Friday, April 3, 2015

Steganography, Camouflage and Eviatar Zerubavel

Cover of Hidden in Plain Sight (2015)
Above Cover of the latest camouflage-related book, titled Hidden in Plain Sight: The Social Structure of Irrelevance, just out from Oxford University Press. It's the latest achievement by Rutgers sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel, who is well-known for his earlier books, such as The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life (2006) and (our favorite) The Fine Line: Making Distinctions in Everyday Life (1993).


In Zerubavel's insightful and wide-ranging book, among the subjects introduced is a current encryption technique known as steganography. Now practiced in its digital form, the term was originated in 1499 (so says Wikipedia) by Johannes Trithemius in Steganographia, "a treatise on cryptography and steganography, disguised as a book on magic." We ourselves first learned about it in 2006 at an international conference at the University of Northern Iowa on Camouflage: Art, Science and Popular Culture, at which digital media scholar Eugene Wallingford (UNI Computer Science Professor) offered a wonderful overview of current uses of digital steganography.

Here is an excerpt from Zerubavel's text about steganography (pp. 35-36)—

There is a particular form of background-matching camouflage known as steganography, in which actual "signals" are purposely designed to be mistaken for mere "noise" and thereby effectively ignored. One can thus send a covert message in such a way that no one apart from oneself and one's intended audience (who are in fact usually alerted to expect it) even suspects its existence. Whereas in cryptography  only the content of the hidden is concealed, in steganography, its very existence is concealed as well.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dazzle Ship Camouflage | Stephen Hobbs

Disruptive Ship Camouflage © Stephen Hobbs (2015)
Above We've featured the camouflage-related work of South African artist Stephen Hobbs in earlier blog posts, including his experiments with building camouflage and a dazzle-patterned pop-up book. His latest artwork (as shown above) will soon premiere in a series of installation / performances called Stephen Hobbs: SAS Somerset & Other War Stories, on Thursday, April 2, 2015, from 5 to 9 pm, at Twenty Fifty, First Floor, 8 Spin Street, in Cape Town.

The SAS Somerset is an actual historical South African ship, and the world's last remaining boom defense vessel. Hobb's installation will feature "a unique and dynamic use of dazzle patterning and lighting onto a mock assemblage of the SAS Somerset; a spectacle conceived to enliven and transform the perception of the vessel's significance in location and history." Produced by Stephen Hobbs, in collaboration with David Krut Projects.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Abbott Thayer and Background-Picturing

Background-picturing experiment with G.H. Thayer painting
Above Roy R. Behrens (©2015), an experiment using Adobe Photoshop software in an attempt to replicate a camouflage effect that artist/naturalists Abbott Handerson Thayer and Gerald Handerson Thayer (father and son) referred to as background picturing. The initial illustration (top left) is a watercolor painting by Gerald Thayer that was originally reproduced in Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (1909). The actual painting is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


The following is an excerpt (in reference to the image above) from an as-yet unpublished essay by Roy R. Behrens, titled "Seeing Through Camouflage: Abbott Thayer, Background-Picturing and the Use of Cut-Out Silhouettes" (©2015)—

Years ago, I published an article in which I suggested that Abbott Thayer had anticipated a computer-based method of working on multiple solutions to the same art or design composition, by which we use the SaveAs command on computers.• In drafting this article, it occurred to me that he may also have anticipated another digital practice, as suggested by background-picturing. This can best be understood by looking at a series of illustrations.

The first of these illustrations is an unaltered reproduction of a watercolor painting by Gerald Thayer, titled Male Ruffed Grouse in Forest [top left]. First published in full-color in in 1909 in Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, it is a masterful demonstration of the intricacies of background-picturing, or (figuratively speaking) of “seeing through” an animal as if it were transparent. In the next two illustrations, the woodland setting [top right] and the bird [bottom left] have been selected and removed, using Adobe Photoshop. In the final stage [bottom right], I have instructed the software to fill the empty silhouette of the bird, using a setting of ContentAware, based on information in the shapes and colors in the background. The result is surely successful, albeit less than equivalent to what the Thayers intended, since the source of this solution is a single particular background and not, as they hypothesized, an average of “innumerable landscapes.”

• See R.R. Behrens, “Abbott H. Thayer’s anticipation of a computer-based method of working” in Leonardo. Vol 34 No 1 (2001), pp. 19-20. Available online here. See also and "Abbott H. Thayer's Vanishing Ducks."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

New Book on Camouflage Cultures | 2015

Cover of Camouflage Cultures (2015), available now
The latest book on art and camouflage is an anthology of the papers that were featured at an International Camouflage Conference at the Sydney College of the Arts, the University of Sydney AU in August 2013. Titled Camouflage Cultures: Beyond the Art of Disappearance, its editors are Ann Elias, Ross Harley and Nicholas Tsoutas. Included are writings that touch on such diverse fields as art history and theory, studio art, biology, cultural theory, literature, and philosophy.

