Friday, October 9, 2020

Dazzle patterns for Atlantic ships, but not for Pacific

WILL NOT USE CAMOUFLAGE: Zebra Stripes Not to Be Put on Vessels in Coastwise Trade, in The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland OR), August 25, 1918, p. 28—

Ships sailing from Portland for Pacific Coast points and which are not destined for the war zone will not have to wear the zebra stripes of camouflage, according to recent orders of the [US] government. The camoufleurs will be required to paint every ship intended to go the Atlantic, however, with the futuristic designs.

USS Western Maid (1918)

The United States Navy Department is to prescribe color and design of camouflage rather than the Emergency Fleet Corporation’s district camoufleur, says the Emergency Fleet News. Designs will be prepared and each district will use the type most suited to the style of ship to be painted.


The news article above might at first be misleading, as it sounds as if "dazzle camouflage" was applied to very few ships at Pacific Coast shipyards. But in fact some of the most striking examples of WWI camouflaged ships were built and their camouflage applied at West Coast ports. Many of these ships (those intended for service in the Atlantic) were given names that bore the words "West" or "Western." The USS Western Maid (as shown above) was built by the Northwest Steel Company at Portland OR, with its camouflage applied by Emergency Fleet camouflage artists, using a scheme provided by US Navy camoufleurs in Washington DC.


Camouflage application process

Disruptive camouflage patterns

Further information

Thursday, October 8, 2020

barber pole stripes, peppermint candy, prison stripes

Antoinette, STRIPES ARE A PET STYLE OF NEW FALL FASHIONS in The Spokesman-Review (Spokane WA) Woman’s Section, November 12, 1953, p. 8—

If you want your clothes to have a new look this fall, by all means consider something in stripes. It is one of fashion’s pet styles, just now, and stripes appear in many different interpretations.

Zebra stripes, harlequin stripes, prison stripes, barber pole stripes, peppermint candy stripes. On the other hand, there are muted sombre stripes which blend into the other through subtle shadings.…

Alfred Steiglitz photograph (1889)

Contrary to the general feeling, there is no law on figure camouflage by which stripes up and down will make you look slim and tall while stripes around the figure will make you look shorter and heavier. Yet, most saleswomen, most articles and books on how-to-dress, and many fashion “experts” are likely to advise you to wear vertical stripes if you want to look taller and avoid horizontal stripes if you need to look slimmer in your clothes. It simply is not true, and if you are not willing to believe it do what I did, try several striped styles on and see what they do to your looks.

One can’t tell in advance—it depends upon how the stripes are placed, how much spacing there is between them, how nearly the same width each alternate color is, the boldness of the contrast…

WWI camouflaged British ship in dock


BARBER’S POLE IN GERMAN COLORS EXCITES YOUNKERS, in Wilkes Barre Leader and Evening News (Wilkes Barre PA) April 24, 1918—

Yonkers NY—A barber’s pole, displaying the German colors, caused some excitement here, and the police were called.

Barber Fred Milazow explained that some of the stripes had turned black from the weather. He gave the offending pole a shampoo and all was serene.

a broken fragment of rainbow / a crazy patchwork quilt

J. Milo Courzy, A CLIPPER SHIPPER, in Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 16, 1927, p. 6—

When the Buccaneer Club of New York combed the seas for a master worthy of their ship, Captain [Thomas Orlando] Moon’s adventurous achievements won him the coveted command. The clubship is the five-masted barketine Buccaneer, now docked in Brooklyn. The club is composed of men of means and artists and writers who have won fame.

Ship-shaped parade float (not the Buccaneer), 1918

…The Buccaneer now lies in a Brooklyn drydock, where she is donning a holiday dress—a dress of many colors, that looks like a crazy-patch quilt. She will be a floating rainbow, a carnival of color that will make the sea dragons pale. With hull painted in broad bands of white, yellow, black and red, with red and ochre sails and masts gleaming in olive and tipped with white, she will resemble a broken fragment of rainbow fallen to the surface of the sea—a chameleon ship, flying a pirate’s flag.

