In recent weeks, we've been very fortunate to have found out about the dazzle ship camouflage images of a Washington DC-area graphic designer and toy-maker named Steve Morris. He has recently been "translating" World War I ship camouflage plans into wonderfully crisp, diagrammatic ship images, with the intent of replicating the original color schemes as closely as possible. Three examples are shown below, but you can access others online here. Earlier, he also created a series of ship camouflage icons, which are available online here.
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
At the end of May 2019, we posted a lengthy article on British-born artist Frederick Alexander Pawla (1876-1964), who was in charge of the US Army’s Embarkation Service during World War I. In that capacity, he oversaw the camouflage of “many of the army transports, particularly cargo carriers.”
More recently, we have found out more about Pawla. Specifically, we have located a series of photographs that document the process of applying a dazzle camouflage pattern that (most likely) Pawla was the designer of. The name of the ship was the USS City of Atlanta. It is shown above, with its camouflage in process of being applied.
As is evident in the photograph, the design makes use of a traditional artist’s illusion. The camoufleur has inserted a sharp white upright line on the starboard side of the bow, which will make it appear from a distance that the ship is headed at an angle to the right. He has strengthened that illusion by painting a trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”) anchor to the left of that white line, then aligning it with an actual anchor on the right. A second actual anchor, which can be seen faintly from an angle on the port side of the bow, was probably painted to disappear, to blend in with that side of the ship.
The process of painting the ship is documented by a series of three photographs, two of which show the camouflage artists in the process of applying the dazzle designs on an upper section of the ship (identified in government records as the City of Atlanta). Earlier in the process, a camouflage artist had used chalk to mark out the color boundaries, while also using symbols to indicate which paint colors to apply (K designates Black, W indicates White) in which areas.
In the first photograph in this series, two men are strengthening those chalk boundaries, using white paint. In the second photograph, white paint is in process of being applied to an area that was labeled W. In the third photograph, one can see the finished result, with the black (K) and white (W) areas having been filled in, as has another color area (designated as 11) that cuts across the window, which is painted black.
Two clarifications should be noted: (1) We can see the light/dark value of color that cuts across the window, but the color itself is not identifiable. This is because this is an AI digitally-colorized version of a grayscale photograph (there are no color photographs of WWI ship camouflage), and current AI colorization cannot yet determine the hue that was actually used on the ship.
(2) Notice also that the camouflage pattern does not extend onto the floor of the deck. In WWI ship camouflage, it was considered unnecessary to apply the pattern to the deck because the design was addressed to the low-level viewing angle of a U-boat periscope. From that position, the deck surface was not visible. In contrast, during World War II, disruptive camouflage patterns were applied to the deck surfaces of ships, because other viewing angles (such as aerial views) had to be addressed as well. For more on this, see Disruption Versus Dazzle (online access).
The last of the five US government photographs included on this blogpost shows two American camoufleurs (the Army officer on the left may be Frederick Pawla), standing beside a dazzle-camouflaged ship (identified in the caption as the City of Atlanta), looking at a diagram for a ship camouflage plan, and most likely discussing the progress.
Saturday, August 15, 2020
FREIGHTER RAMS AND SINKS SUBMARINE in The Austin American (Austin TX), May 3, 1918—
An Atlantic Port, May 2—A British freight steamer fresh from the yards of her builders celebrated her maiden trans-Atlantic voyage by running down and sinking a German U-boat off the Irish coast, her crew reported upon their arrival today.
|USS Louisville in camouflage (1918)|
The freighter was equipped with the latest anti-submarine devices, which proved very effective.
The submersible came to the surface suddenly a short distance off the ship’s bow and was caught by the British helmsman’s quick work almost before the U-boat commander could puzzle out through the steamer’s remarkable camouflage whether she was going or coming.
|Dazzle-camouflaged USS Lake Clear (1918)|
Friday, August 14, 2020
Fletcher Chenault, “The Camel Flagger” in Collier’s Magazine (March 30, 1918), p. 24—
…“I see by the papers,” Lige was saying, “whar’bouts the Gov’ment is sendin’ over some painter fellers to Yurope to put camel flags on our army.”
“Camel what?” I inquired, puzzled. “What kind of flag is that?”
“‘Tain’t no flag a-tall, “ Lige said. “It’s a art. You take a cannon, mebbe, an’ you paint it to look like a plowbeam, so to speak, an’ a common ord’nary waggin will look like a hayrick. It’s easy ef you know how.”
|WWI French Army truck camouflage|
“Oh!” I exclaimed, a light dawning on me. “You mean camouflage.”
“No, I don’t,” Lige insisted. “I mean camel flags. It’s a French word mean’ to kiver up. Them Frenchmen shore is wonders with a bucket o’ paint or a skillet, although the only painters which I ever see was Irish an’ b’longed to a union.”
“Shore—the stepladder kind. But when it comes to that, this here Lee Starr was the best camel flagger which I ever see,” Lige added reflectively. “Whensoever he got through paintin’ a thing it warn’t what you thought it was a-tall—not even hisself.”…
Monday, August 10, 2020
Waldemar Kampffert, Fighting the U-Boat with Paint: How American and English artists taught sailors to dazzle the U-boat in Popular Science Monthly. Vol 94 No 4 (April 1919), p. 17ff—
When the German U-boats began their depredations, it became desperately necessary to provide some protective coloration for transports, food ships, and the hundreds of vessels that were carrying munitions to Europe.