The book will be available in late April 2015 from the Sydney University Press (ISBN 9781743324257) . Among its contributors are Roy R. Behrens, Donna West Brett, Paul Brock, Ann Elias, Ross Gibson, Amy Hamilton, Pamela Hansford, Jack Hasenpusch, Ian Howard, Husuan L. Hsu, Bernd Hüppauf, Ian McLean, Jacqueline Millner, Jonnie Morris, Brigitta Olubas, Nikos Papastergiadis, Tanya Peterson, Nicholas Tsoutas, Linda Tyler and Ben Wadham.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Futurist Togs For Sniper Camouflage (1917)

US proposal for disruptively-patterned sniper suit (1917)
Above This photograph of an American soldier dressed in a disruptively patterned sniper outfit (this is a detail of a larger scene) was one of a series of official government photos that were provided to US news agencies in 1917-18. It was subsequently published in various newspapers and magazines throughout the country, including, for example, in a feature titled CAMOUFLAGE DEVICES FOR DECEIVING ENEMY in the Washington Times, January 5, 1918, p. 4.

Later, as shown below in this post, the same figure was one of several components in a photomontage that appeared on the cover of a French magazine, Lectures Pour Tout, on May 1, 1918.


Anon, FUTURIST TOGS FOR SNIPERS in Chicago Daily Tribune, July 24, 1918, p. 6—

Artists of the [Blackhawk] division [at Camp Grant IL] camouflage department today gave free rein to their imagination and color fancies when Lieutenant Roy Shinew, whose studio at 3714 West Grand Avenue was closed when he entered the service, began experimenting on a series of sniper uniforms.

Types of uniforms so far turned out by the class resemble nothing more than futurist paintings of a nude falling down stairs. They are streaked with paint in broken lines and seem a joke until fitted to the body of a man and seen from a short distance in the open.

Cover of Lectures Pour Tous (1918)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Hunters Masquerade as Cow (1578)

US Patent No. 586,145 (1897)
Above Patent drawings for US Patent No. 586,145, titled "Hunting Decoy," as devised by J. Sievers, Jr. (1897). Not a bad idea, but apparently nothing new. As evidenced by two 1578 Dutch engravings by Philips Galle (shown below on this page), as early as the 16th century European deer hunters were camouflaging themselves by masquerading as cows. In both prints, notice the telltale human feet apparent beneath the cow costumes. Both prints (out of rights and in public domain) are in the collection of the Rijksmuseum.


Anon, from the Humeston New Era (Humeston IA), Wednesday, December 21, 1921—

How to stop certain Iowa druggists from making bootleg whisky under the camouflage of cologne and similar euphonious preparations is the problem which Prohibition Enforcement Officer Bronson finds himself up against. Some druggists are getting alcohol ostensibly for legitimate purposes and converting it into bootleg whisky, Mr. Bronson told Commissioner Haynes, and it is difficult to detect them. Before departing for Iowa from Washington he urged the commissioner to allow him six more field men and two officers who are druggists. Indications are the added force will be granted.

Engravings by Philips Galle (1578)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Joseph Harker | Dracula Meets Camouflage

Portrait of Joseph Harker (n.d.)
In the San Francisco Chronicle, on Sunday, May 11, 1919, a full-page article appeared on various aspects of wartime camouflage. Titled TROOPSHIPS DAZZLE-PAINTED SO COMMANDERS OF U-BOATS CAN NOT TELL WHETHER THEY WERE COMING OR GOING, it was written by Burleigh Rushwood. Here's a brief excerpt (p. 10)—

[During World War I] One of the strokes of genius on the part of an [French] administrative department…was the selection of a famous scene painter for the work [of camouflage]. This was [Louis] Bérard, who painted the famous scene of the farmyard for [Edmond] Rostand's great sensational play Chantecler. Bérard put up all sorts of queer devices for the misleading of enemy observers. He created fake lakes where there was no water and he was the originator of the bright idea of designs for gun emplacements that changed color as the seasons of the year changed. The success of Bérard led the British Government to call in famous London scene painters like Joseph Harker, and at one time the scene decks in the great spaces of Drury Lane Theatre were filled with canvases in the course of preparation for the front.

We have easily determined that the French stage designer was Louis Bérard, perhaps best known as "le decorateur de Chantecler," a wonderfully zany satirical play by Edmund Rostand, in which all the actors were dressed in animal costumes (below, see program cover of the NYC production of the same play, starring Maude Adams •). In Cécile Coutin's Tromper l'ennemi (2012) Bérard is described as an accessoiriste de théatre (property man) who served in the Section de Camouflage (1914-15) as a camouflage instructor at the studio at Amiens. She includes a three-page section on "Louis Bérard and His Contribution to the Invention of Camouflage" (pp. 48-51). Regrettably, the text is completely and only in French.