The idea belongs to Joseph Cummings Chase, artist and pioneer in the art of camouflage during the World War; Professor Ezra Winter, former Yale professor [and WWI ship camoufleur]; and Henry Killum Murphy, architect. These form a committee whose task it is to turn the ship into a masquerading privateer in harlequin garb, flying the skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger.

…[Captain] Moon scorns the Buccaneer Club’s fantasies. “They’re turning a good ship into a cure for the color blind. The club’s notions have made us all as crazy as a cat without claws in hell!” he growls. 


Was there really a men's social club in NYC called The Buccaneer Club? Haven't found one so far. And did they dazzle-paint a ship? Don't know. But Joseph Cummings Chase, Ezra Winter, and Henry Killum Murphy were genuine people, although never before have I heard of contributions to camouflage by Chase.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Cover of a soldier's (or sailor's) wartime sketchbook

Below I cannot recall where I found this, perhaps ten years ago. It's the cover of a World War I American soldier's (or possibly sailor's) sketchbook, featuring a watercolor rendering of a wildly-patterned camouflaged ship.

Gestalt Psychology, Cubism, Art and Camouflage

In 1973, Fritz Heider, a Viennese-born American psychologist, published a memoir on "Gestalt Theory: Early History and Reminiscences." Near the end of the article, Heider talks briefly about Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer's research of "unit-forming factors" (or perceptual grouping tendencies) and the explicit use of comparable strategies, during roughly the same time period, in the Cubist paintings of Pablo Picassomore>>>

Thursday, October 1, 2020

French Women Employed Making Camouflage Nets

MAKING CAMOUFLAGE SCREENS. French Women are Employed in Making Nets for Disguising Gun Positions
, in The Watchman and Southron (Sumter SC). October 16, 1918—

Behind American lines somewhere in France. Seven hundred French women are employed in the American Camouflage station here making nets to screen from observation American batteries and machine gun sections. There was a burst of patriotic song as the Associated Press correspondent entered the large building where they work, for many of them sing as they sew.

The screening of artillery is the most imporant work of camouflage, as it is the main reliance in deceiving the aerial observer and camera and in preventing the enemy from locating our batteries.

For this purpose huge camouflage nets are provided of wire and fish-net, which cover the guns like a great horizontal tent. In the netting are tied bunches of green burlap, of the same color as the surrounding grass or foliage. And thus viewed from above, the overhanging green net merges the battery into the landscape of trees and turf.

Hundreds of these nets were being made by the women workers. The 75 millimeter takes an overhanging net, 30 feet square, the 165 millimeter gun has a 37 foot net, and the American machine gun gets an 18 foot net. The nets are graded inten colors of green and earth-brown, so that the shield may have the exact tint of the surrounding trees. The nets are shipped to the front in huge bundles, one for each gun.

It has been a problem to get the 700 women required for this deft work on the nets, and one of the chief means of drawing them is a Red Cross home for the babies of the married women, and a YMCA kitchen which gives them a good meal for 60 centimes (12 cents). Camouflage garlands are also made by the women. These garlands of green burlap are strung between the trees, in order to break up lines and diffuse edges so that the location of a convoy or battery will not show on an aerial photograph.

In the carpenter shop huge frames for green umbrellas were being made. The umbrellas open like an ordinary sun-shade, and camouflage a machine gun. In the blacksmith shop the men were turning out steel "cabins" which are sunk below the ground, for an observer. They have a front of bulletproof steel and are about as strong as a small safe. In one of these an observer is safe in the midst of a shower of shrapnel.

Laying on paint much as a scrub-woman wields a mop, an artist was walking about on a gigantic camouflage screen for an airplane hangar. The great piece of painting was spread on a field and covered an area of 1000 square yards. The artist was using a brush as big as a broom.

“Camouflage is making a constant battle against the aerial camera,” said the escort, "for with photographs made from airplanes the enemy gets a complete view of our positions unless they are obscured by some device of camouflage.” 


