Saturday, January 12, 2019

WWI Camouflage, Motion Pictures and Surrealism

Charlie Chaplin disguised as tree trunk in Shoulder Arms (1918)
Above Screen grab from Charles Chaplin's famous film, Shoulder Arms (1918) about the surrealist dimension of being a doughboy during World War I , in the process of which he disguises himself as a tree trunk. In fact, it wasn't entirely absurd, since it was not unheard of to make use of steel-lined imitation tree trunks as elevated observation posts (see close-up below).

Phony tree trunk observation post (c1918)

Camouflage has everything to do with film-making, from costumes and make-up, to camera work and scenic design. Elsewhere we have talked about a few of the contributions made by Hollywood-based special effects designers, but there are many (many) more points of connection (in both World Wars), the majority of which are waiting to be documented.

Speaking of Surrealism (which I tend to think of as Dada + Freud, thanks to André Breton), the German-born American photographer and designer Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969) once made a Dada-inspired photo collage portrait of Chaplin (below), in which he appears to be wearing an image-adorned WWI trench helmet. The image on the helmet is from a well-known Dadaist poster from 1922.

Erwin Blumenfeld, collage portrait of Charlie Chaplin


Melvin W. Riddle, CAMOUFLAGE! Concerning One of the Major Arts of Motion Pictures. The Atlanta Constitution. Sunday, October 24, 1920—

A new word—coined during the great war by the French, to denote an art which was highly developed during the war. A new word, but an age-old art—old as war itself, older than mankind, for even Nature made use of it as a means of protection for animals and plants. Truly, an age-old idea, but only in the last few years has it been developed by mankind to that state of perfection wherein it might be called an art.

Camouflage saved from distruction during the war innumerable lives and properties of inestimable value. Now that the war is over, one might think that the word and the art would temporarily become passé and useless until another war should come along to revive them. But such is not the case, for camouflage is an art without a knowledge of which, one of the greatest industries of today—the motion picture industry—could hardly exist.

Camouflage and the Movies
The art of camouflage is a vital factor—in fact, it might be said, almost a prime factor in the production of motion pictures, and it is with that phase of camouflage that this article is concerned.

It is the general impression, perhaps, that the war itself first developed the art of camouflage. This impression, however, is erroneous. For long before the war began, the art had been developed to a high degree by the industry of motion picture production, but as developed by this industry, it was an unidentified art because it was an art without a name. The truth of this assertion is proven by the fact that when America entered the war, men from the motion pictures studios, who had gained a knowledge of the art of scenic deception, formed an important part of the ranks of special camouflage corps which were sent over there. This was because these men had already a practical knowledge of this great study and had only to adapt this knowledge to the particular requirements of defense in war.

The one great difference between camouflage as practiced in motion pictures and as practiced in war is that war camouflage, although deceiving to the human optics, is readily detected by the camera, while in motion pictures the camouflage is especially arranged and prepared to deceive the eye of the camera, although it sometimes also deceives the human eye, unless a very close-up view is obtained. Primarily, it is the camera lens upon which the deception is practiced, however, for the eye of the camera is ultimately the eyes of the motion picture audience.

Vital Necessity
Motion pictures, before the beginning of the war, did more and are now doing more to develop the art of camouflage on a large scale than any other industry or even possibly could do. Camouflage is the very life of a motion picture—a vital necessity. Of course, the art has been employed from time immemorial in the theatrical profession—in the dressings of stage settings for legitimate productions, but camouflage, as used on a stage, is very limited in its scope, and is admittedly camouflage, for this reason loses its very effectiveness. It is when camouflage is mistaken for the genuine and the delusion is unquestioned, that it really serves the purpose for which it is intended.

Examples of some of the numerous instances where camouflage is employed in motion pictures might be of interst. At the Lasky studio, for instance, which is one of the largest of west coast film plants, one might see on every hand the evidences of this great art.