Nor did it require much effort to find out more (if not very much) about Joseph Cunningham Harker (1855-1927), who was a well-known scenographer in the London theatre. Above is a painting of him, possibly a self-portrait. He was one of a long line of Harkers who were prominent in the theatre, including his actor father, William Pierpont Harker, and his own son, the character actor Gordon Harker. Today, two of Joseph Harker's great-great-granddaughters, Susannah Harker and Caroline Harker, are accomplished British actresses. During his lifetime, Harker was a scene painter for the Lyceum Theatre, which was managed by Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula. In that book, one of the leading characters (called Jonathan Harker) is named after Stoker's friend.

• Views of the NYC production of Chantecler (with sets most likely not designed by Bérard) are available here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

More A.E. Hayward Camouflage Cartoons

A.E. Hayward, September 27, 1917, p. 22
In an earlier post, we talked about American cartoonist  A.E. (Alfred Earl) Hayward (1884-1939), and reproduced one of his "camouflage cartoons" that appeared in 1917 in his daily series “The Padded Cell,” in the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Here (above and below) are more from that same series (restored and modified somewhat) from other issues of the same newspaper.


Anon, BOOZE CAMOUFLAGED BY BREAD in The Brockport Republic (Brockport NY), February 21, 1918, p. 7—

The vigilance of a local post office clerk deprived a Camp Funston infantryman of two pints of whiskey and revealed a novel method transmitting through the mails. A compact package handled by a clerk, who noted it was damp. He opened the package and discovered two loaves of bread. A closer examination disclosed the inside of each loaf had been removed and a pint of whiskey inserted.


Anon, The Plattsburgh Sentinel (Plattsburgh NY), Julu 1, 1921, p. 4—

Two loads of Canadian whiskey were captured in the vicinity of Malone during the past week. One car was cleverly camouflaged and booze skillfully hidden in the rear.

A.E. Hayward, October 5, 1917
Anon, INNOCENT LOOKING CADILLAC HAD 18 CASES OF WET GOODS in Essex County Republican (Keeseville NY), October 27, 1922, p. 1—

A neatly camouflaged booze car was captured [by police] near Keeseville. The troppers found that so far as appearances went there was nothing contraband in the car. An examination proved, however, that there were enough false compartments in the Cadillac 1922 touring car to conceal eighteen cases of Scotch and Canadian rye whiskey.

A.E. Hayward, September 18, 1917, p 18

A.E. Hayward, October 2, 1917, p 20
A.E. Hayward, October 3, 1917, p 22
A.E. Hayward, September 18, 1917
A.E. Hayward, September 28, 1917, p. 22

Monday, December 22, 2014

Trojan Horse Camouflage | Shakespeare Too

Sheboygan Press, January 1, 1918, artist unknown
Above A cartoon illustration on the historic antecedents of World War I camouflage as published in the Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan WI), January 7, 1918, p. 8. The artist's signature, at bottom right, is unreadable. Image restored and adjusted.


Theodor Reik—

Where would a clever man hide a particular leaf? In the forest.


Colin Watson—

A needle is much simpler to find in a haystack than in a bin of other needles.

William Jennings Bryan's Camouflage 1918

William Jennings Bryan (1908)
Above William Jennings Bryan during 1908 presidential campaign.


 (Anon, CAMOUFLAGE BY MRS. [WILLIAM JENNINGS] BRYAN: There's A Reason for His Long Locks, Says Former Secretary in Washington Post, March 1, 1918—

Syracuse NY, February 28—Camouflage was invented by Mrs. William J. Bryan way back in 1882 to hide—oh, well, read Mr. Bryan's own explanation, given for the first time today, as to why he maintains the famous flowing locks of hair that tickle his collar:

"It's my wife's idea," he smiled. "The Lord made me for utility rather than for beauty. He gave me ears that stick out a great deal more than artistic standards require.

I had my hair cropped away back in 1882 when I was engaged to my wife and the result was terrible. I nearly lost her. She has made me wear my hair long ever since. It is what I call justifiable camouflage."

Bryan Dollar (1896)

• Re Bryan Dollar, acccording to Wikipedia, "Democratic and Populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan proposed free silver, that is, if you presented silver at the mint, you'd get it back, stamped into silver dollars. At the time, the worth of the metal in a silver dollar was 47 cents, so obviously people would want to do this and it would be inflationary. This piece demonstrates the argument against free silver, championed by Republican candidate William McKinley."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A.E Hayward's Camouflage Cartoons

Above Cartoon by A.E. (Alfred Earl) Hayward (1884-1939), from his daily series “The Padded Cell,” in the Philadelphia Public Ledger on October 4, 1917, p. 22. In addition to this series, Hayward also originated "Pinheads” and “Somebody’s Stenog," a strip about a stenographer named Cam O’Flage.