Film of scene described above

The role of American women in WWI camouflage

Chicanery and Conspicuousness: Social Repercussions of  WWI Ship Camouflage

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The gift of seeing resemblances

Jacky Bowring, “Revealing Concealment: The Strange Case of the MoMA Roof Garden” in Thresholds (MIT Press). Fall 2005, p. 17—

Camouflage and mimicry are predicated on concepts of simulation and resemblance, and the desire to produce and discern likeness is ingrained in human experience. In his 1933 essay, “On the Mimetic Faculty“ Walter Benjamin aligned mimetic imitation, or mimicry, with all of the “higher functions” of humanity, and pointed to a time when the “law of similarity” governed life, ruling both “microcosm and macrocosm.” Benjamin conceived of mimesis as a powerful impulse, and a desire to assimilate the self into the other, a social practice, as a foundation for art and language, stating, “nature creates similarities. One need only think of mimicry. The highest capacity for producing similarities, however, is man’s. His gift of seeing resemblances is nothing other than a rudiment of the powerful compulsion in former times to become and behave like something else. Perhaps there is none of his higher functions in which his mimetic faculty does not play a decisive role.”

Horsehead / Mole and Thomas

The Living Photographs of Mole and Thomas
Mimicry, Metaphor, and Mistake
Embedded Figures in Art, Architecture and Design
Khaki to Khaki (dust to dust): The ubiquity of camouflage in human experience

Monday, September 28, 2020

Everett Warner and WWII Disruptive Ship Camouflage

Reproduced below is an extremely rare photograph of a small team of US Navy ship camouflage artists during World War II. In the center foreground, holding a ship model, is Everett Longley Warner, who was the Chief Civilian Aid in charge of ship camouflage. Warner had served in a similar capacity during World War I. The person in the top left background is unidentified, but the remaining five staff members are (l to r) Bennet Buck, Sheffield Kagy, William Walters, Arthur Conrad, and Robert R. Hays. It was Hays who provided a scan of this photograph when we corresponded with him in the 1990s.

In researching naval camouflage, I have typically emphasized WWI, largely because, as an artist and designer, it is far more intriguing to me than WWII, and, more generally, because I am less interested in military technology than in parallel form developments in camouflage (natural and military) and Modern-era art and design.

Related to that, it has always puzzled me to find that, when I speak to audiences about WWI dazzle ship camouflage, a common response is for people to say that such “high difference” confusion patterns must only have been used in WWI, because (or so they assume) non-visual means of detection (such as radar) were predominant during WWII.

Yet, if I look through my archive of ship camouflage photographs (see examples of WWII below, c1944-45), I easily have as many or more examples of “disruptively patterned” ships from WWII as I have from WWI. An additional consideration is that the same person (Everett L. Warner, as noted above) was responsible for ship camouflage in both World Wars.

USS Passig
USS Lenoir
USS Breckenridge

This is not to say that pattern disruption in WWI and WWII were the same. They were not. As I tried to explain in an earlier published essay, titled Disruption versus Dazzle: Prevalent Misunderstandings about World War I Ship Camouflage (2018), disruptive patterns were still widely used in WWII, but with an important distinction. 

WWII ship camouflage was no longer addressed solely or primarily to the viewpoint of a U-boat periscope, but to multiple observation points, such as the view from the deck of a ship, or from an airplane’s overhead view. As a result, as shown by WWII ship camouflage plans, it became essential to apply disruptive patterns to the horizontal surfaces of a ship, surfaces that would not have been visible during WWI from the viewpoint of a German submarine.

Unless I’m mistaken, this issue has largely been ignored by others who research the subject. But there is at least one exception. It is discussed in an online paper titled Naval Camouflage and its Application on HMC Ships REGINA and MONCTON: A Brief History, published in March 2020. Its author, Timothy Choi, is a doctoral candidate at the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies.