To begin with, the very make-up of the players is often the most perfect camouflage. The feeble-looking old man or the dissipated, rum-soaked hobo might be, in reality, one of the most gentle and best-appearing young men on the lot, hiding his real identity under a skillful application of camouflage.…

Even the most conscientious, exacting and painstaking producers, who fairly dote on realism in their productions and always secure it whenever possible, are never slow to admit the importance and the value of the art of camouflage, and the great frequency and regularity with which it is employed in the production of motion pictures.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Jabberwocky Meets Kaiserwocky | WWI Parody

Above John Tenniel's illustration of the Jabberwock.


Aha! Now here's a great find. It's a terribly funny take-off on Lewis Carroll's famous nonsense poem titled "Jabberwocky," which he published in Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1872). For those who have never heard of Alice In Wonderland or Lewis Carroll, I haven't any comment. But, to appreciate the parody, you have to have read the original poem.  It goes as follows—

JABBERWOCKY  |  Lewis Carroll

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

'Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!'

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood a while in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One two! One two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

'And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

And now on to the parody (author uncredited), called "Kaiserwocky," which was apparently published in the New York Evening Post, then reprinted in The Minneapolis Morning Star Tribune, May 16, 1918, p. 14, as follows—


'Twas Marnen, and the tommy ats
Did wyem secate in their trench;
All belgiumed with the tinny-hats,
And blank-blank potsdam french.

“Beware the Camouflage, my son!
The Cootie’s bite, the Barbwire’s scratch,
The Ausespiel’s place in the sun;
Verbote the redcrost patch!”

He took his kruppy in his hands:
Long time a blighty foe he sought,
Some scrappy papered Soixaute-quinze,
All poilued in its thought.

And as he kultured his moustache,
The Camouflage rheims through the wood.
And fraicaised o’er with rongetnoir,
Alsaced him where he stood.

Einzwei! Einzwei! And high and dry
He kieled that camouflage gun;
Then prussly monocled his eye
And taubel to Pop when done.

“And host thou kieled the Camouflage!
Come to my lefty arm, my boy!
Dertag is won—’tis au verdun!”
He vonklucked in his joy.

’Twas persching, and the tammy ats
Were numans landing from their tench;
All sammied were the tinney-hats,
The Kamrads deutschly blench.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Process of Applying Ship Camouflage | 1918

USS Calala (1918)
Above Dazzle camouflage scheme as applied to the USS Calala (1918). In the photographs below that show the process of painting a ship, it is not the Calala but a transport steamer named the USS City of Atlanta.


Marguerite E. Harrison, THE RECORD OF THE FIRST DAY’S WORK IN THE SHIPYARD: Clad in Overalls, The Appearance of Sun Reporter at Sparrows Point an Event—Enrolled and Examined, She Tells the Story of Her First Day as a Shipbuilder. The Baltimore Sun, May 9, 1918 (p. 16) and May 10 (p. 4) [this is one of best eyewitness accounts of the process of applying dazzle camouflage to a ship in harbor]—

Camouflaging a Tanker
Mr. Champagne, the manager, assigned me to camouflage work that afternoon, as a large oil tanker was being camouflaged. First of all I was to help the camoufleur, an artist in the employ of the Shipping Board. When I arrived on the dock a goodly crowd was already assembled to watch the camoufleur, and when I joined him it increased in numbers. We were certainly a comic pair. Every time I stopped to think about us I chuckled. The artist, Dalton Murphy, of Boston [more likely, Hermann Dudley Murphy (1867-1945), painter and frame designer who served as an “inspector of camouflage for the US Shipping Board”], was exceedingly tall and thin. He had grizzled red-gray hair, gold-rimmed eyeglasses, and a long and painfully sunburned nose. He was dressed in gray tweeds, with a gray sweater pulled up around his throat, and slung over his shoulder he had a shiny new tan-leather document case, worn like a knapsack. In his hand was a bamboo fishing pole at least 24 feet long, and at the very end, fastened at right angles, was a dinky little paint brush dripping white paint. With this brush he was making fantastic and apparently aimless dabs at the hull. They were not aimless, however, for he was a skilled draughtsman, and he was laying it off for painting. He had already finished the masts and the deckhouses. I followed him in my overalls, carrying a sketch of the ship, drawn to scale and colored exactly as the ship was to be painted—in black, white, gray and blue.