Anon, CAMOUFLAGE BATHING SUIT CAUSES SENSATION, in Boston Sunday Globe, August 24, 1919, p. 47—

Old Orchard Beach, August 23—This week the town has been filled to its capacity. No such summer business was ever seen here before. There were more automobiles at Old Orchard Sunday afternoon than ever before in a single day, according to the traffic officers.

A camouflage bathing suit was seen here for the first time this week. It was worn by a tall, slim beauty, who attracted more attention than a flock of seaplanes. As she sauntered down the beach she resembled a crazy patchwork quilt. Beach loungers thought she was wrapped in a silk bed covering. She presented a wonderfully attractive picture, however, as she trotted down to the water and plunged into the surf.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What Is Camouflage? | René Bache

René Bache, "What Is 'Camouflage'?" (1918)
Above Full-page newspaper article titled “What Is Camouflage?” by René Bache, in The Daily Ardmoreite (Ardmore OK), March 6, 1918, p. 6. Born in Philadelphia, Bache (1861-1933) was a journalist and author who wrote for Scientific American and other periodicals. He was also the Great-Great-Great-Great Grandson of Benjamin Franklin.


An excerpt pertaining to ship camouflage from the same article—

Up to now the warpaint of fighting ships has been slate gray, which was supposed to harmonize with the sea, but henceforth (though the problem has not been worked out satisfactorily yet) they will be "camouflaged" in schemes of colors. In the American navy this idea is being tried out on destroyers; and not long ago one of Uncle Sam's submarines, while taking part in maneuvers, actually got lost from the fleet because (being adorned in this way) the other ships lost sight of it.

The United States government now requires that all of its merchant ships shall be similarly treated, information for the purpose being furnished to owners and ship masters by the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. They are at liberty to choose their own painting scheme from several "recipes" supplied. Of these the simplest consists in painting the vessel in such a way as to eliminate highlights and shadows [called countershading]. The under part of the "overhang" Is made white, and the super structure dark, the result being a blend with sea and sky.

Other schemes consist in arrangements of the primary colors In various patterns, the effect sought being a blend that will produce visually the impression of gray. But this gray has to the eye much more "deadness" than gray paint. It is misty. Optically speaking, the same principle applies as in the case of the zebra, whose black and white stripes, vivid enough when seen close at hand, are meant by nature as a protective coloration—in other words, to make tho animal less visible. Seen from a distance on its native desert, its stripes blend into a gray that is much less conspicuous than a mule's "all-over" gray.

One of these arrangements is of wavy stripes, green, blue and white. Stripes of curvilinear and scroll forms, it is found, have a confusing effect to the eye, the outlines of a hull thus adorned being lost to view at any considerable distance. Incidentally they make difficult the focusing of a telescope or binocular upon the ship, rendering it harder to see the craft distinctly.

Some of those schemes, curiously enough, seem to split up the ship's hull and superstructure into several parts, visually, with an appearance as if sea and sky showed between. The whole puzzle is very difficult to analyze, but when it has been thoroughly worked out, and its elements reduced to a scientific basis, it may be possible to make a vessel actually invisible at a distance of a mile.

Meanwhile, and for present purposes, the object sought is to render ships less easy to see. The sea is blue. The sea is green. The sea is mottled gray. Its color depends upon that of the day, which it reflects. Take a bucketful of water from the ocean, and it has no color. In reality the sea has no color of its own. How, then, shall it be successfully imitated?

One expert [William Andrew Mackay], who has made long study of the subject, declares that the color effect of the sea is a mixture of violet and green. If, therefore, a ship be painted with these two colors in a suitable pattern (stripes wavy or in scrolls), it will be made relatively invisible, because at a distance the light rays will mingle and so affect the optic nerve as to produce a color impression like that of the sea.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

David Bower | Camouflaged Room Interiors

All images © David Bower
We've known about and admired the three-dimensional "camouflaged rooms" of Chicago-area artist David Bower (1936-) for decades, as early as 1980 for sure. One of our favorites is pictured above.

Described by Bower as sculptural "shelf environments," this particular one, titled Sheep Have No Fear Because of Their Whiteness (1980), measures 33 in wide x 11 in high x 7 in deep, and was made with acrylic on wood. Other works of his from this series are shown below, courtesy the artist.

 David Bower, Camouflage Chicago (1977), 24 x 10 x 7, acrylic on wood.

David Bower, Room at Troggerstraus (1977), 24 x 10 x 7, acrylic on wood.