Ship Shape: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook

Khaki to Khaki (dust to dust): The ubiquity of camouflage in human experience

Chicanery and Conspicuousness: Social Repercussions of World War I Ship Camouflage 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Steve Morris | World War I Ship Camouflage Plans

In recent weeks, we've been very fortunate to have found out about the dazzle ship camouflage images of a Washington DC-area graphic designer and toy-maker named Steve Morris. He has recently been "translating" World War I ship camouflage plans into wonderfully crisp, diagrammatic ship images, with the intent of replicating the original color schemes as closely as possible. Three examples are shown below, but you can access others online here. Earlier, he also created a series of ship camouflage icons, which are available online here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

More on WWI camoufleur Frederick Alexander Pawla

At the end of May 2019, we posted a lengthy article on British-born artist Frederick Alexander Pawla (1876-1964), who was in charge of the US Army’s Embarkation Service during World War I. In that capacity, he oversaw the camouflage of “many of the army transports, particularly cargo carriers.”

More recently, we have found out more about Pawla. Specifically, we have located a series of photographs that document the process of applying a dazzle camouflage pattern that (most likely) Pawla was the designer of. The name of the ship was the USS City of Atlanta. It is shown above, with its camouflage in process of being applied.

As is evident in the photograph, the design makes use of a traditional artist’s illusion. The camoufleur has inserted a sharp white upright line on the starboard side of the bow, which will make it appear from a distance that the ship is headed at an angle to the right. He has strengthened that illusion by painting a trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”) anchor to the left of that white line, then aligning it with an actual anchor on the right. A second actual anchor, which can be seen faintly from an angle on the port side of the bow, was probably painted to disappear, to blend in with that side of the ship.

The process of painting the ship is documented by a series of three photographs, two of which show the camouflage artists in the process of applying the dazzle designs on an upper section of the ship (identified in government records as the City of Atlanta). Earlier in the process, a camouflage artist had used chalk to mark out the color boundaries, while also using symbols to indicate which paint colors to apply (K designates Black, W indicates White) in which areas.

In the first photograph in this series, two men are strengthening those chalk boundaries, using white paint. In the second photograph, white paint is in process of being applied to an area that was labeled W. In the third photograph, one can see the finished result, with the black (K) and white (W) areas having been filled in, as has another color area (designated as 11) that cuts across the window, which is painted black.

Two clarifications should be noted: (1) We can see the light/dark value of color that cuts across the window, but the color itself is not identifiable. This is because this is an AI digitally-colorized version of a grayscale photograph (there are no color photographs of WWI ship camouflage), and current AI colorization cannot yet determine the hue that was actually used on the ship.

(2) Notice also that the camouflage pattern does not extend onto the floor of the deck. In WWI ship camouflage, it was considered unnecessary to apply the pattern to the deck because the design was addressed to the low-level viewing angle of a U-boat periscope. From that position, the deck surface was not visible. In contrast, during World War II, disruptive camouflage patterns were applied to the deck surfaces of ships, because other viewing angles (such as aerial views) had to be addressed as well. For more on this, see Disruption Versus Dazzle (online access).

The last of the five US government photographs included on this blogpost shows two American camoufleurs (the Army officer on the left may be Frederick Pawla), standing beside a dazzle-camouflaged ship (identified in the caption as the City of Atlanta), looking at a diagram for a ship camouflage plan, and most likely discussing the progress.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

British Steamer: Is she coming or going, which Is it?

FREIGHTER RAMS AND SINKS SUBMARINE  in The Austin American (Austin TX), May 3, 1918—

An Atlantic Port, May 2—A British freight steamer fresh from the yards of her builders celebrated her maiden trans-Atlantic voyage by running down and sinking a German U-boat off the Irish coast, her crew reported upon their arrival today.

USS Louisville in camouflage (1918)

The freighter was equipped with the latest anti-submarine devices, which proved very effective.

The submersible came to the surface suddenly a short distance off the ship’s bow and was caught by the British helmsman’s quick work almost before the U-boat commander could puzzle out through the steamer’s remarkable camouflage whether she was going or coming.