Battleship gray having proved utterly useless, naval officers turned instinctively to artists for advice and assistance. If an artist, with his trained eye, knows how to apply color, knows how to trace lines on canvas so that they become the counterfeit presentment of the thing he sees, couldn’t he reverse the process and devise some way of blotting out the thing to be looked at?
|Above Camouflage pattern applied to USS Chibiabos (c1918), US Shipping Board.|
It so happened that American artists interested themselves in devising schemes of protective coloration as soon as the U-boat began to sink on sight. The pioneers among them were William Andrew Mackay, Maximilian Toch, Gerome Brush, Everett L. Warner, and Lewis Herzog.
|Above Dazzle camouflage applied to USS Beaumont (c1918), US Shipping Board.|
Lindell T. Bates, MARINE CAMOUFLAGE BROUGHT TO PERFECTION IN AMERICA: First Authentic Account of the Development of Illusion in Foiling Hun Pirates Written by Leader in the Work Here—Scientific Explanation of Colors, Curves and Lines Used. The New York Sun. January 19, 1919, p. 11—
In the course of the war several American artists, noting the rapid development of land camouflage, became interested in its marine possibilities. William A. Mackay and Lewis Herzog, both of New York, appear to have been the pioneers of elaborate camouflage both of this country and abroad, although in 1917 attention was beginning to focus on this question simultaneously in many quarters. Gerome Brush, Maximilian Toch and Everett L. Warner soon entered the new field. Mr. Mackay even established a marine camouflage school in New York City, the first of its kind.
|Above Dazzle camouflage applied to USS La Forge (c1918), US Shipping Board.|
• Note Restored black and white US Government photographs have been colorized using AI digital coloring (not literally accurate).
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
The narrative at that weblink describes conditions that are disturbingly parallel to those of the current spread of COVID-19—
[The flu epidemic] reached Philadelphia by early September 1918, after infected sailors from Boston came to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Once patients began appearing, it became apparent how ill-informed and ill-prepared the City was. World War I created demands for increased labor at home and doctors abroad. This resulted in overcrowding in the city, and critical shortages of the doctors, hospital space, morgues, and burial services necessary to handle an out-of-control crisis. Accelerating the devastation was the City’s refusal (against the advice of the medical experts) to cancel a rally for the Fourth Liberty Loan Campaign, which brought 200,000 Philadelphians together on Broad Street, on September 28. Within three days (the incubation period of the virus), the number of cases skyrocketed. The epidemic in Philadelphia claimed 16,000 lives altogether, with 12,000 of those deaths occurring in the five-week period immediately following that war bonds rally.
Here is more information about that pandemic from the Wikipedia article on the Spanish Flu—
The Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. Lasting from February 1918 to April 1920, it infected 500 million people–about a third of the world's population at the time–in four successive waves. The death toll is typically estimated to have been somewhere between 17 million and 50 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.…
While systems for alerting public health authorities of infectious spread did exist in 1918, they did not generally include influenza, leading to a delayed response. Nevertheless, actions were taken. Maritime quarantines were declared on islands such as Iceland, Australia, and American Samoa, saving many lives.
Social distancing measures were introduced, for example closing schools, theatres, and places of worship, limiting public transportation, and banning mass gatherings. Wearing face masks became common in some places, such as Japan, though there were debates over their efficacy. There was also some resistance to their use, as exemplified by the Anti-Mask League of San Francisco.
Vaccines were also developed, but as these were based on bacteria and not the actual virus, they could only help with secondary infections. The actual enforcement of various restrictions varied.…
• Thanks to Claudia Covert for alerting us to this image.
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
|HMS Osterley (c1918)|
The person most commonly credited with the development of dazzle painting, as a means of camouflaging ships, was British artist and poster designer Norman Wilkinson. His granddaughter is British architect Camilla Wilkinson, who teaches at the University of Westminster in London. Only recently we were delighted to learn that she has published an important scholarly article on her grandfather's contributions to ship camouflage.
Titled Distortion, Illusion and Transformation: the Evolution of Dazzle Painting, a Camouflage System to Protect Allied Shipping from Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1917–1918, the article was published in Studia de Arte et Educatione, Number 14 (Krakow, Poland), 2019. Below is a screen grab of the title page, but the entire article can also be accessed online.
Monday, July 13, 2020
|Launching of SS Everglades at Tampa FL, 1918 (AI digital color)|
Freedman was one of about two hundred civilian camouflage artists, who were assigned to seaside shipping ports on the east, south, and west coasts of the US. The extent of Freedman’s service was clarified about fifteen years ago, when Claudia Covert, a librarian and research scholar at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), realized the significance of a collection of 450 colored lithographic plans of ship camouflage that had been in the school’s possession since 1919. As Covert researched this material, it soon became apparent that Freedman, at the end of the war, had enrolled as a student at RISD, where he studied drawing, painting, and design. While there, he donated his collection of the plans (only two other sets, complete or nearly so, are known to have survived, although scattered, stray components can be found in public and private collections), along with vintage photographs of the dazzled-painted ships.
To support her research, Covert was awarded a grant from RISD, which enabled her to visit the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London, and the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Maryland, both of which have extensive holdings related to ship camouflage. As a result, she and others at RISD were able to embark on the arduous process of preserving the original lithographs, developing a lexicon of the different kinds of patterns, making archival digital scans, and arranging to share them publicly through publications, web-posting, exhibits, and symposia. As a way of supporting the project, some of the plans were reprinted at actual size, and sold online through RISD Works, the art school’s retail gift shop.
|SS Everglades (1918), plan above, ship below|
In 2008, Covert and librarian Ellen Petraits, working with other RISD staff and interns, documented their efforts in a presentation titled Dazzle Prints: Digitizing a Large Format Collection, which they then presented at a conference of The Art Libraries Association of North America (ARLIS/NA). Their report can be accessed online, as can other materials in the RISD Dazzle Print Collection.
Reproduced in that document are the plans for the camouflage pattern for an American merchant ship, named the SS Everglades, a 3,500-ton steel steamer. It had the distinction of being the first ship in which a camouflage pattern was applied while the ship was still being constructed, before the vessel had actually launched. As reported in several articles in the Tampa Tribune, the launching had originally been scheduled for July 4, 1918, but, because of complications, it was delayed until July 29. At 6:00 pm that day, it was officially launched at Oscar Daniels Shipyard in Tampa.
