Monday, February 17, 2020

Cartoonist Cliff Sterrett | Safety in Camouflage

Below This camouflage cartoon by American artist Cliff Sterrett (1883-1964) was featured in a comic strip series called Polly and Her Pals. It was published in the Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake UT) on September 25, 1918. In an earlier post, we featured another Sterrett cartoon.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Historic examples of camouflage by Mexican forces

Above Pancho Villa (1914).


The Daily Empire (Juneau AK), October 1, 1918, p. 5—

JUAREZ, Mexico—Camouflage as a war art was known in Mexico long before it was used in Europe although not by that name. Mexican soldiers, since the days of [Porfirio] Diaz, have practiced concealment for military advantage. They have been known to place their high crowned hats on poles stuck in sandhills in such a way as to make the enemy force believe they were defending the hill, then flank the enemy from another direction. [Victoriano] Huerta’s Federal soldiers used camouflage to conceal the portholes in the sides of armored railroad cards. A checkerboard pattern was painted on the sides of these cars, and black and white squares concealed the rifle ports.

The Mexican fighting men have also used the trick of covering their high hats and bodies with brush to advance on enemy positions through thickets. [Pancho] Villa originated the plan of driving a herd of cattle into a besieged town at night in order to draw the fire of the defenders and to explode any mines in the streets.

The most primitive though effective application of camouflage in Mexico was the practice of the Tarahuamara Indian scouts with [Francisco I.] Madero’s revolutionary army. These half-naked scouts would precede the army and by doing a kind of patter dance, raised a cloud of dust that concealed them from the view of the enemy and permitted them to approach enemy positions without being detected in their envelope of dust which resembled a whirl common on Mexican deserts.

Hollywood camoufleur | Shotgun wedding in reverse

Poster for Tummell's award-winning film (1933)
William F. Tummell (1892-1977) was an award-winning Hollywood film director, who served as a camouflage artist during World War I.

Born in Kansas City MO, he grew up there, and in Muskogee OK. He attended Muskogee Central High School, where one of his classmates was Viola Kobler. Around 1913, they eloped and were married without her parents’ consent in Wagoner OK.

When they returned to Muskogee, they were confronted by the bride’s father, who “took the bride home with him and made her stay there and warned the youthful husband away with a shotgun.” Following unsuccessful “attempts at reconciliation,” the parents sent their daughter to Iowa.

In the fall of 1913, unable to locate the bride, Tummell filed a lawsuit in Superior Court for $20,000 in damages against her parents. When he learned her whereabouts, he “went after her and finally brought her home with him.” The following year, Tummell (apparently without his wife) moved to Los Angeles to work as a technical director for film companies. Whatever the circumstances, their marriage ended in divorce in 1917.

Earlier, while living in Missouri, Tummell had been a member of the Missouri National Guard. In 1917, he joined Company F of the 24th Engineers, an army camouflage unit. He passed through Kansas City on November 27, on his way to training at Camp American University in Washington DC. According to an article in the Muskogee Times-Democrat on the following day—

The company will be composed entirely of men recruited from the motion picture industry and its business will be to render [American] batteries, billets and other war instruments invisible to [enemy eyes]. After three months of intensive training in Washington [DC] the movie fighters will embark for the war zone.

Following the war, Tummell returned to his film career in Hollywood. Between 1925 and 1977, he contributed to 59 films. In 1933, he received an Academy Award as Best Assistant Director for his work on Cavalcade. He died in Los Angeles in 1977 at age 85.

While looking for information about William Tummell, we discovered that the US Army photograph that we used on the cover (below) of False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage (2002) is that of a camouflaged soldier from Tummell's unit, Company F of the 24th Engineers, taken at Camp American University in November 1917.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Dust to dust / Dali, skulls, and reminders of death

C. Allen Gilbert, All Is Vanity
Ten years ago, we blogged about an American illustrator named C. Allan Gilbert (1873-1929), who was also an early contributor to animated films. Unfortunately, if and when he is remembered, it is inevitably because of the continuing popularity of one of his illustrations, a memento mori (reminder of mortality) titled All is Vanity (1892). It is a double image or visual pun in which the scene of a woman admiring herself in a mirror appears instead to be a skull when viewed from a greater distance. During World War I, Gilbert was also among a number of US artists who worked for the US Shipping Board (the Emergency Fleet Corporation) in applying dazzle camouflage to US merchant ships.

Gilbert's skull illusion is skillfully made and undoubtedly deserving of its popularity. But it is somewhat less than original. Throughout history, there have been repeated attempts at designing scenes of daily life that, from a distance, change into icons of death. Below is an example of one made by a German artist in 1866, in which two young people take on the shape of a skull when viewed from a distance. When translated, the label beneath the image reads "blood and decay." The Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali alluded to the same symbolism when he devised a "double image" (in a 1940 painting called Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire) that at first appears to be a bust of the French philosopher Voltaire, and then, at other times, perhaps an image of two nuns.

Anon, Blood and Decay

Set Design: Camouflage is as old as show business

Above Here are the sheep. But what has become of the shepherd? Can you find him?


