Sunday, June 26, 2016

Concealing the Land: Camouflage from Above

Above Cover of Sonja Dümpelmann, Flights of Imagination: Aviation | Landscape | Design. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2014. Camouflage, landmark alteration, and aerial disorientation in both World Wars are examined throughout, but also featured is an extensive 50-page section on "Concealing the Land: Creating Invisible Landscapes of War and Peace" with subsections on "Camouflage as Art-Science," "Camouflage as Regional Planning," "Camouflage as Urban Design," "Camouflage as Landscape Architecture," "Living Camouflage," and "Camouflage for Peacetime."

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Cruise Boat Camouflage | Katy Mutton

Above Australian artist Katy Mutton has undertaken a public art project (concurrent with the World War I Centenary), called In Plain Sight, in which she has designed a glaring dazzle camouflage scheme for a small cruise boat.

Beginning in October 2016 and continuing for a year, the vessel will provide tours on Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra (Australia's famous capital), as part of the Contour 556 Arts Festival. In the artist's words, the project will play up various aspects of stealth and surveillance: "Using bright, bold mixed patterns the transformed vessel will invite attention while simultaneously interfering with the viewer's perception of its form and detail." More>>>

Friday, June 24, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 15

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the styles" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


Anon, THE BAFFLE SYSTEM OF CAMOUFLAGING SHIPS in Monroe Journal (Monroe NC), September 17, 1918, p. 2—

…The district camoufleur at one great [US] port was called to the telephone late one Saturday afternoon—when most folks were ending their week's work. The agents of a big steamship company requested that one of their vessels, an 8000-ton freighter, due to sail the following Monday morning, should be camouflaged.

"All right!" was the matter-of-course reply to the most unusual request. And an expert camoufleur was immediately assigned to the task. A paint concern was instructed to deliver the necessary supplies to the dock, arrangements were made for a crew of painters, the design for the vessel was speedily selected and by midnight the marking out of the design on the ship was accomplished. The paint supplies arrived some time during the middle of the night, a crew of 62 painters showed up promptly next morning and at 5:30 on that Sunday afternoon the ship was completed, and she sailed with her precious cargo for our forces overseas exactly on schedule time….

Answers (top to bottom) Marc Chagall, Romare Bearden, Amedeo Modigliani, and Max Weber.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

La Baionnette Camouflage Cover | Jacques Nam

Cover illustration (1917), by French camoufleur Jacques Nam
Above La Baionnette was a weekly French satirical magazine that was published during World War I, from 1914 to 1918. Each issue focused on a theme, and this is the cover illustration for the 23 August 1917 edition. As is evident from the signature at the bottom left, the artist was Jacques Nam (aka Jacques Lehmann or Jacques Lehmann Nam) (1881-1974), who served as a French Army camoufleur. In civilian life, he was primarily known for political caricature and for stylized animal portraits (ad nauseum), especially cats—ca-choo!


George W. McCree, "Recruiting Engineers for the World War in Minnesota" in Minnesota History Bulletin. Vol 3 (May 1, 1920, p. 350)—

One day a man came into the office very excited. He was an artist, a scene painter in one of our theatres, and he was very anxious to get into Company C of the Twenty-Fifth Engineers. This was a company made up of camouflage artists. This fellow was a dandy man for that organization but he was an inveterate cigarette smoker and had one hundred percent of artistic temperament. Before he went up for his preliminary physical examination, I spoke to him quietly because I knew his heart was beating about a thousand times a minute and that he would never pass in that condition. When I thought he was all right I let him go and then telephoned the noncommissioned officer in charge at the recruiting station, telling him what kind of a man was coming to see him and that if there was nothing organically wrong to let him pass because he was a very desirable man for the camouflage unit. About three minutes after the man left he came back and said, "Oh! Mr. McCree pray that I may be passed." He was passed and he was so elated that it was about four days before he could get his feet back to earth so that he could go to [Fort] Snelling for his final examination. After his elation he became tremendously depressed; every little while he would come in to ask me if I thought he would pass and each time I was requested to pray for him. At last I got him off to Snelling and sent him on his way assuring him that I would pray for him. Believing that in this case work was more efficacious than faith, I telephoned Snelling and told the authorities how anxious I was to have this man accepted. Soon thereafter he left for American University [the camp in Washington DC, where WWI US Army camoufleurs were being trained] to join his regiment.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 14

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


Isabel Anderson, Zigzagging. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1918—

I was not disappointed on seeing the British camouflaged boats! They exceeded even my wildest dreams. The British idea is not to make the ship invisible, but to deceive as to its direction and length—the bow, for instance, often being painted to represent the stern. They were even sometimes made to look like two boats—unbelievably queer! One had a destroyer under full steam painted on her side. The prominent colors seemed to be green, blue, white, and black; sometimes done in figures, or resembling a Scottish plaid, or squares and triangles, or strange cubist designs. There were curling, crazy lines—often carried on to the lifeboats, which were painted half and half. These designs are quite incomprehensible to the lay mind. One wonders if some cubist artist has gone entirely mad—and perhaps the whole world, too.