It was the new dazzle system, invented by Norman Wilkinson, the British artist, who has just been in this country, and who so successfully camouflaged the Leviathan, our biggest transport, formerly the Hamburg-American Liner Deutschland [sic, Vaterland]. It consists of angles and curves designed to break up the perspective and make a perfectly new ship look like the veriest old derelict, or disappear altogether.

Labeling paint color areas

Found—A Use for a Cubist!
Mr. Murphy told me that he had already camouflaged three ships, and that he was one of 15 or 20 artists employed by the Shipping Board for this purpose.

“I was one of the first to offer my services to the Government,” he said, “and it took nine months to convince the Shipping Board of the practicability of the scheme. It is a wonderful way for us older fellows to help, and besides,” he added laughing, “it’s the only use that has ever been found for a cubist painter.” As he spoke he dabbed away at the sides of the ship, consulting the plan I held, and placing little dots here and there. Then he connected the dots with lines, and there was the outline of an irregular shape on the hull. Inside he marked “BG” for blue-gray and went on to the next figure.

After helping the artist for some time I was turned over to J.R. Esley, foreman of the paint shop. He took me through the beautifully neat shops where the paints are stored and mixed. There wasn’t a brush out of place, and not a drop of paint spilled on the floor. Then he went out to the ship.

“I’m sure you can paint,” he said. “I never saw a woman who couldn’t. My wife is a great painter, and once when she wanted to paint the vestibule and didn’t have a brush handy she made a great job with my shaving brush. The only thing is,” he continued, “You’ll have to climb a ladder.”

“That’s nothing,” I said promptly, but I thought differently when I saw the ladder.

Applying the colors

Worse Yet Coming Down
It rose almost straight up into the air—about 60 feet it looked to me—and at the top there was a most perilous feat to be performed. You had to climb over the railing. It was bad enough going up, but it didn’t take any nerve at all compared to coming down. However, I was most casual about it, and the foreman never knew. As for the men, they just gasped. Once on board the ship, I was given a big can of nice, smooth blue paint and I set to work to put weird shapes on the deckhouse and to obliterate the angles of hatch covers.

While I was working a man came up to me and watched me for a while. Finally he said:

“You certainly have got a nerve.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I’m blessed if I’d dress up like a girl and go where there were 7,000 girls working. I couldn’t stand the kiddin’!”

I laughed. “You’ve let me down so easy here,” I said, “that I haven’t minded at all.”

“You women gonna take our places?” he demanded.

“Not until we are needed, and then I think you’ll agree with me that we can.”

A finished painted wall

Crime to Stop Too Soon

The camouflage work was very interesting. I worked hard all afternoon, and only stopped when the whistle blew. One day I made the mistake of stopping a few minutes beforehand, and a man with a stern gleam in his eye walked up to me.

“Did the foreman give you leave to quit?” he asked severely.

“No,” said I, quaking inwardly.

“Docked an hour,” he said briefly. “Don’t do it again.”

The waster of time by stopping work before time is up is productive of much loss to the plant, and the company has a number of Sherlock Holmeses to watch for this very thing. Smoking is another practice that is taboo and it is very hard to stop. Many a time I came upon a fellow in a secluded spot enjoying the forbidden pipe or cigarette.

I always found the trip up on the train an unfailing source of information and amusement. On Tuesday I sat with a skilled mechanic who had worked for four years with the Packard Motor Car Company in Detroit. He was a bachelor, he told me; he liked the work and wages, but housing facilities around Baltimore were “rotten.”

Gouging vs. Germans
“I’m perfectly willing to pay a good price, as high as $5 a week, for a room,” he said, “but I must have decent comforts. They just gouge you here, and the company does nothing to prevent it. I advertised and went to a number of places before I found a comfortable room. Then there were two German women in the house, and they talked so bad there’d a been murder if I stayed there, so I moved on.”