Dazzle-camouflaged USS Lake Clear (1918)

Friday, August 14, 2020

Frenchmen shore is wonders with a bucket o' paint

Fletcher Chenault, “The Camel Flagger” in Collier’s Magazine (March 30, 1918), p. 24—

…“I see by the papers,” Lige was saying, “whar’bouts the Gov’ment is sendin’ over some painter fellers to Yurope to put camel flags on our army.”

“Camel what?” I inquired, puzzled. “What kind of flag is that?”

“‘Tain’t no flag a-tall, “ Lige said. “It’s a art. You take a cannon, mebbe, an’ you paint it to look like a plowbeam, so to speak, an’ a common ord’nary waggin will look like a hayrick. It’s easy ef you know how.”

WWI French Army truck camouflage


“Oh!” I exclaimed, a light dawning on me. “You mean camouflage.”

“No, I don’t,” Lige insisted. “I mean camel flags. It’s a French word mean’ to kiver up. Them Frenchmen shore is wonders with a bucket o’ paint or a skillet, although the only painters which I ever see was Irish an’ b’longed to a union.”

“House painters?”

“Shore—the stepladder kind. But when it comes to that, this here Lee Starr was the best camel flagger which I ever see,” Lige added reflectively. “Whensoever he got through paintin’ a thing it warn’t what you thought it was a-tall—not even hisself.”…

Monday, August 10, 2020

Fighting the U-Boat with Pattern, Disruption and Paint

Waldemar Kampffert, Fighting the U-Boat with Paint: How American and English artists taught sailors to dazzle the U-boat in Popular Science Monthly. Vol 94 No 4 (April 1919), p. 17ff—

When the German U-boats began their depredations, it became desperately necessary to provide some protective coloration for transports, food ships, and the hundreds of vessels that were carrying munitions to Europe.

Battleship gray having proved utterly useless, naval officers turned instinctively to artists for advice and assistance. If an artist, with his trained eye, knows how to apply color, knows how to trace lines on canvas so that they become the counterfeit presentment of the thing he sees, couldn’t he reverse the process and devise some way of blotting out the thing to be looked at?

Above Camouflage pattern applied to USS Chibiabos (c1918), US Shipping Board.

It so happened that American artists interested themselves in devising schemes of protective coloration as soon as the U-boat began to sink on sight. The pioneers among them were William Andrew Mackay, Maximilian Toch, Gerome Brush, Everett L. Warner, and Lewis Herzog.

Above Dazzle camouflage applied to USS Beaumont (c1918), US Shipping Board.


Lindell T. Bates, MARINE CAMOUFLAGE BROUGHT TO PERFECTION IN AMERICA: First Authentic Account of the Development of Illusion in Foiling Hun Pirates Written by Leader in the Work Here—Scientific Explanation of Colors, Curves and Lines Used. The New York Sun. January 19, 1919, p. 11—

In the course of the war several American artists, noting the rapid development of land camouflage, became interested in its marine possibilities. William A. Mackay and Lewis Herzog, both of New York, appear to have been the pioneers of elaborate camouflage both of this country and abroad, although in 1917 attention was beginning to focus on this question simultaneously in many quarters. Gerome Brush, Maximilian Toch and Everett L. Warner soon entered the new field. Mr. Mackay even established a marine camouflage school in New York City, the first of its kind.

Above Dazzle camouflage applied to USS La Forge (c1918), US Shipping Board.

• Note Restored black and white US Government photographs have been colorized using AI digital coloring (not literally accurate).

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

1918 pandemic spitting image | deja flu all over again

Above A poster issued by the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation (Philadelphia), as a means of controlling the spread of the “Spanish Flu” in late 1918. Source: Free Library of Philadelphia.•

The narrative at that weblink describes conditions that are disturbingly parallel to those of the current spread of COVID-19—

[The flu epidemic] reached Philadelphia by early September 1918, after infected sailors from Boston came to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Once patients began appearing, it became apparent how ill-informed and ill-prepared the City was. World War I created demands for increased labor at home and doctors abroad. This resulted in overcrowding in the city, and critical shortages of the doctors, hospital space, morgues, and burial services necessary to handle an out-of-control crisis. Accelerating the devastation was the City’s refusal (against the advice of the medical experts) to cancel a rally for the Fourth Liberty Loan Campaign, which brought 200,000 Philadelphians together on Broad Street, on September 28. Within three days (the incubation period of the virus), the number of cases skyrocketed. The epidemic in Philadelphia claimed 16,000 lives altogether, with 12,000 of those deaths occurring in the five-week period immediately following that war bonds rally.