Answers (top to bottom) John James Audubon, William Harnett, László Moholy-Nagy, and Édouard Manet.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 13

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


George Fitch, "Cubist Art" in the Washington Herald, April 21, 1913—

To paint cubist pictures requires great genius and self restraint. The painter must abandon all previous ideas of art, nature and religion, and paint as nearly as possible in straight lines. This can best be done in the ordinary strait jacket, so popular in our leading institutions for the regulation of advanced and explosive thought.

Answers (top to bottom) Max Ernst, Irene Rice Pereira, Frank Stella and John Singer Sargent.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Camouflage Hoodies | Sinister French Artillery Robes

early WWI French camouflage (c1914)
In earlier blog entries (such as one on camouflaged robes, and a second on French camouflage and criminals), we've posted information about the hooded outfits that were devised by French artists who were serving in artillery teams at the beginning of World War I. As I've described elsewhere—

 …what we call camouflage was first promoted by artists serving in the French Army in the early years of WWI. While there is some confusion about which individual initiated the ideas, the reasons are not in contention. Soldiers assigned to artillery teams were dismayed by the ease with which airborne enemy spotters could find and report the positions of their field artillery. In response, they initiated two countermeasures: the application of disruptive ("broken color") patterns on the surface of their cannons, and the donning by those in artillery teams of sinister-looking hooded robes, called cagoules (they closely resembled the outfit worn by a French crime novel character called Fantomas (c. 1911) or darkened paint-stained versions of Ku Klux Klan ceremonial robes).•

A surprising number of photographs of these hoodie-like camouflage outfits have survived, including a handful of full-color images in the collection of the Bibliothéque Nationale de France, and can be accessed online (posted here are restored, cropped and cleaned-up renditions of those). Other images of these outfits, whether black and white photographs and drawings, or painted illustrations by artists, were also commonly reproduced in contemporaneous magazines, such as on the cover of Scientific American (September 29, 1917). Even a few of the robes have survived.

• From Roy R. Behrens, "Khaki to khaki (dust to dust): the ubiquity of camouflage in human experience" in Ann Elias, Ross Harley and Nicholas Tsoutas, eds., Camouflage Cultures: Beyond the Art of Disappearance. Sydney AU: Sydney University Press, 2015, pp. 1-15.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 12

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


J.M. Daiger, "Makes Warship Look Like Tub" in The Breckenridge News (Cloverport KY), January 16, 1918, p. 6—

The older naval officers include to the opinion that the regulation navy gray by itself is better than any camouflage that the artists have invented, and they are frankly skeptical about these riots of color and freak designs that the scientific application of one of the fine arts is smearing over their ships.…

…These vessels close up look like scrambled rainbows or like the palette of an artist in his cups. 

Answers (top to bottom) Arthur Lismer, Joan Miró, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 11

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


Henry Charles Witwer, From Baseball to Boches. Boston: Small, Maynard and Co, 1918, p. 31—

The whole boat was painted by a set of maniac painters opposed to prohibition, and the foreman must have seen that nobody died of thirst while they was on the job. There's a swab of pink here and a swab of blue there, and in between they got samples of chocolate, strawberry, orange, vanilla, and allied flavors. This is called camouflage and is supposed to keep the submarines from seein' the ship, and, in the event they do see it, to scare 'em away.

Answers (top to bottom) Francis Picabia, John Graham, Edgar Dégas, and El Lissitzky.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 10

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


Katharine Kuh, Break-Up: The Core of Modern Art. Greenwich CT: Graphic Arts Society, 1969, p. 11—

The art of our century has been characterized by shattered surfaces, broken color, segmented compositions, dissolving forms and shredded images. Curiously insistent is this consistent emphasis on break-up.

Answers (top to bottom) Thomas Eakins, Jacques-Louis David, William Holman Hunt, and Mary Cassatt.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 9

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


William Marion Reedy in "Hosiery and Skirts, Etc." in Goodwin's Weekly, c1918—

We want a [J. Edgar] Hoover to regulate skirts and waists and stockings—yes and the cosmetics of the ladies. The paint one beholds! And the ladies are all past impressionists. Their faces rival the works of Matisse or Nevinson or Picabia. They are as barbaric as Gauguin, as cubist or vorticist as Gaudier-Brzeska. Some of them look like the camouflage ships on the river or in the bay.