“Where I am now,” he continued, “there’s no privacy. The other day I come home and found three children sitting on the floor playing with my suspenders. That didn’t suit me. I’m a single man.”

He also told me that unless he could find better accommodations he would have to go to another city, and he said that many other respectable workmen had had the same difficulty. In the evening at home I took stock of damages. Besides two aching knees and a dab of blue paint in one eye I was pretty well off. I felt I was getting into my stride. I had gotten a glimpse at two of the important phases of shipyard work, and I had had a close range view of the new science of camouflage.…

Friday, December 28, 2018

Charles Pears | Dazzle Camouflage Magazine Cover

Magazine Cover (1918)
The Independent was a prominent, influential American magazine that began in New York in 1848 and continued publication until 1928. It was especially contributive to the struggle to end slavery and the fight for women's rights.

Reproduced above is the restored cover of an issue of the magazine dated October 12, 1918. The image on the cover is a detail of a painting of a dazzle-camouflaged ship by British artist and illustrator Charles Pears (1873-1958). Titled A Dazzled Merchantman, the original painting is now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum in London.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Newly Discovered Photo | Women Paint USS Recruit

Having blog posted, exhibited and written about the dazzle-painting of the USS Recruit by a crew from the Women's Camouflage Corps in Union Square in New York (1918), we were recently delighted to find yet another news photograph of that process taking place. It's reproduced above, in a cropped, carefully restored version.


Update on January 9, 2019: Attached to the back of this photograph, dated 7/12/18, is the following title and caption from Underwood and Underwood—
WOMEN CAMOUFLAGE LAND BATTLESHIP "RECRUIT" IN UNION SQUARE Dressed in their neat-fitting khaki uniforms, these women camoufleurs of the Women's National Service League are disguising the land battleship Recruit in Union Square, New York. They trained in Van Cortlandt Park on smaller objects, like rock and stumps, but this was the first big stunt they tackled. Henry Reuterdahl, the famous marine artist, was present with suggestions. The next best thing that the government could do would be to conscript all our futurist designers, poster-impressionists [sic], and artists of the neo-neo school and send them to work camouflaging vessels.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Chicago Skyline Camouflage | Merchandise Mart

Camouflaged Merchandise Mart (c1943), Chicago
In its May 23, 1943 issue, The Milwaukee Sentinel included an illustrated article on the “Newest Tricks of Camouflage” (p. 41). Among the featured topics was the application of disruptive patterns to buildings in urban centers like Chicago, to make it more difficult for enemy aircraft to recognize conspicuous landmarks. The article included the above image, a “doctored” aerial photograph of that city’s Merchanise Mart (which had been at one time the world’s largest building) to show the effects of disruption.

The caption with the photograph reads—

The Merchandise Mart in Chicago as it would appear after camouflaging by the Army’s hocus pocus artists. Through a Nazi’s bombsight the single large object would seem a number of smaller innocuous ones—all by the ingenious use of paint.

In the accompanying article, the following paragraph also appears—

If and when Nazis fly over an American city, say Chicago, our camouflage artists are ready for them, along with our anti-aircraft crews. Every large building, such as the Merchanise Mart, will be so camouflaged that even with binoculars from on high the Nazis will see only a crazy quilt confusion that will give their bombardiers trouble in distinguishing steel and concrete from mere razzle-dazzle.

Experiments in building camouflage had been used earlier in World War I, as seen in the camouflage pattern applied to the Victoria Hospital in the UK (shown below). The WWII proposal to camouflage the Merchandise Mart may have originated with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (founder and head of the New Bauhaus in Chicago) and Hungarian designer György Kepes (who taught camouflage at the same school). In 1969, Moholy’s widow, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, recalled the following in her book, Moholy Nagy: Experiment in Totality (pp. 183-184)—

On December 19, 1942, Moholy was appointed to the Mayor’s personal staff in charge of camouflage activites in the Chicago area.…[in the course of which] he pondered how to conceal the vastness of Lake Michigan with a simulated shore line and floating islands…As head of the Camouflage Workshop, György Kepes produced a wider range of new techniques and concepts. When they were displayed for the first time in 1943, they aroused wide attention.