Here is more information about that pandemic from the Wikipedia article on the Spanish Flu

The Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. Lasting from February 1918 to April 1920, it infected 500 million people–about a third of the world's population at the time–in four successive waves. The death toll is typically estimated to have been somewhere between 17 million and 50 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.…

While systems for alerting public health authorities of infectious spread did exist in 1918, they did not generally include influenza, leading to a delayed response. Nevertheless, actions were taken. Maritime quarantines were declared on islands such as Iceland, Australia, and American Samoa, saving many lives. 

Social distancing measures were introduced, for example closing schools, theatres, and places of worship, limiting public transportation, and banning mass gatherings. Wearing face masks became common in some places, such as Japan, though there were debates over their efficacy. There was also some resistance to their use, as exemplified by the Anti-Mask League of San Francisco.

Vaccines were also developed, but as these were based on bacteria and not the actual virus, they could only help with secondary infections. The actual enforcement of various restrictions varied.…

• Thanks to Claudia Covert for alerting us to this image.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Camilla Wilkinson article on WWI dazzle camouflage

HMS Osterley (c1918)
Above Near the end of World War I, British ship camouflage (called "dazzle painting") increasingly made use of stripes, as shown in this photograph of the HMS Osterley (c1918).


The person most commonly credited with the development of dazzle painting, as a means of camouflaging ships, was British artist and poster designer Norman Wilkinson. His granddaughter is British architect Camilla Wilkinson, who teaches at the University of Westminster in London. Only recently we were delighted to learn that she has published an important scholarly article on her grandfather's contributions to ship camouflage.

Titled Distortion, Illusion and Transformation: the Evolution of Dazzle Painting, a Camouflage System to Protect Allied Shipping from Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1917–1918, the article was published in Studia de Arte et Educatione, Number 14 (Krakow, Poland), 2019. Below is a screen grab of the title page, but the entire article can also be accessed online.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Camoufleurs Maurice L. Freedman & Frank B. Masters

Launching of SS Everglades at Tampa FL, 1918 (AI digital color)
The United States entered World War I, on the side of the Allies, in 1917. The following year, American artist Maurice L. Freedman (1898-1983) served as a District Camoufleur for the United States Shipping Board, Emergency Fleet Corporation. He was assigned to Jacksonville FL, where it was his responsibility to oversee the application of camouflage to merchant ships. He was provided with colored lithographic plans of “dazzle camouflage” schemes that were designed by US Navy artists in Washington DC. When they did not exactly fit the ships, civilian artists at the docks (such as Freedman and his colleagues) made the required corrections.

Freedman was one of about two hundred civilian camouflage artists, who were assigned to seaside shipping ports on the east, south, and west coasts of the US. The extent of Freedman’s service was clarified about fifteen years ago, when Claudia Covert, a librarian and research scholar at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), realized the significance of a collection of 450 colored lithographic plans of ship camouflage that had been in the school’s possession since 1919. As Covert researched this material, it soon became apparent that Freedman, at the end of the war, had enrolled as a student at RISD, where he studied drawing, painting, and design. While there, he donated his collection of the plans (only two other sets, complete or nearly so, are known to have survived, although scattered, stray components can be found in public and private collections), along with vintage photographs of the dazzled-painted ships.

To support her research, Covert was awarded a grant from RISD, which enabled her to visit the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London, and the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Maryland, both of which have extensive holdings related to ship camouflage. As a result, she and others at RISD were able to embark on the arduous process of preserving the original lithographs, developing a lexicon of the different kinds of patterns, making archival digital scans, and arranging to share them publicly through publications, web-posting, exhibits, and symposia. As a way of supporting the project, some of the plans were reprinted at actual size, and sold online through RISD Works, the art school’s retail gift shop.

