs disposing of, and then there are holes in the side of the ship where water—hot or cold—pops out without any warning. A camoufleur is not a camoufleur unless he falls overboard regularly once a week.

Still it was a great game while it lasted, taken with the interesting experimental work on little models in a mechanical theatre with a sea foreground and a painted strip to imitate sky—this in the intervals of ship painting. The dazzle painted ships are now fast disappearing under their peace coats of gray. May they never again need the services of American camoufleurs.

• This method of initially putting in dots, then connecting them, is comparable to pouncing, a technique used by artists for transferring a design from one surface to another.

more info

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Gulls, Hulls and Baby Carriage Camouflage

Above Believe it or not, this is a World War 1-era baby carriage, made by an unknown artist, apparently as a tribute to dazzle ship camouflage. It was published on April 27, 1919, in the Junior Eagle Section of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn NY), p. 10. The only accompanying texts were the headings shown here: SOMETHING NEW—A CAMOUFLAGED BABY CARRIAGE: Shown at a Recent Art Exhibition—How Would You Like to Ride In It?


Jessie Henderson, CAMOUFLAGE SHIP ON MOVIE LOT TO SAVE LIVES OF GULLS in the Appleton Post-Crescent (Appleton WI), February 25, 1932—

The lives of a number of sea gulls have been saved as the result of the application of wartime camouflage to the huge steamship setting on the south lot of the Fox studios at Movietone City [in Hollywood]. Because of its camouflage the boat no longer looks like a steamship to the hostile aviators who in a coming picture will seek it from the air. Because of its camouflage it also no longer looks like a steamship to the sea gulls.

Built originally for scenes in the Joan Bennett [and] John Boles picture Widow's Might, the ship is unusually large and realistic. It attracted a number of storm-blown gulls from the Pacific shores, less than 10 miles distant. The arrival of the birds was taken in the nature of a joke and as they circled through the air during the filming of the picture their presence lent a valuable touch of reality to the shipboard action.

After the completion of the picture, however, the birds continued to circle the ship. When two of them fell to the ground exhausted it was decided that they had through the ship a real one and had been waiting patiently for food to be thrown overboard from the galley.

The camouflage has served a two-fold purpose. It has sent the birds away and has relieved the feelings of the more nervous studio workers who were unaccustomed to having so many gulls sail over their heads.

To Take Off Weight—Use Camouflage

G.L. Stampa, Punch (1919)
Above Cartoon by G.L. Stampa in Punch magazine, July 2, 1919, p. 26. The caption reads: She: "What a wonderful costume Mr. Bulkley has." He: "Yes. He's rather sensitive about his outline. It's the camouflage idea to prevent being noticed." Other cartoons (from the same time period) about the camouflage of fat are featured below on this blog post.


Betty Keep, DRESS SENSE (advice column) in The Australian Women's Weekly, September 30, 1970, p. 45—

[Question] I am short, just five feet, and overweight. My problem is a short waist and it's thick. Is there any fashion I can wear to make me look better? I do like to follow current fashion.

[Answer] Don't draw attention to your waist; I know this is difficult when nearly every fashion is now belted. The best camouflage I know is to accent the waist either slightly above or below your normal waist level.

Alfred J. Frueh (details), New York World (July 20, 1915)

Ida C. Clarke [author of American Women and the World War] in LOVELY WOMAN: Viewed by Herself, A Witty Address, in The Mail (Adelaide, South Australia), January 9, 1926, p. 22—

Not long ago I saw in a paper a long, nice, lovely story, stating that the War Department says now we can tell all about camouflage. Here was this nice, lovely story telling nice things about how the two systems of camouflage happened to be invented by man—the low visibility system and the dazzle system. And I said to myself, here is a man imagining that he invented camouflage, when, after all, for centuries, ever since time began, women have been practicing that gentle art of camouflage.

There isn't a fat woman under the sun that doesn't know the advantages of the low visibility system of camouflage. Fat women know they must not wear stripes that go round, and, of course, the dazzle system is in very general use. So men did not invent camouflage. What man did was to take women's invention and apply it to the most destructive business that man has ever invented—war.


Anon, NEW BOON FOR PLUMP: Fat Legs Made to Look Thin, in The Mail (Adelaide, South Australia), December 19, 1931, p. 22—

Women need no longer feel sensitive and embarrassed if they are the unfortunate possessors of fat legs.

Combining compassion with commercial initiative, the stocking manufacturers of France have gone to the rescue of these women and have hit on the great idea of evolving a camouflage system to disguise unsightly ankles.

Now they have extended this system to the whole leg, and are making specially shaded stockings to disguise fat legs.

These stockings shaded gradually from dark yellow or blue at the back to light yellow or light blue at the front, have the effect of making thick legs look slim.

Artist's name unclear, Life magazine (1918)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Perspective Illusions in Camouflage

Joseph Allen Minturn (c1921), camouflage backdrops
The use of perspective distortions (such as forced perspective) in World War 1 camouflage (both army and navy) has historical precedents in art, architecture and stage design. Above are two drawings of the supposed use of huge panoramic backdrops that created the illusion of a benign, continuing landscape, while also serving as a shield for military activities taking place behind them. These drawings were made by American artist and US Army camoufleur Joseph Allen Minturn and were published in his memoir, titled The American Spirit (Globe Publishing, 1921), available free online.

Surely, these trompe l'oeil backdrops cannot have been used very often because they only work effectively if viewed from front and center.

Below is one of the few photographs of an installed backdrop, but because it was photographed off-center from the right, the illusion that the railroad tracks continue into the distance is simply not convincing.

One that is far more convincing was used for editorial purposes in a newspaper cartoon (c1919) shown below, titled CAMOUFLAGE.

In addition, a few days ago, we ran across a reference to a comparable trick in an unsigned WW1 news article headed WILL YOU TELL ME? in The World's News (Sydney AU), February 9, 1018, p. 20—

…The foremost artists of France are engaged in this magic work [of camouflage], and an American unit of camoufleurs has been organized… One of the most amazing exploits in camouflage was achieved by the French last year. A German position commanded a railway track far into the distance back of the French lines. One night there was set up across a village street that was needed a huge painting of the track, trees, poles, horizon, hills and all. The trains passed safely behind the screen. The enemy never discovered the trick.