Camouflaged Victoria Hospital (c1918)

Monday, December 24, 2018

Painted Battlefield Helmets during World War One

Above Allied soldier during WWI with a disruptively-painted helmet.


Anon, IN ART CIRCLES, in Long Beach Independent (long Beach CA), March 27, 1949, p. 10—

[A retired oil-field worker turned artist, Carl R. Walline’s] interest in painting dates back to the first World War, when he drummed up a lively business on a returning troop ship painting camouflage on the helmets of soldiers at a dollar a helmet.

With this leftover camouflage paint he did his first landscape.


Anon, SOLDIERS HUNT WAR TROPHIES, Camouflaged Helmet the Favorite But Another German Souvenir Will Do, COMING HOME LOADED DOWN, in Elwood Call Leader (Elwood IN), December 30, 1918, p. 1—

With the American Troops, Dec. 26—Pretty nearly every doughboy at the front has become a boche souvenir hunter and has annexed a quantity of excess baggage that in some cases is appalling.

The first impulse of a German soldier who decided to retreat or to surrender seemed to be to get rid of his steel helmet, beautifully or weirdly camouflaged. In any column of prisoners to be seen on any road behind the American lines not over five in any 100 are still wearing their helmets. All have donned the soft slouch cap that so detracts from their soldierly appearance.

Every Fighter Loaded Down
The helmets were dropped, thrown away in haste, and all but cluttered up the battlefield. Nearly every American soldier who has been fighting at the front either has a German helmet by now or has sent one home. For under a new rule by general headquarters it is now possible to paste a home address on a German helmet, drop the headgear into the mail box and send it to mother, sister or sweetheart. Just how many have gone home, ostensibly as the personal booty of the sender, it would be hard to say.

Many of the helmets are interesting to say the least. Many boche soldiers have in their idle hours painted and camouflaged their headpieces until they have a weirdly odd appearance. The German helmets have vastly more surface space than the American, the British or the French. It has protection for the ears and neck in the shape of a rim or extension, so that quite a little picture can be drawn on it.

Disruptively-patterned German helmet


Most Popular Camouflage
The most popular camouflage is a series of two-inch stripes that meet at the top of the helmet and extend like the ribs of a fan outward and downward to the edges of the hat. In other cases the entire surface space is painted into squares of yellow, green and gray, or in all the colors of the rainbow. The composite effect is startling. These are the most coveted of all souvenir helmets, and the doughbory who has not the opportunity of finding one on the battlefield gladly gives a sack of tobacco for one.

Shoulder straps make another interesting and portable souvenir though they are also a distinct military value because they help to identify the units that have been opposed to the Americans. Yet there are enough for this purpose and to spare, and they are eagerly sought by the solider who does not care to be burdened with a heavy helmet in addition to his own.


Anon, ORIZABA BRINGS LEATHERNECKS IN, Giant Troopship Has On Board 11th Regiment of Devil Dogs, in The Daily Press (Newport News VA), August 7, 1919, p. 3—

The transport Orizaba landed at the naval base yesterday with one of the largest groups of soldiers she has ever carried, when she brought home the 11th regiment of Marines. More than 4,000 men were aboard the transport…

Nearly all the Marines had their helmets painted with all the colors of the rainbow. The men said that a camouflage artist aboard was responsible for the tortoise-shell effects given to the tin hats.…

USS Orizaba in dazzle camouflage scheme

Architect J. André Smith and WWI Camouflage

On-site colored drawing by J. André Smith (1918)
With luck, however belated, we have just discovered an on-going exhibition about J. André Smith and the Art of Camouflage. It is currently on view at the Maitland Art Center, a museum that Smith himself established (as the Research Studio) in 1937 in Maitland FL. Unfortunately, the exhibit will only continue through January 6, 2019. For more information, see this online information page. Above is a wonderful drawing Smith made of dazzle-camouflaged ships at the port of Saint-Nazaire in France, dated July 1918.