Daniel Dillon, STAGE SETTERS IN US FORCE in World War History (New York), August 11, 1917—

Indicative of the thoroughness and extent of preparation the American troops are now undergoing in occupying the trenches, is the fact that a large number of “stage setters” and “scenic painters,” architects, constructive engineers, etc., are now on the French and British fronts, learning the art of camouflage, that is, screening the artillery and concealing the observation points.…


ART OF CAMOUFLAGE OLD AS SHOW BUSINESS in Cincinnati Commercial Tribune (Cincinnati OH), June 16, 1918, p. 17—

The art of camouflage, which has recently received widespread publicity because of its application to military operations in Europe, is really as old as show business, according to Blanche Evans, one of the pretty girls on the summer vaudeville bill at Keith’s [a major theatre at the current location of Fountain Square on Walnut Street] this week.

According to Miss Evans, theatre folks deserve full credit for developing and nursing this art of deceiving the eye through the ages, and of perfecting it to such a degree that it has become one of the important factors in modern warfare.

“Why, the very spirit of the stage is that of camouflage,” declared Miss Evans recently. “This stage makes believe, makes things appear what they are not, and that is camouflage in spirit and reality. Stage scenic artists are expert camoufleurs. They take a bit of canvas and with brush and paint transform it into a parlor, woods, or palace with ease. A series of costumes can change a single actor into a king, a beggar, a policeman, or a man of society. What is that but camouflage?…

The real relation between stage camouflage and military camouflage is perhaps best emphasized by the fact that hundreds of former theatre scenic artists are now engaged on the European battlefronts in creating illusions to deceive the observations of the enemy. American scenic artists are beginning to serve their country in the same way and before long we will have contributed hundreds to the same cause. Military camouflage is saving the lives of hundreds of soldiers every day and the theatre should be given full military credit for its patient and untiring development of the art.”


Melvin M. Riddle, CAMOUFLAGE! Concerning one of the Major Arts of Motion Pictures. Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta GA), October 24, 1920—

…camouflage is an art without a knowledge of which, one of the greatest industries of today—the motion picture industry—could hardly exist.

The art of camouflage is a vital factor—in fact, it might be said, almost a prime factor in the production of motion pictures…

It is the general impression, perhaps, that the war 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 the 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 picture 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.

Motion pictures, before the beginning of the war, did more and are 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 dressing of stage settings for legitimate productions, but camouflage, as used on a stage, is very limited in its scope, and is admittedly camouflage, and 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.…


See also theatre designer

Camouflage used to conceal moonshine stills

Above Someone has fallen asleep in church (probably drinking the night before) and is snoring loudly. Can you find the culprit?


CAMOUFLAGE USED TO COVER STILLS in Centralia Evening Sentinel (Centralia IL), November 12, 1923, p. 2—

Helena MT—Montana prohibition officers are searching for a war veteran who saw service overseas with a camouflage outfit. According to George Costello, dry agent of Glasgow MT, bootleggers are believed to be employing the returned veteran to conceal their moonshine stills on Montana farms.

Costello said a still was recently discovered in a tent near Bozeman MT after many weeks search. The moonshine-making outfit had been hidden in a tent, painted green, and pitched in a clump of willows. Several times the dry officers came within a few feet of the hidden still but were unable to locate it because of the successful camouflage. A large number of barrels, hidden in the willows nearby, were painted green.

Three hundred gallons of whiskey, 1,200 pounds of sugar, 1,000 pounds of corn, and 18 barrels of mash, ready for distilling were found in the cache.

Evidence of the work of the veteran has been uncovered in other parts of the state, it was said. In a northern Montana grain field, a still was discovered hidden under a tent, which was covered with bunches of grain, tied together, and ready for harvesting. For some days dry agents thought the disguised tent was a mound of grain.

Near Havre MT, a still was found on a mountain. The still was made of canvas and was located on the edge of a cliff. Painted to resemble rocks, it was many weeks before the moonshiners’ outfit was discovered.

At Great Falls a still was recently found on the banks of the Missouri River. Here the still was located in a cave. Painted canvas trees were used to disguise a door, which formed the entrance to the cave.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Quaker guns and non-functioning decoy cannons

Wooden artillery used for training purposes
During World War I, non-functioning imitation cannons served two purposes. If they were more or less accurate models of actual battlefield artillery (above), they could be used to train soldiers to become accustomed to their use.

At the same time, there was also a need for non-functioning dummy cannons, traditionally known as “Quaker guns,” to throw off the enemy’s estimates of the size and location of forces. These were often crudely built from scrap lumber, since they would only be seen from a distance. Others (like the one below, probably made from papier maché) were more convincingly modeled. Once assembled and put into position, it was important to camouflage them as if they were genuine functioning guns.

Non-functioning decoy cannon, not yet camouflaged

bark- and leaf-like camouflage suit on tree stump

Above World War I photograph of an American soldier, dressed in a bark- and leaf-like camouflage suit, positioned on a tree stump (c1918). Public domain. Digital coloring.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

WWI German version of a dummy trench observer

This is one example of the use of the same camouflage trick by the two opposing sides during World War I. Snipers stationed at the front were poised and ready to shoot at anyone in the enemy’s trench who was foolish enough to look over the edge. As a result, both sides made dummy imitation soldiers’ heads (made of papier-mache or plaster), which were mounted on sticks and held up above the top of the trench.

If the dummy was shot at, it might enable the targeted side to determine the sniper’s location. This public domain photograph, which was initially published in Le Miroir on January 28, 1917, shows a French Army corpsman examining a captured German version of a dummy trench observer (complete with a German helmet and duplicitous field glasses), mounted on a wooden stick.