Answers (top to bottom) R.B. Kitaj, Charles Meere, Gustave Courbet, and Théodore Géricault.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Watson-Norfolk Camouflage Scheme | F.M. Watson

One of the earliest, most informative publications about modern American ship camouflage was a two-part magazine article in the US Naval Institute Proceedings, in July 1971 and February 1972. Both articles were titled "Ship Camouflage: Deceptive Art," the first one dealing with World War I, the second with World War II. The texts were written by Robert F. Sumrall (the curator then of ship models at the US Naval Academy Museum), and were greatly enriched by photographs, charts and drawings from his collection. more>>>

Surely, anyone who saw Sumrall's initial article was especially taken aback by photographs of two ships, USS Anniston (formerly the USS Montgomery) and the USS Nebraska. Both ships had been painted with a strange experimental design called the Watson-Norfolk scheme. It was called that because it had been proposed by F.M. Watson, who was the chief ship painter at the Norfolk Navy Yard. We blogged about this once before, when we featured a replica of one of the ships, by model-builder Wolfgang Kring.

Shown above are photographs not of the USS Nebraska but of the USS Anniston. Apparently they were the only two ships to which this pattern was applied (c1917). In both cases, as these photographs show, the left or port side of the ship was painted in a geometric zigzag plan, while the right or starboard side had a strikingly different pattern of multi-colored target forms.

There remains the mystery of just who F.M. Watson was. He may have had connections with North Carolina, since the only online works we've found are on the website of the North Carolina Digital Collections, which has 14 wartime posters signed by Watson. If so, it may be relevant that there is a grave for F.M. Watson (no name, only initials again) in the Elmwood Cemetery in Fremont NC. His dates are listed on the tombstone as 1877-1938, a typical time span for a WWI veteran.

The Watson posters in the NC collection are in dreadful shape, for the simple reason that they were (apparently) published not on a printing press, but through a blueprint process, which is notoriously impermanent. I have cleaned up one of those (in brown coloration, not blue), in an attempt to strengthen its contrast. The result is below.

Poster by F.M. Watson (c1918)

By artistic standards, Watson's Over the Top: Third Liberty Loan poster is the best of his posters. The others are blueprints and somewhat clearer to read, but the drawn images, hand lettering and page layouts are amateur. Whatever the circumstances that enabled him to design the camouflage for a ship, the naiveté of his posters suggests that he was either untrained or not very capable as a professional designer. This is also reinforced by his amateur method of signing his name (shown below).

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Camouflage Theatrical Costumes | Lera Nekhaeva

Costume designs for Gogol's "The Nose" © Lera Nekhaeva
Above About eight years ago, I was fortunate to work with a young, talented design student from Russia, named Lera Nekhaeva. At the time, I was researching camouflage (of course), and preparing a book titled Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage (2009). Before studying in the US, Lera had also studied theatrical design, and costume design specifically. When she showed me her sketches (see above) for a suite of striped costumes for a stage interpretation (never actually produced) of Nikolai Gogol's "The Nose," we were both delighted by the resemblance of her costumes to World War I British ship camouflage or dazzle-painting. But, as I recall, a more direct influence for her were the striped sentry stations (see image below) that are used in Russia and other countries. I don't think I had seen one then. Later, I published her costume designs in my book.

WWI striped guard house or sentry station

Applying a Dazzle Camouflage Scheme | Video

Ian Rolls, Elektra (2015), Jersey Evening Post
Above In 2015, a UK artist named Ian Rolls, who lives on the Island of Jersey, designed a dazzle camouflage scheme for a vintage American Army tugboat, Elektra. With the assistance of friends and support from the World War One Centenary program, the project was completed in two months. Wonderfully, the process was recorded by Little River Pictures in a delightful time-lapse video, which can be accessed through Vimeo here. More>>>

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 8

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


Henry B. Beston, Full Speed Ahead: Tales from the Log of a Correspondent with Our Navy. Garden City NY: Doubleday, Page and Co, 1919, pp. 122-123—

I have an indistinct memory of a terrible mess [a WWI dazzle-camouflaged ship] of milky-pink, lemon yellow and rusty black, which earned for the vessel displaying it the odious title of "The Boil." We saw the prize monstrosity in mid-ocean. Every school of camouflage had evidently had a chance at her. She was striped, she was blotched; she was painted in curves; she was slashed with jagged angles; she was bone gray; she was pink; she was purple; she was green; she was blue; she was egg yellow. To see her was to gasp and turn aside. We had quite a time picking a suitable name for her, but finally decided on the Conscientious Objector, though her full title was "The State of Mind of a CO on Being Sent to the Front."