J. André Smith (left) and Walter Jack Duncan (c1918)

Earlier, we put up a post about J[ules] André Smith, an architect and printmaker who was a major contributor to US Army camouflage in World War I, until he was reassigned as an American war artist. He has a biographical article on Wikipedia, but the photograph accompanying it is a portrait of fellow war artist Walter Jack Duncan. There is also an article about Duncan on Wikipedia, but a portrait of Smith is mistakenly shown. The corrected heads are shown above, while posted below is a print by Duncan titled "Newly Arrived Troops Debarking at Brest," dated July 22, 1918. It also shows a camouflaged ship. Public domain images courtesy NARA.

Print by Walter Jack Duncan (1918)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Phillip Little | Boston Common Camouflage

Philip Little (1918), Camouflaged Liberty Loan Building, Boston Common
In earlier posts, we reported on the World War I camouflage experiments of Salem artist Philip Little, including a colorful dazzle pattern applied to the Liberty Loan Headquarters building on the Boston Common in 1918. He called it "reverse camouflage" because its primary function was neither confusion nor concealment, but rather to drum up publicity for a series of fund-raising meetings for the Liberty Loan campaign. We've published news articles and black and white photographs of Little's building design here and here, but we've now just found a clearer one, as shown above.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Anne Lemanski Animal Posters Now Available Online

Online Selection of Posters
In recent weeks, we've been posting on this blog a selection of posters designed this semester by graphic design students at the University of Northern Iowa. This is the last post in that series. Instead, we've now designed a website (see screen grab above) which showcases about forty of the final posters, amounting to about a half of all the posters the students designed. Twenty-five of the actual printed posters will continue to be on exhibit through December 31, 2018, at the interpretive building at the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls IA. Coincident with my retirement after 46 years of university teaching, it was a pleasurable way to go out. More>>>

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Hartman Poster Exhibit about Anne Lemanski's Art

Poster by Sabrina Wiebold (2018)

Here are a few more examples of various posters that were made by graphic design students at the University of Northern Iowa. They celebrate the animal-themed artwork of Anne Lemanski, an artist from North Carolina.
Poster by Amelia Duax (2018)

Twenty-five of the posters are currently on exhibit at the interpretive center at the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls IA, where they'll remain up until the end of December.
Poster by Aimee Luksan (2018)
Poster by Hayden Klemme (2018)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Dazzle Camouflage | Chicanery & Conspicuousness

essay by Roy R. Behrens
This essay on the "social repercussions of World War I ship camouflage," originally published about a year ago, has now been expanded and slightly reworded, with illustrations added. The full article can be accessed online here.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Hartman Poster Exhibit about Anne Lemanski's Art

Animal Poster Exhibit (2018)
Very soon I will retire from university teaching. My final semester is nearly over, about four more weeks to go. It's been a pleasurable opportunity for me, as well as for my students, to design a series of posters having to do with the animal sculptures of a North Carolina-based artist named Anne Lemanski. We've blogged about her once before. At her website, you can see lots of examples of her current work. She also makes wonderfully colorful collages based on natural images.

Animal Poster Exhibit (2018)

The students designed about 90 posters. There isn't space to exhibit them all. At the moment, 25 are on display at the interpretive center at the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls IA, where they'll remain up until the end of December.

On this blogpost are several installation views, showing some (not all) of the posters. Another fifteen are also on exhibit on the second floor of the north wing of the Kamerick Art Building on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa. I'm hoping to post those and others on this blog in the coming weeks.

Animal Poster Exhibit (2018)

Poster by Wren Kress (2018)
Poster by Emily Schroeder (2018)

Making Dazzle Ships at the Tishman Auditorium

Public talk on ship camouflage (2018)
Above A guest presentation I gave on Thursday evening (November 15) at the Tishman Auditorium at The New School in New York City. The event, titled Making Dazzle Ships: Art, History and Design from WWI to Today, was focused on WWI dazzle ship camouflage in relation to that war's centenary (1914-1919). Of particular note has been the recent dazzle-painting of an historic fireboat, the John J. Harvey, which can be seen in New York harbor through May 1919.