Camouflage costume results in a periscope neck

Above Just found this. It's a hopelessly grainy news photograph from the Des Moines Daily News (Des Moines IA), April 29, 1919, p. 5. The caption reads as follows—

Despite this successful "camouflage costume," we rather suspect this is a girl and not a steamer: Miss Lurline de Marals, artist, wore it at a recent Mardi Gras festival in Oakland CA. Every man in the place had a periscope neck.

See also scandalous bathing attire.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Ship captain arrested for photographing camouflage

Dazzle-painted USS Recruit (AI digital coloring)
SERIOUS OFFENSE in Barry Dock News (Wales), March 1, 1918—

Patrico Vergile, captain of the SS Bucharest, was summoned for being in possession of a camera and taking photographs in a prohibited area.

Griffith Lloyd, aliens’ officer, said that on the 11th instant he visited the steamship Bucharest. Witness asked the captain if he had a camera. Defendant replied in the affirmative, and handed him the camera, together with some photographs. One of the photos was of a ship painted in the new camouflage style. Accused said that he wanted to paint his ship in the same manner. The camera, defendant said, was purchased at Cardiff. The military police searched accused effects but found nothing.

Lance Corporal John H. Dare said he was with the last witness, and corroborated the evidence given.

PC Frank Johns said that on the 21st instant he arrested defendant at the Aliens’ Office. When charged witness said, “The only thing, I did not know it was against the regulations.”

Accused, giving evidence, said that always when at sea he was in danger of submarines, and he was going to take photographs of the submarines. He was also going to take photographs of his wife and the crew. He was a Romanian, and he took the photos openly.

Mr. Graham said that as a captain defendant should have known that he must not take photographs in wartime. An Englishman could not do that, much less a foreigner. He would be fined ten pounds or two months’ imprisonment.

Mohawk Indian princess sees through camouflage

Mohawk Princess White Deer
CAMOUFLAGE FAILS TO FOOL INDIAN PRINCESS in The Lincoln Star (Lincoln NE), January 13, 1918, p 6—

Camouflage training at the military camp here [at Camp Wadsworth, in Spartansburg SC) was quickly detected by Princess White Deer, great-grandaughter of Chief Running Deer, the last of the Mohawk tribe of chieftains.

The princess was a guest at the camp during the camouflage work and easily detected the men as they squirmed their way to a post held by an imaginary enemy. Army officers were greatly surprised at the girl’s keen sight and quick discernment.

Cover / In Search of Princess White Deer

A small camouflaged cement house in Los Angeles

Engineering and Cement World (c1918)—Walter S. Davis of Los Angeles is now in the camouflage service with the United States Expeditionary Forces in France. Mr. Davis went to France as an interpreter attached to a regimental staff and later secured a transfer to the camouflage service.


Walter Swindell Davis (1887-1973), architect, A SMALL CEMENT HOUSE IN LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA in House Beautiful (September 1920)—

There has been so much speculation as to the sources of inspiration for this house [as pictured here] that we are only glad to “reveal.” While in the camouflage section of the Army Engineer School, Fort de Saint Menge, France, we were greatly impressed with the effects of time, the weather, and vegetation on the tile and thatch roofs. The whole rainbow was there in mosses, lichens, grasses, time-stained tile, and weather-bleached thatch: all blending together in an indescribably beautiful medley of color. Being camoufleurs, we speculated upon just how we could imitate in Los Angeles the colorful work of kindly time. And we have succeeded! The exterior was a memory materialized of the charming cottages of Cote d’Or. The interiors—the gold bathroom, the vaulted chambers, the mural decoration belie our faltering pen. The garden in front is planted informally with wildflowers and pungent-smelling native shrubs. A winding path of flagstones winds across the sunken garden to the grandsward. The wide-spreading sycamore covers the entire front garden and with its time-gnarled branches protects the picturesque little garage nestling at its base.

Huge phonograph is camouflaged delivery car

NEW METHOD FOR DELIVERY Novel Delivery Car Is Built Like Phonograph By R.W. Whiteside in San Bernardino News Vol 45 No 77, April 1, 1918, p. 5—

When a red buzz wagon carrying a huge “phonograph” on the rear end drew up in front of the home of a certain well-known citizen today, said citizen nearly died of heart failure. Also, he locked his checkbook in the safe before he dashed wildly to the door.

“Say,” he shouted to R.W. Whiteside, the driver, “that isn’t the phonograph I bought from you. What do you think I am, a millionaire?”

“Be calm, ladies and gentlemen,” whispered the music man; whereupon he gently unlocked a concealed door in the “phonograph” and drew forth from the open portals a “regular” machine.

“I just deliver them in this other one,” he said.