David Bower, Room for Sigmund (1977), 24 x 10 x 7, acrylic on wood.

David Bower, Like a Red Brick Room (1977), 24 x 10 x 7, acrylic on wood.

David Bower, Room for Rollo (1977), 24 x 10 x 7, acrylic on wood.

David Bower, Room at Bebelstrasse (1977), 24 x 10 x 7, acrylic on wood.

For more on American artist David Bower (Emeritus Professor of Art at Northern Illinois University) and his camouflaged room series, see Chapter Eight in False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage (2002).

Camouflage: Making a Cannon Look Like a Cow

Above We recently found this delightful cartoon (which we've restored and reconstructed) in an old issue of the East Oregonian (Pendleton OR), Saturday, July 26, 1919. Unfortunately, the illustrator isn't credited nor is there any signature.


Anon, TWELVE QUARTS PROVE TOO MUCH WHISKEY, in The Watchman and Southron (Sumter SC), March 23, 1921—

Officers Owen and Chandler yesterday afternoon came upon a hot trail which led to the arrest of a Florida man after twelve quarts of good whiskey had been found in his possession. The man was on the Northwestern train and was headed toward Camden with the whiskey at his side, the case containing the whiskey he had tried to camouflage by spreading on a layer of oranges over the top. When arrested he stated that he had purchased the whiskey in Savannah and was taking it to Asheville to sell at a profit. He said that his health had been bad lately and that he was in need of the money to go to a hospital on. The Florida citizen was kept in confinement at the police station last night and will probably remain put until some better arrangements can be made in his case.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Camouflage Prints and Posters

Online Camouflage Prints and Posters

Camouflage Artist | Eliot O'Hara

Eliot O'Hara, Duval Street
Above Recently we ran across a reproduction of an on-site watercolor painting by American artist Eliot O’Hara (1890-1969) titled Duval Street (in Key West FL). Of course we could be totally wrong, but it’s tempting to imagine that the bow of this ship is painted in a striped dazzle camouflage scheme. That’s certainly odd, because there doesn’t seem to be any camouflage on the rest of the ship.

There is an additional reason to suspect it might be camouflage: O’Hara, who was already famous as a watercolorist in the 1940s, worked as a World War II ship camouflage artist in the US Navy’s camouflage section. He was stationed in Washington DC, where he worked under marine camoufleur Everett L. Warner. We know this in part because one of O’Hara’s WWII camouflage co-workers, Robert Hays, shared the following story with us in a letter in 1999—

Eliot O’Hara [was] a well-known watercolorist in the Washington DC circuit, who berated me one day for allowing people to come in to see him—it annoyed him. Even though everything was restricted and we all had badges permitting us to enter the area, only those with badges could enter and some were curious about his presence—ha! I felt like I was a baby sitter or something.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has a wonderful photograph of O’Hara (below) at work in his studio. Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum J0015251.

O'Hara in his studio

Friday, December 12, 2014

Teddy Bear Camouflage

US Patent No 285,951
Above One of several drawings submitted for US Patent No. 285,951, titled "Stuffed Toy Bear," invented by Sarah J. Raymo (1986).


Rian James, "Protective Coloring" in Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 3, 1932, p. 21—

I love the snob's bold camouflage,
Which is a personal mirage
To clothe the timid man inside,
A primal creature's way to hide.
Confused and groping consternation,
Against veneered civilization.

I love the snob's cold camouflage;
I'd seek to make my own barrage,
Oh, cutting glance, oh, chilling leer,
A snob's effective, bright veneer.
I'd like to be a snob, and see
Just what a first rate ass I'D be!


Associate Press, INTEMPERATE BREATH in Plattsburgh Sentinel, May 14, 1920, p. 1—

NEW YORK, May 13—A teddy bear whose mouth gave forth a strong and intemperate odor aroused the curiosity of customs inspectors searching the crew's quarters aboard the steamship Morro Castle. They ripped off the head and found a canister full of whiskey where only sawdust should be.

Three hot water bottles in the room of a husky chef also [raised] suspicion and they were found to contain whiskey.

It was reported that the inspectors found 200 bottles altogether.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Eric Sloane | Camouflage and Comic Books

Eric Sloane (1942), Camouflage Simplified
We've talked about American artist Eric Sloane (1905-1985) in an earlier blog, specifically in reference to a 60-page Illustrated guidebook called Camouflage Simplified, published in 1942. It's easily our all-time favorite comic-style overview of the subject. It's a delight just to look at the drawings, such as the examples above and below. It turns out that, according to the Hathi Trust Digital Library, the book is now in public domain, and is available in full online. Take a look at it; it's a pleasurable way to spend some time.