Following my historical overview was a panel discussion, with insightful observations about that project (called Flow Separation) by Tauba Auerbach (the artist), Emma Enderby (project curator), and Jesse Hamerman (exhibitions director for The Public Art Fund), shown below in front of a detail of the vessel's dazzle design. It was a fascinating discussion, with new behind-the-scenes information about the challenges of designing the pattern, and the process of actually painting the ship. It was a great pleasure to be included.

It was also so gratifying to look out into the audience, and to see in attendance one of my favorite former graphic design students (at the University of Northern Iowa), NYC designer Amanda Chan. Less encouraging was the weather outside, a sloppy mix of snow and rain.

For more information about the historic context of WWI ship camouflage, here are links to two recently published online booklets here and here, as well as a wonderfully edited radio interview on 99% Invisible.

Panel discussion on ship painting project

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

An Evening of Dazzling Talks About Ship Camouflage

I am greatly looking forward to a talk I will be giving (about World War I ship camouflage) tomorrow evening (November 15) at 6:30 pm at the Tishman Auditorium at the New School in NYC. This is in connection with the recently commissioned "dazzle-painting" of a current ship by American artist Tauba Auerbach, as part of a means of recalling the centenary of WWI and the cooperative efforts of the UK and the US. The artist will be speaking, as will Daniel Palmer, Emma Enderby and Jesse Hamerman.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Lemanski Animal Posters | Julia Sippola 2018

Poster by Julia Sippola 2018
The animal sculptures featured in these three posters are the work of a North Carolina-based artist named Anne Lemanski. We've blogged about her once before. At her website, you can see lots of examples of her current work. She also makes wonderfully colorful collages based on natural images.

Poster by Julia Sippola 2018

The three posters were designed by Julia Sippola, a graphic design student at the University of Northern Iowa (she is actually from Finland and is studying at our school as a visitor). She designed these in response to a problem in which 30 students (this was their first course in graphic design) designed a series of three posters about Lemanski's animals. Of the resulting 90 posters, 25 of them (including all three of Julia's) are being exhibited at the interpretive building of the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls IA. The exhibit (curated by Roy Behrens) begins officially on Monday, November 5 and continues through December 31, 2018. It is free and open to the public. We will be sharing more of these on this blog in the days and weeks ahead.

Poster by Julia Sippola 2018

By fortunate coincidence, this poster exhibition will open in the same week (November 7-9) as the annual gathering of the Iowa Association of Naturalists, which means that these works will be viewed by a substantial number of wildlife and conservation advocates. The schedule of events and registration materials are available online.

Artworks shown are copyright © the artist, and the posters are copyright © by their designer. Our thanks to Katie Shelton and Anne Lemanski for enabling this project to happen. It has been entirely enjoyable.

Lemanski Animal Posters | Hartman Nature Center

Poster by Erica Scherer (2018)
The delightful bird sculpture in this poster is the work of a North Carolina-based artist named Anne Lemanski. We've blogged about her once before. At her website, you can see lots of examples of her current work. She also makes wonderfully colorful collages based on natural images.

The poster itself was designed by Erica Scherer, a graphic design student at the University of Northern Iowa. She designed it as part of a problem in which each of 30 students (this was their first course in graphic design) designed three different posters about Lemanski's animals. Of the resulting 90 posters, 25 of them are being exhibited at the interpretive building of the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls IA. The exhibit (curated by Roy Behrens) begins officially on Monday, November 5 and continues through December 31, 2018. It is free and open to the public.

Below is a second poster, designed by Kailie Hesner, that resulted from the same class project. We will be sharing more of these in the days and weeks ahead.

Poster by Kailie Hesner (2018)

By fortunate coincidence, the exhibition will open in the same week (November 7-9) as the annual gathering of the Iowa Association of Naturalists, which means that these works will be viewed by a substantial number of wildlife and conservation advocates. The schedule of events and registration materials are available online.