The camouflage idea was evolved by Whiteside as an advertising stunt. A huge imitation phonograph has been constructed on the rear end of the machine and is used as a delivery compartment for phonographs sold by the Whiteside Music Company on Fourth Street.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Ship camouflage poster | A visual syntax masterpiece

Dazzle ship camouflage (1942), designer unknown
Above This image of a dazzle-camouflaged ship dates from 1942, during World War II. It is most likely British, but it's unclear if it was a poster, the cover of a government publication, or what. One wonders who devised it because it is simply astounding in terms of the rightness of how it's arranged. I know of very few posters (if that's what it is) that are so complex, yet so precise. It really is breathtaking, a masterpiece of graphic design.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Blend and Dazzle | Art of Camouflage in PRINT 1991

Above and below In old age, in retirement mode, looking through publication files, found this large, then-wonderful article on a lecture series on camouflage at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. It was published in the January / February 1991 issue of PRINT Magazine (New York). It was my first article for that delightful magazine (now defunct), for which I wrote articles, editorials, and book reviews for probably a dozen years.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Portrait of Woodrow Wilson | Grouping during WWI

One reason for the effectiveness of camouflage, of various kinds, is our innate tendency to perceive similar components as "belonging together" (called unit-forming) and to see dissimilar components as "belonging apart" (unit-breaking). There was widespread interest in this and related aspects of vision, among artists and scientists, prior to and during World War I. Here are two wartime examples of the playful use of grouping.

Above is a photograph that appears to be an image of US President Woodrow Wilson. It was made by carefully arranging more than twenty thousand soldiers at Camp Chilocothe in Ohio. By wearing certain clothing and standing in designated locations, the soldiers were able "to produce all the lines and shading in a likeness of the face…The lighter portions of the picture were made by soldiers who wore no coats or hats, while in the darker sections, the men were in full uniform. Nearly 50 men were required to represent one lens of the president's eyeglasses. There were 21,000 men in the picture."

Below is President Wilson's image again. It was produced in 1917 by Harvey Parsons, a cartoonist for a Kansas newspaper, and a typesetter named O.W. Kelly. The portrait is made entirely of metal letters, produced on a linotype machine. The letters can also be read as the text of a statement that Wilson had written to Pope Benedictus. As explained at the time, "light-faced type composes the high lights of the picture, and black or bold-faced, the half-tones and darker portions. The proper spacing of the letters is not destroyed, and the reply to the Pope is legible in spite of the underlying likeness." This second method of portraiture can today, of course, be easily made on a computer with an app that is made for the purpose.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Drawing enemy fire and fake clouds of cotton wool

How to draw the enemy's fire | Ken Kling
These are two of my favorite wartime cartoons, both of which were published in Cartoons Magazine (c1917). Above is a drawing by American cartoonist Ken Kling, with the caption: Cartoonists in the Trenches could be Used to Draw the Enemy's Fire. Below is an ingenious proposal for airplane camouflage by British artist Bernard Hugh, originally published in The Bystander (London), in which he recommends the use of large clumps of cloud-like cotton wool, with the caption: Camouflage for Aeroplanes in the Form of Clouds.

An approach to airplane camouflage | Bernard Hugh

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Disruptive camouflage patterns applied to vehicles

In the last years of World War I, it was common practice in the US to paint disruptive patterns on vehicles, both military and civilian, but for different purposes.

The government photograph below shows a disruptive pattern being applied to military equipment, for the purposes of camouflage. On the right, the boundaries of the areas to be colored are being marked out with chalk and labeled with the first letter of the color. On the left, the color is actually being applied. There were sometimes disagreements about the wisdom of clearly separating the colored areas with dark boundary lines, as shown here. 

In the top photograph, a bus has been painted with disruptive patterns for the purpose of attracting crowds at a wartime fundraising rally, as was also frequently done at recruiting events. In this case, soldiers recovering from injuries are seated on top of the bus. This pattern was most likely painted by the Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps. As Bessie Rowland James explained in For God, For Country, For Home (NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1920)—

Tanks, ambulances, and trucks were camouflaged at the request of different branches of the government to encourage recruiting, for wherever the camoufleurs went in their uniforms, spreading their bright paints, a crowd was sure to gather.

US Government photographs (1918), with hypothetical coloring added.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Rockwell Kent | ship camouflage cover reconstructed

Rockwell Kent (1918), magazine cover (reconstructed)
In 2011, Joyce Shiller, who was then the Curator at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge MA, posted a brief online article about historic illustrations that portray “dazzle camouflaged” ships from World War I. She included reproductions of two magazine covers (Popular Science and Everybody’s Magazine, both 1918) and a Victory Liberty Loan poster (1919).

I had seen all three before, but the one of particular interest to me was the cover of the December 1918 issue of Everybody’s Magazine. Near the lower-right corner is the artist’s printed signature “Kent.” The cover artist was Rockwell Kent (1882-1971), the well-known American artist, illustrator, and author (see his edition of Melville’s Moby Dick, and his illustrated autobiography, It’s Me, O Lord). 

I first saw his camouflage-themed magazine cover (as I recall) in the late 1990s, when an art historian named Jake Wien (who has written about Kent and others) shared a small-size, low-resolution photograph of a copy he had found. It appeared to be in poor shape, with major surface damage and tattered edges. I later found that its color was substantially different from the one that Schiller reproduced. The color cast of Wien’s copy (as shown below, on left) is emphatically green, while the one in Schiller’s post (below, right) was blue. The other colors are consistent, which may suggest that the printing ink used for the background was fugitive and that one of the copies had been altered by years of exposure to light. If so, the question remains: Was the original background blue or green? Given the well-worn condition of the one that Jake Wien shared, I would guess the original color was blue.