Maurice L. Freedman (who was headquartered in Jacksonville) may or may not have been present at the launching. His name does not appear in a lengthy news account as being among the attendees. But there is an explicit reference to the presence of one of his fellow artists, photographer and illustrator F(rank) B(ird) Masters, who is described in the article as having “completed his job Sunday.” The resulting “dazzle system” design, the article adds, is “one of the prettiest completed jobs imaginable.” It then speaks in some detail about the advantages of this approach to ship camouflage—
The “dazzle system” of camouflage, an adaptation from the latest English system, makes a much prettier looking boat. Instead of the hard straight lines with sharp angles that have characterized camouflage as used on vessels in the past, the new system comprises a series of graceful, curved lines and figures which deceive as to speed, size, and direction of progress, instead of attempting to hide the vessel. It Is said that as a cover or blending for the purpose of hiding the vessel, camouflage has been a failure but that it has proven its adaptability as a protective agency through deception. The new smooth and curving lines are said to be even more deceptive than the straight lines and hard angles. Certainly, on close-up observation the boat camouflaged under the new system is a much more pleasing sight to the eye, and as a success its value was apparent as one riding into town on Fifth Avenue looked down the estuary from near its head. Even at only this short distance away the vessel appeared considerably shorter as it was being towed to the river plant of the builders where a greater part of the machinery fitting and installation will be done.
Through the efforts of Covert at RISD, combined with other sources, there is additional information about Maurice L. Freedman. We know, for example, that, following his studies at RISD, he worked as an advertising artist in Providence RI, and, in the 1940s, designed Warfare: Naval Combat, an early iteration of a game since known as Battleship. In the 1950s, he was an assistant art director of Paramount Cards, the nation’s third-largest greeting card company, in Pawtucket RI. When he died at age 85, on December 4, 1983, he was living in Revere MA.
By comparison, there is considerably more information about Frank Bird Masters (1873-1955), who more often signed his work as F.B. Masters or Frank B. Masters. According to online postings, Masters was born in Watertown MA in 1873. He was initially drawn to science and engineering, with the result that he earned a BA degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1895. He worked briefly for the B.F. Sturtevant Company (the country’s oldest fan manufacturer), and then taught high school industrial arts for several years in Boston.
|Illustration by Frank B. Masters (1907)|
Around the turn of the century, his interests appear to have shifted from science and technology to art. In 1900, he rejoined the Sturtevant Company, but this time as an advertising artist. He also worked as an illustrator for the Curtis Publishing Company in Philadelphia. After his work was represented in several art exhibitions, he subsequently studied art with the prominent illustrator Howard Pyle in Wilmington DE. At the same time, he experimented with photography (specifically cyanotypes), by which he made candid images of workers, backstreets, locomotives, and industrial sites. He made these not as “photographic art,” but as image references for his illustrations for books, magazines, and advertising. From 1905-1918, he maintained a studio in New York at 23 West 24th Street, near Madison Square Park (in the Flatiron District).
|Illustration by Frank B. Masters (1907)|
In 1918, Masters accepted employment as a civilian ship camoufleur in New York with the US Shipping Board. He subsequently worked on projects in Jacksonville FL, Tampa FL, Washington DC, Charleston SC, and Savannah GA. The war effectively ended with the Armistice on November 1, 1918, and soon after Masters returned to New York, where he resumed his profession as an advertising illustrator.
|Advertising poster for Century Magazine by Frank B. Masters (1903)|
Above The two black-and-white illustrations by Frank B. Masters shown were originally published in the Washington Evening Star (Washington DC) on September 22, 1907.
News articles about the launching of the SS Everglades were published in the Tampa Tribune on July 30, and August 4, 1918; and in the Tampa Bay Times on May 24, and August 1, 1918.
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
|Full-page article on Don Jules Camou (1932)|
But I have now found a more detailed news article from 1932 that provides an account of the life of Don Jules Camou (not Jacques Camou), described as a major landowner (“a dictator, almost”) in the Mexican state of Sonora. Written by Oren Arnold, the article is titled INVENTED CAMOUFLAGE A CENTURY AGO TO SAVE HIS RANCH FROM THE APACHES: Fooling the enemy with paint was not originated by modern war strategists after all—for wily Jules Camou used it against his Indian foes in 1832 (Arizona Daily Star, May 22, 1932).
Accompanying the article are several surprisingly clear photographs of the then surviving structures on the Camou estate, located in Sonora, 250 miles south of the Mexican-American border. When the article came out, it was claimed that “more than 100 alleged heirs” were “still squabbling over his estate, and romantic yarns about him are becoming a vital part of Sonoran folklore.” Reportedly, part of the interest was due to the possibility of ore deposits, and, less credible, the rumor that a cache of gold was hidden somewhere on the property. “The courts at Hermosillo, the capital city of Sonora,” the article notes, “are crowded with matters concerning the Jules Camou estate.”
Jules Camou’s purported use of camouflage took place in 1832. His cattle ranch was huge; according to the article, “a horseman can travel in a straight line for two days” and never leave the estate. Each year he raised as many as 16,000 head of cattle, the success of which required dependable access to water. He decided to construct a dam with which to form a 400-acre lake. But he was plagued by frequent attacks by neighboring Apaches, who regarded him as an intruder.
In order to construct the dam, Camou first devised a large ranch fortress, with a cylindrical stone tower at each end. When attacked, the workers could flee to the towers, and fire at the attackers from above through five-inch square-shaped portholes. But the portholes themselves were a target. It was Camou’s innovation to make the portholes hard to see by randomly locating them within a surface pattern of painted squares. As a result, the article claims, “where any one Indian might before have seen four or five targets, he now could see only a confusing picture of colored squares.”