Answers (top to bottom) Charles Willson Peale, Georges Seurat, Gustave Caillebotte, and Grant Wood.

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 7

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


Anon, "Baffling the Undersea Pirate" in National Marine, March 1919, p. 30—

Each nation seemed to have a characteristic type of [ship] camouflage and after a little practice you could usually spot a ship's nationality by her style of camouflage long before you could make out her ensign.

Answers (top to bottom) Paul Gauguin, Sofonisba Anguissola, Rosa Bonheur, and Marie Müller Landsknecht.

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 6

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


Paul K. Saint-Amour, "Modernist Reconnaissance" in Modernism/Modernity Vol 10 No 1 (2003)—

By 1918, young British aviators were being trained to see an avant-garde exhibition unfurling beneath their cockpits: a First World War Air Force photo atlas for new pilots used "FUTURIST country" and "CUBIST country" in its taxonomy, alongside more everyday mnemonic headings such as "FRUIT GROWING" and "PATCHWORK QUILTING."

Answers (top to bottom) Fernand Léger, Yves Tanguy, Marcel Duchamp and Paolo Ucello.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 5

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. New York: Random House, 1933—

Another thing that interested us enormously was how different the camouflage of the french looked from the camouflage of the germans, and then once we came across some very neat camouflage and it was american. The idea was the same but as after all it was different nationalities who did it the difference was inevitable. The color schemes were different, the way of placing them was different, it made plain the whole theory of art and its inevitability.

Answers (top to bottom) John Everett Mallais, Salvador Dali, Edward Wadsworth, and Max Beckmann.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 4

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


Anon, Camouflage at Sea in The Sailors’ Magazine and Seamen’s Friend, 1918, p. 154—

All styles of camouflage are on the highways and byways of the sea.… Some go in for color and some for line. Our own ship’s style is suggestive of the old court jester’s suits, with parti-colored diamond patches. Black-and-white effects are very fetching, however, with the lines caught up into unexpected turns and slashes and bows.

Answers (top to bottom) Diego Velasquez, Conrad Marca-Relli, Charles Sheeler, and Corita Kent.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 3

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


"Camouflage" in Time magazine (1939)—

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

Answers: (top to bottom) Thomas Hart Benton, Georgia O'Keeffe, Paul Klee and Balthus.

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 2

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


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

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

Answers: (top to bottom) Caravaggio, Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 1

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


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

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

Answers: (top to bottom) Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Arshile Gorky (who taught a course in camouflage to civilians during World War II), Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Camouflage Artist | British Lieutenant O. Moser

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


Update Since the above was originally posted, we've learned a bit more about the fellow in the photograph. He was a British artist and illustrator named [Robert] Oswald Moser (1874-1953). An officer in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during World War I, while he was surely not in charge of British ship camouflage, he was most likely on the team who served under Norman Wilkinson, along with UK artists Jan Gordon and Cecil King. We've seen that ship model before, because it was reproduced in a 1918 article by Gordon on "The Art Of Dazzle-Painting." It shows the dazzle pattern for the RMS Olympic

Otherwise, he was an interesting painter, whose finest artwork may have been a strange painting (somewhat Stanley Spencer-like) titled Wounded Sailors Listening to Musicians Playing on Board a Ship (c1918). But there's also a wonderful self-portrait from 1938 (reproduced below), which is in the collection of the Russell-Coates Art Gallery and Museum.

Oswald Moser, Self-Portrait (1938)

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

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


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

WWI ship camouflage demonstration

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

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

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

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Dazzle-Painted Ship Model | SS Hindustan 1917

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

Friday, May 6, 2016

Camouflage in Works That Work (2016)

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

Dazzle Camouflage Designs Applied Willy Nilly

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

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

Friday, April 8, 2016

Making Faces | Masking Wartime Horrors

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


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

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

In another context, Butler said—

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

Weapons of Mass Destruction

WWI Ship Camouflage | Smithsonian Magazine

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

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Abbott H. Thayer's Camouflage at Williams College

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abbott H. Thayer silhouette camouflage demonstration

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Camouflage Artist | John Vassos

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

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

Cover of Dover edition of Phobia (2009)

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

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

John Vassos, RCA phonograph design (c1936)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Camouflage Artist | Manley Dewitt Barber

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

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

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

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

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


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

According to the online source—

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

Robert Williams Wood | Carrot in Camouflage

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

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


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

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

Paul J.E. Dezentjé's Art of Camouflage

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Camouflage Artist | Walter L. Tubesing

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

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

Camouflaged YMCA tent in France, c1918. Public domain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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