Rockwell Kent magazine cover (two copies, same issue)

Whatever it must be a very rare item. It is possible that no other copies have survived. Over the years, I’ve looked for the issue repeatedly on online vintage magazine sites, in searchable archives, and in library holdings. Probably one of the reasons for its scarcity is that university libraries (maybe most of them) tended to discard the covers of magazine issues before they were bound as a volume. So, in the library that I mostly use, the inside pages of Everybody’s Magazine are intact, but the covers of all of the issues are gone. Fortunately, I recently found a black-and-white scan of the cover and was able to use that as a point of departure in an attempt to digitally reconstruct the full-color cover (as shown above). I chose to use blue as the background. Note that the title in the masthead is restored from the original, but the issue date and price (and Kent's signature) have been replaced with a new, if appropriate, typeface.

That Rockwell Kent would have created an illustration of ship camouflage is of particular interest because (as I’ve discussed in earlier posts), he had been a student of Abbott Handerson Thayer, and a close friend of Thayer’s son, artist and naturalist Gerald Handerson Thayer, both of whom are credited with important early findings about protective coloration in nature. In 1909, the Thayers co-produced (with Gerald as the author of record) a major book on the subject, titled Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom. It had an abundance of illustrations, including collaborative paintings by a handful of Thayers’ family members, students, and friends, one of whom was Rockwell Kent.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

William Penhallow Henderson | Wheelwright Museum

Hosteen Klah (left) and William Penhallow Henderson (c1936)
Franc (née Frances) Johnson Newcomb was born on March 30, 1887, in Jacksonville WI (near Tomah). Her parents were Frank L. Johnson, an architect, and Priscilla (Woodward or Woodard) Johnson, who taught in a Wisconsin school that included Menominee Indian children. Both parents died before Frances had reached her teens. Later, she adopted the professional name of Franc, in tribute to her father, and, in research publications, she is nearly always cited as Franc Johnson Newcomb.

Following high school, she remained in Wisconsin, and taught Menominee Indian children for several years at Keshena. In 1912, partly for health reasons, she moved to New Mexico territory, and taught Navajo children at a government boarding school at Fort Defiance. In one of her books, she recalls the initial resistance of the Indian children when she tried to teach them English. The breakthrough came when she asked them to teach her to speak Navajo, in the process of which they also learned to speak English.

While at Fort Defiance, she met a young trader, originally from Manchester IA, named Arthur J. (known as A.J.) Newcomb. They married in 1914, and went on to operate trading posts on the Navajo Reservation, in remote, isolated regions of northwestern New Mexico. Their primary post was located about halfway between Gallup and Farmington, at a place now known as Newcomb. Their marriage continued for 32 years (they divorced in 1946), during which they raised two daughters, Lynette and Priscilla.

A.J. bought part of the Newcomb Trading Post in 1913 and moved there to learn the business. One of the first Navajos to befriend him was Hosteen Klah, an influential chanter, medicine man, and weaver. When Franc arrived as A.J.’s wife in 1914, she too became a close and long-term friend of Klah. Fifty years later, she wrote a book about his life. While respectful of the rituals and traditions of Native Americans, she also helped them to adapt. When medicinal plants and other remedies were ineffective against diseases brought by Whites, she provided modern medicines, often traveling to remote hogans. She became known as Atsay-Ashon or Medicine Woman. 

Newcomb Trading Post

As Franc Newcomb earned the trust of Hosteen Klah and other leaders, she was gradually permitted to observe rituals that non-Indians had strictly been excluded from. These included sandpainting ceremonies in which symbolic patterns were painstakingly made of colored sand, then promptly destroyed when the ceremony ended. At first, as a silent observer, she memorized features of the sandpaintings, then made drawings afterwards. “Since pencil, paper, or camera were not allowed in the lodge, I had only my memory to depend on,” she later wrote, “…[but] In later years I trained myself to concentrate, and if allowed to remain in a ceremonial hogan for a half-hour, I could reproduce the painting without an error.”

With Klah’s and others’ approval, she gained increasing access and was eventually permitted to replicate about 500 sandpaintings, which she recreated in paint on board. Some Navajos opposed this, condemning it as sacrilege, but Klah consented cautiously. Forty-four of these were reproduced in her first book, Sandpaintings of the Navajo Shooting Chant (1937), while other surviving paintings by her have been preserved and exhibited at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe.

Although she made hundreds of paintings that replicated Navajo sandpaintings, it is unlikely that Franc Newcomb ever considered herself an “artist” in the usual sense. She was a writer and amateur ethno-anthropologist for whom her paintings were a tangible means of preserving sandpainting tradition. She did this in other ways as well. For example, Hosteen Klah had been a weaver of Navajo rugs since the late 1880s. One day, she asked if he might consider weaving monumental rugs (as large as 12-foot square) that would replicate ceremonial sandpaintings. While reluctant at first, he eventually agreed, providing that they would be wall tapestries, not floor rugs to be walked on. 

His first such tapestry was purchased by the wife of King Gillette, who had made a fortune from his invention of a razor with disposable blades, the iconic Gillette razor. Klah’s second rug was purchased by a wealthy heiress named Mary Cabot Wheelwright of Boston, who would establish the Wheelwright Museum in 1937. By the time of his death in that same year, Klah had woven twenty-five large tapestries, based on ceremonial sandpaintings.

A few years after Klah’s death, Franc Johnson Newcomb published a book on Navajo Omens and Taboos (1940), and later co-authored A Study of Navajo Symbolism (1956). In 1964, when she wrote a book about the life of Hosteen Klah, she dedicated it to the memory of her deceased former husband, Arthur John Newcomb, who had died in 1948. He was by then her “ex-husband” because the couple had divorced two years earlier.