Eric Sloane (1942), Camouflage Simplified

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

History of Camouflage Comic Book

Camouflage comic © John Kramer
Thanks to Claudia Covert, Special Collections Librarian at the Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design, for alerting us to the recent posting of an online comic book version of the history of modern camouflage. Produced by Washington DC comic book artist John Kramer and published by The Wilson Quarterly, the 10-page cartoon story, titled HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: WWI, WWII, and [the] Surprising History of Camouflage, is well-worth an online visit, albeit Abbott Thayer becomes "Abott Thayer," and it's regrettably skimpy on sources.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ames Room and Chair Demonstration

Adelbert Ames II (1880-1955) was an American lawyer and artist who was known for his discoveries in optical physiology and perceptual psychology. In 1928, while at Dartmouth College in Hanover NH, he diagnosed a visual dysfunction called aniseikonia which resulted in the founding of the Dartmouth Eye Institute.

Later, in the 1940s and 50s, he developed nearly thirty experiments in perceptual psychology, now commonly referred to as the Ames Demonstrations. These ingenious laboratory setups, which are still commonly cited in psychology textbooks, were highly unusual, and they prompted extended discussions among psychologists, philosophers, educators and artists. more >>>

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Aaron Hegert | Thayer's Concealing Coloration

Gerald H. Thayer (c1909), Male Ruffed Grouse in Forest
When the first edition of Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom was published in 1909, the author of record was artist-naturalist Gerald H. Thayer. His father Abbott H. Thayer wrote the introduction, while also contributing heavily to every aspect of the book, which bore as its subtitle An Exposition of the Laws of Disguise Through Color and Pattern: Being a Summary of Abbott H. Thayer’s Discoveries.

Among the Thayers’ closest friends was the naturalist and wildlife artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes. In 1956, Fuertes’ daughter, Mary Fuertes Boynton•, recalled that Abbott Thayer “wanted people to see for themselves what he had discovered…He was constantly devising new means of persuasion: placing woodpecker skins upon photos of trees against sky, hanging papier-maché models of patterned oryx heads in trees, taking people into the wood to look for themselves at a mounted peacock concealed in bright sunlight” (p. 128).

Of the many persuasive images in Concealing Coloration, few are as accomplished as a small, intricate watercolor painting (reproduced facing p. 38) by the book’s author, the younger Thayer, of a Male Ruffed Grouse in the Forest. It epitomized what the Thayers believed was the only legitimate option for bird artists—the immersion of the subject in its natural setting, most easily accomplished by (in Abbott’s words) “making a background wholly out of the bird’s colors” (Boynton, p. 214). This led to painful letters between the Thayers and a distraught Fuertes, with the latter being pressured by publishers to paint clearly identifiable birds (in the subsequent handbook tradition), free of the clutter of backgrounds.

Gerald Thayer’s ruffed grouse painting, wrote Fuertes’ daughter, “is a wonderful work of art, perhaps greater than anything Louis ever did. He took six months to paint it (he painted very few pictures at all), and he never made that adjustment to the world that would insure a normal means of earning a living for his family. The advice he gave Louis was good, but Louis could not take it and live…[Abbott Thayer] made an Eden for his children that was not of the world, worldly, yet he left them ill equipped to live with that world, and without the financial means that would enable them to live without it” (p. 217).

Photos of mimetic holes (1909), Concealing Coloration

In a later section of Concealing Coloration, there is a wonderfully curious page [above] comprised of what the Thayers describe as “Bits of animals’ patterns, all representing holes… Among these are mingled reproductions of actual holes to show how close is the resemblance” (p. 159).

I was reminded of these pages from the Thayers' book when I was recently made aware of the work of Aaron Hegert, an American photographer who teaches at Whittier College in CA. Motivated in part by his interest in the Thayer demonstrations, Hegert has produced a camouflage-themed limited edition book (called Action, Time and Vision) of photographs and photographic experiments, some of which are “take-offs” on the images in Concealing Coloration. Of those, I was especially struck by a page spread [below] in which he has juxtaposed the two pages discussed in this blog post, the page of photographs of holes and his interesting revisionist look at Gerald Thayer’s ruffed grouse painting, in which the subject is even more greatly obscured by bringing in bits of the background.

Aaron Hegert (2014), spread from Action, Time and Vision

A selection of Hegert’s images are available online as is a preview of the book.