Did Camou actually do this? It seems that he did, but even so, it’s unlikely that he was the first. A comparable checkerboard pattern (to conceal the location of gun ports) had long been used by ships at sea. In an earlier posting about camouflage and checkerboards, we referenced the aforementioned Jacques Camou, who appears to have had no connection to Mexico. In Paris, there is a street called rue Camou, named in his honor.
In the article on Jules (not Jacques), historian John McPhee is quoted as saying—
…Jules Camou originated what we now call “camouflage.” I don’t know whether he named it or not, but it is at least a coincidence that the names—Camou and camou-flage—should be so similar, isn’t it?
Related to this is an earlier news article with the headline GERMAN CONSUL MADE TO PAY HEAVY RANSOM: Sonora Rebels Abuse Max Muller and Extort $10,000 From Him, in the Los Angeles Call (April 4, 1913). The article tells the story of the threat to wealthy residents of Sonora, who are in danger of being kidnapped and held for ransom. One of the victims was Max Muller, who was vice president of the Bank of Sonora and the German consul at Hermosillo. After paying the ransom and being released, Muller fled to safety in Los Angeles, where other Sonorans had already fled. The article adds—
Among the refugees now here [in LA] are thirty-two wealthy members of the Camou family, headed by Fermin Camou and Albert Camou. This family owns practically all of the state of Sonora, and is rated as worth more than three million dollars.
Saturday, July 4, 2020
|Edward Simmons, Girl Reading (1893)|
…and then came the War. I was too old to go; they even refused me in the Camouflage section, although I insist I would have been of use.
Although I was not allowed to take part in the War, my whole world changed. The color of everything—we were enmeshed in khaki. To eyes accustomed to riotous shades, this deadening of the whole tone of things was tremendously depressing… I wanted to keep step, and felt as if I were marching, marching, marching—until I would suddenly become conscious that I was only sitting still. I had never found the necessity of realizing the meaning of the old saying, “He also serves—“ For the first time I was forced to acknowledge that it was the age of the young.
|Edward Simmons (date unknown)|
Sunday, June 28, 2020
|Everglades Poster (©2018) Roy R. Behrens|
As it turns out, there is much more to know about him, and part of the information is in his autobiography, titled This is the Life! (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926). In that book (full text available online), he talks about how he became interested in protective coloration in nature when he was appointed the Game Protector of Florida, under the Migratory Bird Act. During his tenure in that role, the population of white egrets (which had been nearing extinction before) grew substantially, and manatee (then commonly known as the “sea cow”) became “more plentiful than the real cow, which is rather rare in Florida.” He goes on to describe how he also became interested in wartime camouflage—
Shortly after hostilities began in France, I encountered some badly wounded Canadian officers who had been sent South to recuperate, and often took them out boating. From them one day I learned about “camouflage” as practiced in the European armies, The prospect of this novel application of paint to warfare excited me immensely; I seemed to glimpse an opening whereby many aged artists could be of service to their country [p. 307].…
…In July I went to Washington…to preach camouflage to an incredulous and derisive lot of official dumb-bells who thought I was trying to introduce a new brand of French cheese. I was dubbed “Camouflage Walt” in the Press Club. I wrote a couple of page stories for the [Washington] Post that helped to make the word familiar, but alas, the reputation of humor is ruinous to any serious purpose; I got a few laughs but no consideration, although seven hundred French and English artists were even then engaged in developing the new defensive art. General Joe Kuhn, head of the War College, assured me it “was mere frills and piffle” [p. 308].
Aside from his camouflage efforts, there are other interesting aspects of McDougall’s life. In 1902, while he was a cartoonist for The North American in Philadelphia, a fellow cartoonist named Charles Nelan satirized the Governor of Pennsylvania (Samuel Pennypacker) by depicting him as a parrot. Rather like current political ploys, Pennypacker responded by calling for a legislative rule (called the “anti-cartoon act”) that would make it unlawful to portray politicians “as birds or animals.” In response, McDougall created new caricatures of the governer and other hacks—not as birds and animals, but as trees, vegetables, and a beer stein, as reproduced below.
Another, far more somber, aspect of McDougall’s biography took place decades later, when, destitute, forgotten, and living alone, he ended his life at age 80 by shooting himself in the head with an old pistol. This is how the story was told in HE MADE OTHERS LAUGH in the Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro KY), on March 12, 1938—
He had amused unnumbered thousands with his facile pen, helped elect one president with a masterful cartoon, been associated with another, and been employed by a third, yet when Walt McDougall came to die it was all alone and with a pistol clasped in his good right hand. At 80 the cartoonist, author and humorist found himself at the end of the road; money gone, friends forgetful. He had been dead a week, the coroner said.
…[US President Woodrow] Wilson commissioned McDougall to study camouflage in Europe and the report he made was the basis for much this country did in that direction during the early days of the war.•
With age and adversity upon him, the maker of laughs for other people turned to painting and his diary. If McDougall was quite frank with his pages they should have a worthwhile story to tell.
In other accounts of his passing, there are repeated references to his diary, but so far we haven't found it. It would be interesting to read, although assuredly painful. We have found only one published entry, described as having been one of his last. It reads—
Stove won’t work—tough times.
• This claim seems to contradict McDougall's own account of his limited success.
Thursday, June 25, 2020
|Walt McDougall (1904), Land of Oz comic page|
McDougall was also interested in camouflage, and he wrote a long newspaper account about that subject during World War I. I've republished the entire text below. But I haven't republished the illustrations he made for it. None of those drawings are of the quality of his cartoons, and one of them is blatantly offensive: it shows military brass having drinks at the Army and Navy Club (where I once lectured—on the subject of camouflage) in Washington DC. An African-American waiter is shown as a clueless black-faced minstrel, as was thought to be funny back then. It brings up painful memories of my own childhood when, as recently as the early 1950s, the movie theatre in the small Iowa community in which I grew up was still featuring "minstrel shows" in which white musicians (there were no black residents at the time) would perform in blackface. With that as a timely disclaimer, here is the text of McDougall's article—
Walt M’Dougall, TRAILING THE CAMOUFLAGE IN WASHINGTON JUNGLES: Certain Adventures of a Patriot Who Endeavored to Do His Bit for Our Newest Art: An “Inside Story” of the Incident That Gave Birth to Camouflage, Written and Illustrated by the Man Who Hereby Sets Forth His Claim to Rank as the Original “Camouflager,” in The Washington Post, June 10, 1917, p. 3—
Camouflage is pronounced as it is spelled, with the “g” soft and mushy, as in “garage,” and with the accent on the “cam.” The art and mystery of concealing batteries, roads and large, important officials by means of artificial scenery was given this name by the French, who knew that it would be a long time before people could determine whether it was a new kind of cheese or a bit of feminine wearing apparel.