Newcomb Trading Poster (October 21, 1921)

A decade before their formal divorce, on May 9, 1936, A.J. was living at their home and trading post. Franc was in Albuquerque, where their daughters were attending school. A news article in the Albuquerque Journal described the devastating fire that destroyed their trading compound and most of their finest possessions that day:

Fanned by a stiff south wind, the whole compound consisting of the Newcomb home, the trading post, the manager’s house, the camp cottages, and the garage were soon ablaze.…One of the loveliest collections of prehistoric pottery in the Southwest, collected by Mrs. Newcomb over a long period of years, was completely destroyed as was her collection of more than 400 pressed specimens of herbs and medicinal plants used by the Navajo medicine men. Also lost was a collection of old ceremonial baskets and hundreds of films of Navajo people and scenes.

A small amount of insurance enabled the post to be partly rebuilt. But the psychological damage was irreparable. According to Franc Johnson Newcomb’s biography in American Women Writers (2000), “When fire destroyed their trading post in 1936, her husband’s alcoholism became actute, straining Newcomb to the breaking point.” She and her daughters moved permanently to Albuquerque, where she established a day-care center for children and a visiting nursing service.

At the same time, she was an active participant in the establishment of the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe (where much of Newcomb’s work is housed). Funded by Mary Cabot Wheelwright, with Klah’s consent, the museum building was designed by the celebrated Southwest painter, designer and architect William Penhallow Henderson (who had designed murals for Frank Lloyd Wright for the Midway Gardens in Chicago). Rejected by some as a styllistic oddity when compared with other museums in Santa Fe, it was wonderfully appropriate for Navajo tradition. It is a Modern-style two-story hogan, in which the past and the future are fused. Given its emphasis on geometric abstraction, it may be of additional value to learn that Henderson had served during World War I as a civilian ship camouflage designer in San Francisco.

Helen M. Bannan has said that “Newcomb’s best work is her nonfiction prose blending history, autobiography, and folklore.” Among the finest examples of that is her final book, titled Navajo Neighbors, which was published in 1966, when she was nearly 80 years old. It is dedicated to her daughters.

Franc Johnson Newcomb died in Albuquerque NM on July 25, 1970.

According to Bannan (2000): Although some historians and anthropologists resented Newcomb as an amateur, N. Scott Momaday applauded her realistic portrayals of Navajo life. To Newcomb, Navajos were people, not objects for study. This basic assumption permeates Newcomb’s works, enhancing their value as a record of the personal dimension of intercultural communication.



Bannan, Helen M. “Franc Johnson Newcomb” in American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide. Gale Group, 2000.

Franc J. Newcomb, Authoress, Dies Here. Albuquerque Journal. July 26, 1970.

Johnson, Burges. As Much As I Dare: A Personal Recollection. New York: Ives Washburn, 1944.

Lange, Patricia Fogelman. The Spiritual World of Franc Johnson Newcomb. New Mexico Historical Review. Vol 73 No 3, July 1998. Full text is online at <>. Accessed on September 8, 2019.

Newcomb, Franc Johnson and Gladys A. Reichard, Sandpaintings of the Navajo Shooting Chant. New York: 1937.

Newcomb, Franc Johnson. Hosteen Klah: Navaho Medicine Man and Sand Painter. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964.

Newcomb, Franc Johnson. Navaho Neighbors. Norman : University of Oklahoma Press, 1966.

Was Founder of MNCA: Mrs. Newcomb dies at 83. Santa Fe New Mexican. August 9, 1970.

Note A talk pertaining to this subject is currently available through the Humanities Iowa Speakers Bureau. In addition, a slightly different version of the above biography of Franc Johnson Newcomb has been shared with AskART.

Camoufleuse | The Dazzling of Women at War

Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps painting the USS Recruit (1918)
An important contribution on the social significance of World War I-era camouflage (including its broader relationships to Modern-era literature, visual arts, fashion and gender stereotypes) has recently been published in the journal Modernism/Modernity. Volume 4 Cycle 2. August 2019. Written by Emily James, who is on the faculty at St Thomas University in St Paul MN, the title of the article is "Camoufleuse: The Dazzling of Women at War." Exhaustively researched and stirringly constructed, it is undoubtedly one of the finest essays on the subject. Below is the opening paragraph, ending with an online link to the entire paper—

Modernism and camouflage would seem to be unlikely allies. One advances and the other retreats. One rebels and resists; the other lurks undercover. But during World War I, a group of renegade camoufleurs forged an uneasy truce between modernism's flash and camouflage's muted secrets. Their sources were extraordinary and eclectic. Drawing inspiration from animal behavior, avant-garde design, and women's fashion, the camoufleur—and, as I argue, the camoufleuse—worked to reimagine visibility and warfare in modern terms.…More>>> 


It may be also be of interest that there is now a Wikipedia article on the role of women in WWI camouflage, called "Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps." Also, the full text of our related essay on Chicanery and Conspicuousness: Social Repercussions of World War I Ship Camouflage can also be accessed online.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Must you be crazy to design ship camouflage?