• See Mary Fuertes Boynton, Louis Agassiz Fuertes: His Life Briefly Told and His Correspondence (NY: Oxford University Press, 1956).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Laura Levin on Camouflage & Performance Art

Above The dust jacket of a new important book: Laura Levin, Performing Ground: Space, Camouflage and the Art of Blending In. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. The following is an excerpt from its promotional text—

Performing Ground is the first book to explore camouflage as a performance practice, arguing that the act of blending into ones environment is central to the ways we negotiate our identities in and through space. Laura Levin tracks contemporary performances of camouflage through a variety of forms—performative photography; environmental, immersive, and site-specific performance; activist infiltration; and solo artworks—and rejects the conventional dismissal of blending in as an abdication of self. Instead, she contemplates the empowering political possibilities of "performing ground," of human bodies intermingling with the material world, while directly engaging with the reality that women and other marginalized persons are often relegated to the background and associated with the properties of space. Performing Ground engages these questions through the works of some of today's most exciting performance artists…

Camouflage Skirts: A Sartorial Disaster

Rebecca Palmer (1884), Crazy Quilt
Above An example of a crazy quilt, made with silk and velvet by Rebecca Palmer (1884). Collection of the Brooklyn Museum. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

When Cubist artworks were first exhibited in the US at the Armory Show in New York (1913), followed by the wartime adoption of dazzle painting for ship camouflage (1917), the public compared them to the crazy quilts at county fairs.


Anon, in “Perth Prattle,” Sunday Times (Perth, Western AU), Sunday, June 2, 1918, p. 15—

The “camouflage” skirt is here, writes “Lady Kitty” in the Adelaide Observer. The cretonne skirt is a sartorial disaster. There is not an article in the whole of ones wardrobe that could possibly “go” with the skirt. It made its first appearance in Sydney, where six and eight guineas were asked—and given—for these camouflage skirts. They are of silk, but such silk! It is most suitably called “crazy.” This demented silk starts at being a wonderful pattern in colors which absolutely pale the gorgeousness of all Eastern color magnificence, when suddenly it is camouflaged with great patches of dullish background. Most weird. Camouflage, you know, is to make things appear other than what they really are—to disguise them, in fact, so that the crazy silk sets out to be a very striking fabric which it is suddenly camouflaged by broad strips of plain color which quite disguise its original identity, but really make it more striking still. Camouflage parties, at which people wear camouflaged fancy dress, have become quite a rage for funding-raising purposes; and if guests are ingenious enough the result is screamingly funny. 


Anon, in The Week, The World’s News (Sydney NSW), Saturday, April 13, 1918, p. 14—

Dame Fashion is a fool, and that is putting it mildly. She decrees that women must adopt camouflage for their dress. What need is there for any such thing? Hasn’t woman camouflaged ever since Eve took Adam in over the apple? Of course she has, and will continue to do it just whenever it suits her ideas. If she wants to win a post that wheedling won’t accomplish, she camouflages her face with tears, and lo, she arrives at the desired end. And what she can do with rouge and powder passes all understanding. It is camouflage carried to a fine art. What man could tell that the short-frocked, finely-complexioned, sixteen-year-old hatted person at a distance was over forty and the mother of six? This is camouflage, and with a vengeance, and yet Fashion wants to add to it by use of dresses. If it means that plain cotton stuff at 1s 2d the yard, six yards for 6s 6d, can be so faked by the skillful dressmaker as to appear like a silk confection at a guinea a yard, by all means camouflage. But if it means turning a probable ten-guinea costume into a twenty-pounder, then camouflage is a miserable failure. Everything depends upon what that fickle jade, Fashion, is after. Usually she strives to deplete the purse of the hard-working husband or father, but if in this case, as in the case of ships, the object is to save—then camouflage for ever.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Was Credit Camouflaged? | Roosevelt Murals

William Andrew Mackay booklet on Roosevelt murals (1944)
Here's yet another post about American muralist William Andrew Mackay, who was an early contributor (some say the earliest) to World War I ship camouflage. In previous posts, his name has come up frequently, because of his own achievements but also because of the work that was done by other artists who had attended his NYC camouflage school. Aside from camouflage, at one time he was a widely known muralist, having created prominent works for the Library of Congress, 1939 World's Fair, Minnesota House of Representatives, and others.

As a muralist, perhaps his most famous achievement is a set of massive murals in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Completed in 1935, the famous murals are 34 feet high and 62 feet wide, covering an area of 5,230 square feet. Mackay died on the street of a heart attack in 1939. In 1944, the museum published a posthumous booklet, written by Mackay and A.A. Canfield of the New York State Department of Public Works, titled The Murals in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall (NYC: American Museum of Natural History, in which it is twice stated that the murals “were painted by William Andrew Mackay."

More recently, in a process requiring two years to complete, the Roosevelt Rotunda murals were restored and reopened to the public on Roosevelt's birthday, October 27, 2012. In various news reports, the public was reminded that the man who made them was Mackay, described as "a pioneer in the development of ship camouflage in World War I." 