Some time ago I became possessed of certain reliable information regarding camouflage through a returned Canadian officer and promptly addressed the War Department a fervent appeal to send me to the French front to gather further information, models, data, and insect parasites for the instruction of our own army. I realized that the task required the imagination of a playwright, the art of a scene painter, the skill of a stage carpenter, the strength of a blacksmith, the nerve of a literary agent, the stomach of a hyena, and the nerve of a motion picture substitute.
Nobody knows what became of that appeal.
New York Got the Edge
Two weeks ago I arrived in Florida in response to a suggestion from a high official to present my plea in person, and almost immediately discovered that while I had been dreaming under the orange blossoms a national camouflage division had been organized in New York, with units in various other cities, and that a number of able-bodied artists already were drilling at night in vacant lots. It was even said that they were wearing uniforms. Now, New York usually tumbles to a new thing only after all the rest of the country has tried it out, and then it starts it off as a new and original fad, but in this case, it seems to have got there first.
Somewhat startled and nervous, I devoted my initial efforts to ascertaining just how far the movement had progressed. Hastily seeking the aforesaid prominent official I was guided to the War Department, where we consulted a bland and amiable Major Blank, who, after candidly admitting that he had never heard of camouflage, said that from what I had revealed to him he didn’t think it quite fair to pester the department about such piffle when it was so busy with really important matters.
“Major, on my word of honor as a gentleman,” I repeated, “I assure you that while camouflage is a new war game, it isn’t piffle. It is saving thousands of lives and guns and military material in France.”
Patting me soothingly on the shoulder, he suggested: “Why not go over on your own account as a private citizen and study it?”
When I asked him, rather testily, I admit, how long he thought I’d last gumshoeing around the French front with a camera, a sketchbook, and a tape measure, picking centimeters and calories off the big guns, he appeared a trifle hurt, but when he got his breath he said that the War Department couldn’t bother with “frills” at this time and that perhaps I might manage to get away with the second or third division of troops going over.
I asked the next man who was consulted, point-blank, if he had ever heard of camouflage.
Thought It a New Insect Powder
“Yes,” said he in a flash; “It is the new insect powder they’re getting from the Phillippines.” However, he was only a civilian.
I began to see, dimly, that my task was going to difficult. We went to the Cosmos Club to dine, where I met an African explorer, who wanted to bet me that camouflage was a subspecies of the dingo family. Late at night, reduced to a sort of dumb despair, I went to the Press Club, where I encountered artist Felix Mahoney, [a cartoonist as well] who proved to have at his finger-ends all the knowledge there is about “Who’s Who and Where” in camouflaging. He formed the local unit and invited me to witness the evening drill the following night. I was surprised to learn that they were not drilling with paintbrushes, but actually learning the military manual under the instruction of a real army officer. This looked like something really tangible.
I also learned that evening that among other things it is supposed that “the camouflage artist is like any other soldier. He goes where he is sent, and, in addition to his arms, he carries a 6-inch sketch box, which is his palette, one-half of the box fitting on his thumb in true palette fashion, while the other half holds his little sketch boards and colors. The scene to be ‘camouflaged’ is sketched exactly as it appears in colors that match the true ones. This sketch is conveyed to the base of operations, where other artists copy it upon a large canvas. The framework, if there is any, is designed and the finished ‘scene’ is rushed to the spot it is intended to conceal.”
When I pointed out that if the scenery was already there in situ it scarcely needed to be disguised by an artificial creation precisely imitating its details to conceal it from the enemy, I was regarded with pity.
He Is the Original Camouflager
Now, I need to explain, perhaps, my interest in this matter. Long before the famous bank robbery where the burglars painted a fake safe and robbed the genuine one behind it, in my boyhood days, in fact, I cleverly painted a life-size effigy of my slight and skinny self and set it up in the cornfield where I was supposed to be watching the crows, and while mother thought I was on the job, I was lying under a willow by the creek fishing for perch. While I expose past duplicity with regret, my mother being long dead, I feel it needful to establish my claim as the original camouflager.
Well, I had already begun to suspect that I stood a swell chance of getting to the front, but I persisted. The next day I met a man in another department who confessed that he had heard that the French used artists in the army to “stimulate scenery” in deceiving the enemy. Needless to say, he meant “simulate.” I saw the young and enthusiastic artists drill that evening and conferred with them. They expected, every one of them, to be sent to the front, but they were rather misty as to how they were to be instructed, and where, in their special form of military art. I took occasion to explain that I deserved to be sent over in order to qualify as an instructor for just such lads back here at home. None of these boys wanted to be generals or even captains—they wanted to camouflage.
After three days I got so that I found myself in the Army and Navy Club ordering camouflage cocktails for an aged major general and I realized that I had reached a critical stage. I proceeded to obtain a new slant on the subject. Armed with a note from Mr. Tumulty I sought the Assistant Secretary of War, but his private secretary, an alert and observing young fellow, seeing the wild, haunted look in my eyes, the hectic four-flush mantling my cheeks and my ill-concealed impatience, steered me up against some husky colonels in a remote part of the building. These officers, kindly and genial, humored me by listening to my ravings, and finally Mr. McKenna sent me by the department bus to the War College, having previously telephoned General Kuhn that I was coming.