Detail of John T. McClutcheon cartoon (1918)

Maurice Ketten dreams that he is Maurice Ketten

Eyewitness | WWI dazzle ships not what they seem

Kate Burr, CAMOUFLAGED SHIPS: WHAT THEY SEEM THEY ARE NOT, in Buffalo Times (Buffalo NY) September 4, 1918—

I have seen some of the camouflaged ships which the Government has had painted for war reasons. They were a mile from where I was looking at them, but the glasses were good and brought them near. The three I saw were each one different from the others and gave a different effect to the observer.

For instance, the first of the boats looked like three fastened together and built in some strange elemental fashion with the bow higher than the keel and the middle bulging far over the sides.

It was not any of it so—all the work of the consummate artist in perspective who did the painting.

A little way off the casual onlooker was unable to tell whether the boat was “coming or going.”

The second ship presented the appearance of a battleship bristling and threatening.

The third ship sailed majestically out of the river and so much painted drapery was shown along her sides that I was minded of Tennyson’s Elaine on her flower-decked bier sailing home for her burial place.

The camouflage was complete.

Nobody could tell what was vulnerable, nor what was important, nor where the guns were placed—for though this is a vessel for common carrying, she must be armed we know.

The white body was strangely decorated with blue painting and gray painted, and what was shadow and what was blue water, and what was construction no human eye could determine by its naked strength nor with the help of strong lenses.

It was all wonderful—this camouflage of vessels—this blending of atmosphere and sea and sky.

Turning away in admiration, my eyes sweeping the shore line, discovered an object which lent a little ray of humor in this grim paraphernalia of war.

At one of the private docks belonging to the cottage community was tied a sort of craft which brought us to smiles.

It was a small floating structure about the size and shape of a bathtub, painted in “battleship gray.”

At first sight that was all—but—and then the smiles grew deep—along the sides were wide markings of blue and gray—stripes and festoons and circles and oblongs.

Some imitative lad of seven or ten had persuaded his Daddy to furnish the paint and ingenuity had accomplished the rest.

No warring enemy submarine will seek out this protected craft, which is surely a merchantman—carrying supplies from the mainland to a fairy island where busy and saddened people congregate to forget war for a few brief days before getting into the thick of work for their boys and their government again.…

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Women camoufleurs Louise Larned and Rose Stokes

 Above Government photograph of an unidentified US Navy Yeoman (F) (or Yeomanette), c1918. Assigned to the Camouflage Section in Washington DC, she is assembling wooden ship models, which were later painted with camouflage schemes, and tested for effectiveness.


Louise Larned (1890-1972), whose married name was Louise Larned Fasick (she married John E. Fasick in 1929), is sometimes confused with her mother, Louise Alexander Larned (1862-1949). Her father was US Army Colonel Charles William Larned (1850-1911), who briefly served with General George A. Custer in the Seventh Cavalry, but is more commonly known for having taught drawing at West Point Military Academy for 35 years.

Both parents were descended from a long line of military officers, and Louise grew up in the vicinity of West Point. She followed her father’s aptitude for drawing, as well as her family's tradition of serving in the military.

At the beginning of World War I, American women were not allowed to officially serve in the military, but they could provide supporting roles as civilians. In an article in the New York Tribune, Anne Furman Goldsmith, the New York chairman of “a proposed camouflage unit of women for service in the United States,” called for women to enroll in the organization. It was planned that they would be trained at a four- to six-week camp by a camouflage expert, and then sail off to duty in France. “There is no age limit for the volunteers,” the article stated, but “they must be physically strong and active, however, and have some knowledge of landscape, mural or scene painting.”

The acceptance of Goldsmith’s proposal was repeatedly delayed (according to the War Department, “it could not spare an instructor”) until the unit was finally established in 1918, with the official title of the Camouflage Corps of the National League for Women’s Service in New York. Louise Larned volunteered in May of 1918 and joined a group that was taught by artist H. Ledyard Towle. Joining at the same time was another woman artist, with strong connections to West Point, Rose Stokes.

After attending the camouflage camp, the women camoufleurs (who were sardonically nicknamed “camoufleuses” or “camoufloosies”) took on other projects, most of which used “dazzle” camouflage to attract larger crowds to recruiting and fund-raising events. Overnight, on July 11, 1918, for example, twenty-four of the women camouflage artists painted a multi-colored disruption scheme (using abstract, geometric shapes in black, white, pink, green, and blue) on the USS Recruit, a wooden recruiting station in Union Square in NYC, built to convincingly look like a ship. Louise Larned and Rose Stokes were members of that painting team.

In September 1918, both Larned and Stokes were assigned to the Navy’s Camouflage Section, where they probably made model ships (to which camouflage was applied for testing) or, as draftsmen, prepared large scale colored diagrams for use by artists at the docks in painting camouflage on the ships.

They had expected to remain on duty until the war’s official end. But the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, and exactly one month later, newspapers announced that most of the eleven thousand women “yeomanettes” would be discharged early. But certain women were retained, with Larned and Stokes among them. More details were provided by the Pittsburgh Post:

“Among those who will remain are the artist girls who drew dazzle designs for merchant and battleships—those funny zig-zag stripes which made the Germans waste torpedoes and valuable shells on ships which appeared to be ‘going the wrong way.’ The artists today were working on submarine plans and they like the life.

“‘I do wish the newspapers would say we don’t want to leave the navy,’ said Louise Larned, one of the artistic yeomanettes. ‘We want to be part of the service.’