That said, we found it of interest to happen upon a long-forgotten news article titled “’T.R.’ Memorial Murals Painted by Pittsburgher,” published in The Pittsburgh Press, on October 30, 1936—

A former left handed trumpet player from Pittsburgh was the artist who actually painted the murals in the [Roosevelt Rotunda at the] New York State Theodore Roosevelt Memorial…

The man who created the murals, it was discovered today, was Cliff Young, who earned his way through the Art Institute of Pittsburgh by playing a trumpet. He is left handed.

It was not known that Mr. Young had done the work, as the booklets which carry a description of the memorial building have referred only to William Andrew Mackay, winner of the competition held between 25 nationally known artists who submitted sketches.

Responsible for the discovery of the part played by the left-handed trumpeter was Willis Shook, [founder and] director of the art school who stumbled upon his former pupil on a recent trip to New York.

Mr. Mackay directed the execution, employing Mr. Young to do the work, according to Mr. Shook.…

Mr. Young twice painted in his own portrait in the murals, although he hung a beard on his face in order to carry out the scheme of the original designs [as in his self-portrait as Vladimir near the bottom of the mural on Russian history].…

Cliff Young, Figure Drawing Without a Model (1945), p. 42.

With additional sleuthing, we found out that Cliff Young (1905-1985) was a painter and cartoonist who worked for DC Comics during World War II as an illustrator of Green Arrow [Wikipedia article includes one of Cliff Young's covers].

He also wrote two books about learning to draw, Figure Drawing Without a Model (NY: House of Little Books, 1946), and Drawing Drapery from Head to Toe (same publisher, 1947, later reprinted by Dover, 2007).

Originally from Pittsburgh, he studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Grand Central School of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, National Academy of Design, Carnegie Institute, and Art Students League of New York.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bittern Camouflage

Above An American Bittern in camouflage stance in the Myaka River State Park, Florida, as photographed by Sabine Rodens (2006), from Wikipedia Commons.


Frederick C. Gould, "Camouflage" in The Sydney Stock and Station Journal [quoted from The Westminster Gazette] on Friday, April 11, 1919, p. 2—

The Bittern took Camouflage lessons,
For he wanted to look like a stick,
And a Futurist artist in khaki
Taught him the vanishing trick;
He painted his feathers with markings,
And drilled him to stand like a log,
Till he looked not a bit like a Bittern
But just like a bit of the Bog.

Michael Torlen Remembers Hoyt L. Sherman

Photographs © Richard Koenig
Above We will never cease to be amazed by the illusionistic photographs (he calls them "photographic prevarications") of American artist Richard Koenig, who teaches in the Department of Art and Art History at Kalamazoo College in Michigan.

They are more than photographs; they are puzzling photographic views of dimensional constructions that were partly made from photographs. They are settings that have much to do with experiments in perception, not in a scientific sense, but more in keeping with the work that was done by artist and optical physiologist Adelbert Ames II in the 1930s-40s. Known collectively as the Ames Demonstrations, many of these were reconstructed in the late 1940s at Ohio State University by art professor Hoyt L. Sherman (see story below in this posting).

In one of Koenig's photographs (above top), a brick pavement (including a manhole) appears to levitate in the corner of a room. But in fact, the pavement pattern is comprised of smaller, precisely distorted photographs, some of which run up the wall. Nothing is actually floating. In the photograph below that one, we see what might at first appear to be two identical stepladders, side-by-side. The one on the right is indeed a stepladder, but the second one consists of smaller, photographic tiles that are entirely flat on the floor.


In the 1960s, among the graduate students who worked with Hoyt Sherman at Ohio State University was the artist Michael Torlen, who would later go on to become a Professor of Art at Purchase College, State University of New York. Now Professor Emeritus, Torlen recently published a paper about Sherman's ideas and Torlen's memories of him. The article is titled "Hit with a brick: The Teachings of Hoyt L. Sherman" in Visual Inquiry: Learning and Teaching Art. Vol 2 No 3 (2013), pp. 313-326. In the following, he recalls what happened at Sherman's first meeting with a group of graduate students at OSU in 1963 (p. 314)—

As we settled into our chairs, Sherman handed out a course outline and began his lecture. Then he turned and walked over to a table stacked with a variety of materials, include a pile of red bricks. Seemingly distracted, Sherman stopped discussing his syllabus and started searching for something beneath the brick pile. He stacked and re-shuffled the bricks, sorting and clinking them loudly against each other, until he suddenly turned and hurled a brick directly at our heads.

Certain he had aimed the brick at me, I scrambled to get out of the way, murmuring, "Is this guy crazy?" Sherman was laughing. The brick he threw was a piece of foam rubber, the same size as the other bricks, painted brick red. Sherman explained that we were unable to distinguish the foam rubber brick from the cluster of real bricks, because our past experience, our associations and our memory of bricks influenced us. Our reactions developed from the false assumption that similar things are identical.