They Treated Him Kindly
Right here I want to express my appreciation of the unfailing kindness, cheerful patience and delightful good humor of every official whose valuable time I monopolized during the week. Although they uniformly refused to take me seriously, they took me in and made me at home in every case. I lunched with the general staff on Friday, after walking many miles across country to the War College, a point usually reached only by airplane and wireless, and although I had neither guide, compass or chart, I got there before everything was eaten.
Here I received another shock. I found that General Kuhn actually knew all about camouflage! I mean, all that is known in the United States. That is nearly nothing, but the general had heard about what had been revealed. His delightful personality eased the pain I felt when I saw that he also regarded camouflage as frillery and military lingeries, as it were, but when he kindly enlightened me as to the number (something like 76,000) of eager, earnest souls who ardently desired to sail for France this week in order to study gas-bombing, trench ventilation, painless starvation, cathedral reconstruction, explosive frankfurters, dog training, the German system of converting their dead into toilet soaps, smokeless tobacco and the like on the battlefield, I saw a great light. I now perceive why departmental business proceeds slowly and painfully. If officials are as invariably polite, courteous, and obliging to every crank, bug, and jobseeker as they were to me it is wonderful that anything is accomplished, and it follows that camouflaging the departments is as necessary as anything else.
He Gave Up the Quest
The last man I interviewed on the subject was the celebrated sculptor, Mr. Paul Barlett, chairman of the executive committee of the Washington camouflage division. He assured me that a small army of artists, eminent and otherwise, was preparing to go to France, where they were to take up this pursuit.
“Do you mean that the government will send this division over as an actual organization of artists?” I asked.
He intimated that such was his understanding.
“And when this army, well-drilled and qualified as soldiers, arrives at the front, will it be marched somewhere and proceed to become students of camouflage, under the instruction of 700 busy scene painters now occupied in disguising France, or will they just camouflage around, picking up the art between the barrage fire and the hospitals?” I persisted.
Mr. Bartlett’s manner suggested that my question peeved him, or, at least, so it seemed to me, and I obtained no answer to the question of how our earnest seekers after knowledge would become qualified to proceed to camouflage. However, this finished my efforts to inject my own personality into the movement. I will not see France until the war is over, and I will never know more about camouflaging than anybody else does.
|Walt McDougall and others (1897)|
Monday, June 22, 2020
Stockton Review and Rooks County Record (Stockton KS), January 31, 1918—
Mr. and Mrs. E.B. Wooden received a letter this week from their son Earl, notifying them that he had arrived safely in France, where he went from California recently to work in the Camouflage Corps. His particular work will be the planning and architectural construction of camouflage for artillery and other things at the front that must be concealed from enemy airplanes. In this, he is an adept, as he has been engaged for the past four years in the creation of artificial scenery for a big film company at University City in Los Angeles. He says his work has hitherto ben to deceive the public at the movies; now it will be the pull the wool over the Bosche's eyes. His parents knew of his going and were surprised as well as pleased over getting word from him so promptly.
Saturday, June 20, 2020
|Dustin Keller / Lozenge camouflage toaster|
|Dustin Keller / Three-tone camouflage toaster|
A variety of problems are posted there, but the one that we were drawn to (of course) is Skins & Camouflage. As specified on that page, the students were asked to design a prototype of a quasi-camouflaged "small household applicance," such as (for example) a toaster.
|Dustin Keller / Dazzle camouflage toaster|
The three examples posted here were designed by Mr. Keller. It's a great idea—elegant, fun, and nifty for sure. Surely, his students enjoyed it.
Monday, June 15, 2020
NEW YORK—Discovery of camouflage in the disposal of liquor to soldiers and sailors in uniform led to the announcement by United States Judge Hand today that imprisonment and not fines would be the punishment hereafter of persons convicted of violating the Federal law forbidding the sale of intoxicants to Army and Navy men.
Stomachs of Teddy Bears, paper bags left on mailboxes, taxicab rides around the block at $1.50 a ride, and cigar boxes passed over the counter at cigar stores are some of the methods through which servicemen here have been served with liquor recently, according to testimony in the Federal court at the arraignment of more than 300 persons, many of whom are now in prison.
Thursday, June 11, 2020
CAMOUFLAGE: Everybody’s Doing It, Including the Moving Pictures, in Photo-Play Journal (December 1917), p. 25—
No periodical can count its contents complete if it has left out some mention of camouflage. The word has dug its way into our language until it has completely lost its French ancestry. Deception, misrepresentation, cozenage, coggery, ingannation, hocus pocus, thimblerig and artifice, bamboozlement, supercherie, and strategem, they all mean the same nowadays since camouflage has come into its own.
When the French paint their heavy guns to look like landscapes, that’s camouflage; when the U-boats put on paint that looks like the waves of the sea, that’s camouflage; when you make ox-tail soup out of a bouillon cube, that’s camouflage; when you’re forty and fat and you bant in your flat, that’s camouflage; when you stand pat on two pair and look like a full house, that’s camouflage.
And now the movies have taken it up. They don’t know it yet, but they have. And when the moving pictures begin to take a thing up you have no more chance of getting away from it than you have of not hearing scandal at the Country Club. So why struggle?
If you can recall the day you hid behind the old barn and indulged in your first whiff at a cigarette, you will realize that camouflage meant something to you many years before you ever heard of the blooming word. The old barn was first-class camouflage. If you’re a former little girl, remember the fan you blushed behind when he first said he loved you? ’Twas camouflage that made your face look like a fan. Verily, everybody has been doing it—this thing of camouflaging.…
Boston Globe, March 31, 1918—
Cecil B. DeMille, of Paramount [Film Studios], will become a member of the United States Engineer Corps and will aid in recruiting technical experts and scenic artists for camouflage work in France.