“And Rose Stokes, whose brothers are all West Pointers, wants to ‘be in the navy—not just a barnacle attached to it by civil service rules.’”

Two months later, a woman journalist named Edith Moriarty published an article in the Spokane Chronicle in which she said that, during the war, the government had discovered that women are just as good or better than men at drawing-related tasks, such as drafting charts and diagrams.

She continued: “Two young women who made good along that line are Miss Rose Stokes of New York and Miss Louise Larned, of West Point NY. These girls, who are both artists, enlisted in the navy as yeomen and they were in New York in the camouflage corps studying to go abroad when the armistice was signed. They have spent most of their time while in the service putting in details on specifications and charts for submarines. The girls are so satisfactory at their work that they have been retained by the navy although many of the yeomen have been relieved of further duty.”

It has so far proved a challenge to locate more specific facts about the life of Louise Larned Fasick. One additional finding is that she was the designer of what was known as the “Navy Girl Poster,” which was presumably used to recruit women to serve in the navy.


Update (August 29, 2019) Sorry, haven't yet located an image file for Louise Larned's poster (there are well-known posters by that tag but they appear to have been the work of Howard Chandler Christy). However, we have located three paintings by Louise Larned and one by Rose Stokes. Of the four, three are government paintings of ships (two by Larned, one by Stokes), in public domain, and the fourth is a pastel cover painting for St. Nicholas Magazine (by Larned), dated 1929. They are reproduced below.

Above Louise Larned, Ocean-Going Tug Towing Target Shed (n.d.)

Above Louise Larned, Ship of the Nevada Class (n.d.)

Above Rose Stokes, South Dakota Class Battleship, Concept Drawing (n.d.) [at a cursory glance from a distance, it looks almost identical to the previous Larned painting]

Above Louise Larned, Cover painting for the September 1929 issue of St. Nicholas Magazine.


Women Artists Asked For Camouflage Unit: Miss Anne F. Goldsmith Wants One Hundred To Train for Service in France. New York Tribune, October 24, 1917.

Camouflage the Recruit: Woman’s Service Corps Redecorate the Landship in Union Square. Washington Post, May 14, 1918.

Yeomen Rejoice; End of Jobs’ Scorn Is Sighted as Yeomanettes Leave Navy; Girls Establish Good Record. Pittsburgh Daily Post (Pittsburgh PA), July 28, 1919.

Edith Moriarty, With the Women of Today. Spokane Chronicle (Spokane WA), September 18, 1919.

Roy R. Behrens, ed., Ship Shape: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook. Dysart IA: Bobolink Books, 2012.


Earlier, I had posted a newspaper photograph of Louise Larned and Rose Stokes (NY Tribune, August 7, 1919) at work drafting plans for submarines. But the picture quality was so poor that I decided to remove it. Nevertheless, the caption for the photograph may still be of interest. It reads: These girls drew submarine plans for the US Navy instead of knitting socks during the war. They enlisted in the navy as yeomen and were in the camouflage corps in New York studying to go abroad when the armistice was signed. Both girls are artists and will be retained by the navy after yeomanettes are relieved. Miss Rose Stokes of New York City is commander of the Betsy Ross Chapter of the American Legion…

Note A somewhat different version of this post has also been provided to

Maurice Ketten | Ye olde striped park bench trick

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Cubicular camouflage | the blossoming of crazy quilts

Above Still image from a Pathé film titled Rigadin Cubist Painter (1912).


Caught the Cubist Fashion in Baltimore Sun (Baltimore MD), June 22, 1918—

The camoufleur is having engagements at this port changing the appearance of the local fleet of steamers that enter the war zone declared by the U-boats on this coast. One arrived yesterday from the south so completely disguised by the cubist artist as not to be recognized by agents of her line. Others belonging here are being camouflaged.


Anon in Sioux City Journal (Sioux City IA), August 29, 1921—

Little is seen or heard nowadays about the writers of vers libre ["free verse"] or the cubist artists. Maybe they have gone where they belong—to Camouflage.


PARIS PUTS ARTISTS IN ARMY TO CAMOUFLAGE TRUCKS, TANKS, CANNON: Cubists, Surrealists and Futurists Put Fantastic Designs and Theories Into Practice in the Scranton Times-Tribune (Scranton PA), September 22, 1939—

Cubist, surrealist, modernist, futurist, realist, and naturalist painters who once cluttered Montparnasse terraces are in the army as camouflage artists.

Canvases and theories have been put aside. Long-haired, bearded, shabbily-dressed dreamers have left attics to become clean-shaven, neatly-dressed army men.

Trucks, tanks, armored cars, motorcycles, cannon and staff cars are blossoming with fantastic crazy-quilt designs done in reds, blues, greens, and ochres. Many-schooled cafe arguments have turned into a joint pooling of ideas to befuddle the enemy.


Says "Abstractionist" Painter Should Make Camouflage Experts, in Mason City Globe Gazette (Mason City IA) January 8, 1942—

[Laszlo Moholy Nagy, founder and director of the New Bauhaus school in Chicago], addressing a Drake University audience [yesterday in Des Moines], explained:

"The cubist painters' angular pictures often are the most confusing thing in art to the layman and they are the most talented to turn out camouflage which will confuse the enemy."

"White outs," a system of confusing enemy planes by careful illumination and reflections, would be much more effective than black outs, he declared.