Artworks shown are copyright © the artist, and the posters are copyright © by their designers. Our thanks to Katie Shelton and Anne Lemanski for enabling this project to happen. It has been enjoyable.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Assembly | The Work of Dazzle Camouflage

Above Details of the windows at the entrance of the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls IA. Translated into large-scale vinyl are schematic dazzle camouflage plans for the two sides of a World War I American merchant ship (c1918).

It's a street-side advertisement for the center's current exhibition, titled ASSEMBLY: The Work of Dazzle Camouflage, on view from October 5 through November 25, 2018. So-called dazzle camouflage was widely used during WWI in an effort to throw off the calculations of German submarines (called U-boats) in their efforts to torpedo ships. The process is described in detail here and here, as well as on this multi-page website.

Using historic photographs, dazzle ship plans, and other artifacts from the collection of author and graphic designer Roy R. Behrens (UNI professor of art and distinguished scholar), the exhibition provides a look behind the scenes at the diversity of the people who enabled this odd approach to succeed. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

Below During WWI, the Navy Reserve officer who oversaw the ship camouflage work of a team of artists, designers and architects in Washington DC was Everett L. Warner, an American Impressionist painter who was originally from Vinton IA.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Disruption Vs. Dazzle | Prevalent Misunderstandings

Above This essay has just been published privately as a full-color booklet. It discusses misunderstandings about the way in which World War I ship camouflage was intended to function. It also makes a distinction between figure disruption (as proposed in 1914 by Scottish zoologist John Graham Kerr, who called it "parti-coloring") and dazzle-painting (as proposed in 1917 by British artist Norman Wilkinson). more>>>

Sunday, September 16, 2018

UK Art Historian James Fox on WWI Ship Camouflage

Above Posted only days ago, as part of a series of excellent videos called HENI TALKS: Stories of Art from the world's leading experts, is this on-site overview of dazzle camouflage, as applied to British and American ships during WWI. Titled DAZZLED! How a British artist transformed the seas of WWI, it was written and narrated by Cambridge art historian and acclaimed broadcaster Dr. James Fox. Few talks on the subject are as clearly or richly presented.


It was the middle of the First World War, and the Germans were engaged in a highly destructive campaign against the British Navy. By the spring of 1917, German submarines were successfully sinking as many as eight British ships a day, crippling Britain’s defenses. A solution was urgently needed.

A dazzling suggestion came from an unlikely source: artist Norman Wilkinson, renowned for his marine paintings and illustrations. His idea was to paint Britain’s naval fleet with bright, disorientating shapes, so that the enemy would be unable to calculate the type, size, scale, speed, direction and distance of the ship in their sights. The authorities were so convinced by Wilkinson’s idea, they ‘dazzled’ 2,300 ships through the course of WW1. More>>>

OMD record jacket

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Camouflage | The Seafaring Circus of Admiral Sims

Sims' Circus
On April 16, 1918, an American artist named Childe Hassam was walking in Riverside Park in New York, when he saw a strangely painted transport ship, anchored in the Hudson River. We no longer know the name of the ship, nor do we know its color. The only surviving image is Hassam's black ink lithographic print that confirms that it was painted in a wartime camouflage scheme called dazzle painting.

An American Impressionist painter and a member of a group of artists called The Ten, Hassam had long been interested in natural camouflage, including the puzzling disruptions produced when streaks of light and shadow fall across an animal's form. On that particular afternoon, he could not resist the temptation to make an on-site sketch of this nautical curiosity.

But before he could finish the drawing he was interrupted by a New York policeman and taken into custody…>>more

Sunday, August 5, 2018

New York Times Article on WWI Dazzle Camouflage

NYC ship camouflage by Tauba Auerbach (2018)
We were quoted in The New York Times this morning in an interesting article by James Barron on the last of a series of ships that have been repainted in "dazzle camouflage" designs. The project, which began in 2014 and ends this year, was initiated by the British. This is the first American ship to be painted, as a reminder of the collaborative wartime camouflage work of the UK and the US during the Great War.