According to a Wikipedia biography—
During World War I, the Famous Players-Lasky organized a military company underneath the National Guard called the Home Guard made up of film studio employees with DeMille as captain. Eventually, the Guard was promoted to a battalion and recruited soldiers from other film studios. They took time off weekly from film production to practice military drills. Additionally, during the war, DeMille volunteered for the Justice Department's Intelligence Office, investigating friends, neighbors, and others he came in contact with in connection with the Famous Players-Lasky. He volunteered for the Intelligence Office during World War II as well. Although DeMille considered enlisting in World War I, he stayed in the United States and made films.
|Cecil B. DeMille (1919). Public domain.|
Sunday, May 31, 2020
|Leon Dabo (1909)|
Rollin Lynde Hartt, CAMOUFLAGE in Chicago Tribune, March 10, 1918—
As their train nears Chicago, passengers note a low, murmurous hum. It is the Chicagoans saying “Camouflage.” Those of us who once confined our remarks to “Skiddoo! Twenty-three!” and more recently to “I should worry!” and “What do you know about that?” peg along at present on “Camouflage,” though a bit wearisome it grows. Declares a neighbor of mine, “The next time I hear ‘Camouflage’ I shall make my will, kiss my friends and relatives good-bye, and jump in the wastebasket!”…
[Camouflage] borrows its technique from a humble enough source. It is the Chamber of Horrors over again…Some steal their technique from the impressionists. Some repeat the antics of cubism. Others depend for their success upon certain very curious principles of optics. It takes an artist to invent them and an artist to explain them, and Mr. Leon Dabo* is never more entertaining than when holding forth on their theory and practice.
In order to understand the enormously important part impressionism plays in camouflage one must first define impressionism. Aesthetically, it is a simple matter, merely an attempt to reproduce, not nature itself, but the side of nature that appeals strongly to the artist. Technically, however, it involves profundities. Instead of counterfeiting reality, it creates an illusion of reality. It tells the truth by fibbing…
It was to cubism that the camouflageurs had recourse when they wanted to hide ships from view. Painting them gray was a poor device, they found. From habit, the eye would still recognize the silhouette of a ship even at a great distance. But it turns out that the eye had come to depend almost wholly on habit. Break up the familiar silhouette by dappling it with inharmonious colors in huge, shapeless masses, or—better yet—by covering it with immense cubist triangles and with cubist rectangles as immense—and the eye of the seasoned mariner would report no ship at all. The eye sees what it is accustomed to seeing and balks at learning new tricks.…
And why resent that low, murmurous hum of the Chicagoans saying “Camouflage”? Let the hum continue. It is just now a foolish hum, to be sure; it reflects a quaintly naive sense of novelty, as if camouflage were a new thing under the sun instead of being a modern recourse to trickery as old as “Quaker” cannon and the painted portholes on merchantmen, and, for that matter, the celebrated wooden horse at Troy. But it popularizes an idea. It gives it prominence. It backs up the army’s determination to put camouflage where it belongs. France has thousands of camouflageurs. So should we.…
* Note The following entry was featured in a column titled Fifty Years Ago 1918, in the August 25, 1968 issue of the Asbury Park Press (Asbury NJ)—
Aug. 27—Leon Dabo, American painter who has been serving on General Pershing’s staff designing camouflage, was the principal speaker at a war rally in Ocean Grove Auditorium. He described enemy atrocities.
Saturday, May 30, 2020
Robert Gibbings, Sweet Thames Run Softly. NYC: E.P. Dutton, 1945—
The war [WWII] broke out, but I was overage. Besides, I had met a bullet in the last war. I tried for camouflage. I offered to make drawings from submarines, having already worked underwater in a diving helmet…if it was human folly which had brought about the catastrophe, it was, for the most part, only human beings who were paying the price. The world of nature was unaffected; flowers still bloomed, birds still sang, even butterflies continued their migrations, and rivers flowed towards the sea.
Thursday, May 28, 2020
In a blog post on Frank Overton Colbert in 2018, we mentioned his connection with a widely known Beaux-Arts American painter and sculptor named Paul Wayland Bartlett. In April 1917, Bartlett co-founded a group of Washington DC artists called the American Camouflage Division.
Bartlett was the group’s chairman, while among the other members were Felix Mahony, Michel Jacobs, Glen Brown, Richard Brooks, A.G. Smith, Alexis B. Many, and J. Crozier. When the US entered World War I, this group offered to contribute their expertise in the development of camouflage. At the same time, comparable groups had also been formed in New York City (called the New York Camouflage Society or American Camouflage) and San Francisco (American Camouflage Western Division).
In an issue of The Sunday Star (Washington DC) on April 29, 1917 (Section Four, page 1), a half-page article titled WASHINGTON ARTISTS ORGANIZE A CAMOUFLAGE DIVISION reported that Bartlett had recently—
made an address before an assemblage of fellow artists, architects, sculptors, and painters to explain the possibilities of camouflage. His explanations were inspiring; so much so, in fact, that the establishment of an American association of camouflage was begun then and there.
Paul Wayland Bartlett (1865-1925) had been born in New Haven CT. He began with the advantage of professional connections, because his father was a prominent sculptor, Truman H. Bartlett (1835-1922), who taught modeling for 22 years in the MIT architecture department. Both the father and the son were heavily influenced by Neo-classicism and the French Academy, and, as early as age 15, Paul Bartlett began to study sculpture in Paris.
Throughout the remainder of his life, he remained active in American art circles, but lived primarily in France. In 1914, artists serving in the French Army were the first to propose the establishment of a section de camouflage, so Bartlett’s endorsement of the "art of camouflage" was most likely encouraged in part by that.
Bartlett was known for his commissioned public sculptures, the most notable of which may be The Apothesis of Democracy, the House of Representatives pediment at the US Capitol building (as shown below). He died of blood poisoning in Paris in 1925.
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
CAMOUFLAGE USED TO COVER STILLS in Centralia Sentinel (Centralia IL), November 2, 1923, p. 2—
Montana prohibition officers are searching for a war veteran who saw service overseas in a camouflage outfit. According to [Montana law enforcement], bootleggers are believed to be employing the returned veteran to conceal their moonshine stills on Montana farms.
Costello said a still was recently discovered in a tent near Boseman MT after many weeks' search. The moonshine-making outfit had been hidden in a tent, painted green, and pitched in a clump of willows. Several times the dry officers came within a few feet of the hidden still but were unable to locate it because of the successful camouflage. A large number of barrels, hidden in the willows nearby, were painted green.
Three hundred gallons of whiskey, 1,244 pounds of sugar, 1,000 pounds of corn, and 15 barrels of mash, ready for distilling were found in the cache.
Evidence of the work of the veteran has been uncovered in other parts of the state, it was said. In a northern Montana grain field, a still was discovered hidden under a tent which was covered with bunches of grain, tied together, and ready for harvesting. For some days dry agents thought the disguised tent was a mound of grain.
Near Havre MT, a still was found on a mountain. The still was made of canvas and was located on the edge of a cliff. Painted to resemble rocks, it was many weeks before the moonshiners’ outfit was discovered.
At Great Falls a still was recently found on the banks of the Missouri River. Here the still was located in a cave. Painted canvas trees were used to disguise a door, which formed the entrance to the cave.
Monday, May 25, 2020
|The Mysterious Olivette (1918)|
And below is an excerpt from a column in the same issue, p. 594—
And what [for soldiers on leave if] there were no camouflage dances? For a camouflage dance, you know, is just exactly like other dances, only, for camouflage, there’s a gramophone instead of a band, and sandwiches instead of quail, and you wear, if possible, a “simple” frock, for you never quite know if someone almost straight from the trenches won’t arrive, and to be clasped close to Flanders mud in white tulle or rose-pink ninon is—well, in any case, rather nice, really.
And alas, one of our favorite old-timey comedy lines (an exchange between dancers)—
“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m a little stiff from badminton.”
“I don’t care where you’re from. You’ll never dance with me again!”
Anon, Hello Buddy: Sad and Sunny Side of War (1920)—
Of late the scene painter's art—technically known as camouflage—has raised the concealment of batteries and their observation posts to the realm of the uncanny…you can now disguise anybody as anything. For instance, you can make up a battery of six-inch guns to look [like] a flock of sheep, and herd them into action browsing. Or you can dispatch a scouting party across No Man's Land dressed up as pillboxes, so that the deluded Hun, instead of opening fire with a machine gun, will merely post letters in them—valuable letters, containing military secrets. Lastly, and more important still, you can disguise yourself to look like nothing at all, and in these days of intensified artillery fire it is very seldom that nothing at all is hit.
Saturday, May 16, 2020
|American Women's Camouflage Corps (1918)|
Below are the sketches and humorous captions by Thelma Cudlipp for a satirical treatment of the same subject from a 1918 issue of Vanity Fair magazine. The artist/author was the American illustrator Thelma Somerville Cudlipp (1891-1983), who, through marriages and family links, is also sometimes known as Thelma Somerville Grosvenor Cudlipp Whitman. Having led an undoubtedly interesting life, she merits looking into.
Thelma Cudlipp (sketches and text), "Camouflage! Oh, Where Have We Heard That Word Before?", from Vanity Fair, September 1918, p. 35—
ISN'T IT WONDERFUL how the very most fashionable women in America are helping to dethrone that whole darn Hohenzollern family? And isn’t it wonderful, too, to note the variety of activities in which their energies are beginning to count for the Allies? Take, for instance, the Women’s Camouflage Corps, of New York, which is doing such wonderful work up in the Bronx! Why, it really isn' t possible—because of the work of the corps there—to walk in the northern confines of our city without acknowledging the truth of the saying that "Things are not what they seem." It was obvious, from the beginning of the war, that the ladies would flock to the art of camouflage, as if drawn to it by some natural inherited instinct. For, is a woman—we ask you—ever as happy as when she is persuading us that when she offers us one thing, it is, in reality, another? And so, when the vogue of camouflage came along and gave the girls an opportunity to resort to their favorite occupation of dissembling, why, that's all there was to it. The incidents mirrored on this page are the results of recent and actual experiences on the part of Vanity Fair.
Horrid predicament of Lieutenant Corinne de Puyster, who is acting as guide and cicerone for a French General of note, who has graciously consented to visit the Ladies Camouflage Camp. Lieutenant de Puyster, determining, inwardly, to give Sergeant Esme Vanderbilt at least ten days in the guard-house for having camouflaged her Sherry's lunch basket so as to make it appear to be but an innocent and inoffensive bit of the parade ground.
And here is a really tragical incident, as a result of which Vanity Fair almost went without its accustomed liquid refreshment on its recent visit to the ladies' camp. The girls had camouflaged a case of Bevo [near beer] to look like a cross-section of a rocky pasture, with the distressing result that it took three privates in the ladies' corps upwards of twenty minutes to find the precious fluid. The discovery of it was only accomplished by implicit obedience of the terse orders: “Ladies! Forward on all fours.”
So many people are saying that Vanity Fair is an improper magazine—what with its troupes of barefoot dancers and its portraits of the girls in the Follies—that we hesitated a good deal before printing this rather questionable illustration, displaying, as it does, two gentlemen about to take a swim in the river Bronx, all unaware of the fact that Captain Gladys Astor is lurking, not more than five paces away, cleverly disguised as a stunted nut tree.
And this is what led to the very biggest scandal of all, a tragedy so tremendous that it led to the withdrawal of Major Muriel Van Rensselaer from the Camouflage Corps. The Major, disguised as a sassafras bush, was, all unwillingly, forced to overhear a lengthy, candid and snappy account of herself and all her activities—just exactly what all the girls really thought of her—from two horrid privates in her own company.