SS Everglades (1918), plan above, ship below

In 2008, Covert and librarian Ellen Petraits, working with other RISD staff and interns, documented their efforts in a presentation titled Dazzle Prints: Digitizing a Large Format Collection, which they then presented at a conference of The Art Libraries Association of North America (ARLIS/NA). Their report can be accessed online, as can other materials in the RISD Dazzle Print Collection.

Reproduced in that document are the plans for the camouflage pattern for an American merchant ship, named the SS Everglades, a 3,500-ton steel steamer. It had the distinction of being the first ship in which a camouflage pattern was applied while the ship was still being constructed, before the vessel had actually launched. As reported in several articles in the Tampa Tribune, the launching had originally been scheduled for July 4, 1918, but, because of complications, it was delayed until July 29. At 6:00 pm that day, it was officially launched at Oscar Daniels Shipyard in Tampa.

Maurice L. Freedman (who was headquartered in Jacksonville) may or may not have been present at the launching. His name does not appear in a lengthy news account as being among the attendees. But there is an explicit reference to the presence of one of his fellow artists, photographer and illustrator F(rank) B(ird) Masters, who is described in the article as having “completed his job Sunday.” The resulting “dazzle system” design, the article adds, is “one of the prettiest completed jobs imaginable.” It then speaks in some detail about the advantages of this approach to ship camouflage—

The “dazzle system” of camouflage, an adaptation from the latest English system, makes a much prettier looking boat. Instead of the hard straight lines with sharp angles that have characterized camouflage as used on vessels in the past, the new system comprises a series of graceful, curved lines and figures which deceive as to speed, size, and direction of progress, instead of attempting to hide the vessel. It Is said that as a cover or blending for the purpose of hiding the vessel, camouflage has been a failure but that it has proven its adaptability as a protective agency through deception. The new smooth and curving lines are said to be even more deceptive than the straight lines and hard angles. Certainly, on close-up observation the boat camouflaged under the new system is a much more pleasing sight to the eye, and as a success its value was apparent as one riding into town on Fifth Avenue looked down the estuary from near its head. Even at only this short distance away the vessel appeared considerably shorter as it was being towed to the river plant of the builders where a greater part of the machinery fitting and installation will be done.

Through the efforts of Covert at RISD, combined with other sources, there is additional information about Maurice L. Freedman. We know, for example, that, following his studies at RISD, he worked as an advertising artist in Providence RI, and, in the 1940s, designed Warfare: Naval Combat, an early iteration of a game since known as Battleship. In the 1950s, he was an assistant art director of Paramount Cards, the nation’s third-largest greeting card company, in Pawtucket RI. When he died at age 85, on December 4, 1983, he was living in Revere MA.

By comparison, there is considerably more information about Frank Bird Masters (1873-1955), who more often signed his work as F.B. Masters or Frank B. Masters. According to online postings, Masters was born in Watertown MA in 1873. He was initially drawn to science and engineering, with the result that he earned a BA degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1895. He worked briefly for the B.F. Sturtevant Company (the country’s oldest fan manufacturer), and then taught high school industrial arts for several years in Boston.

Illustration by Frank B. Masters (1907)

Around the turn of the century, his interests appear to have shifted from science and technology to art. In 1900, he rejoined the Sturtevant Company, but this time as an advertising artist. He also worked as an illustrator for the Curtis Publishing Company in Philadelphia. After his work was represented in several art exhibitions, he subsequently studied art with the prominent illustrator Howard Pyle in Wilmington DE. At the same time, he experimented with photography (specifically cyanotypes), by which he made candid images of workers, backstreets, locomotives, and industrial sites. He made these not as “photographic art,” but as image references for his illustrations for books, magazines, and advertising. From 1905-1918, he maintained a studio in New York at 23 West 24th Street, near Madison Square Park (in the Flatiron District).

Illustration by Frank B. Masters (1907)

In 1918, Masters accepted employment as a civilian ship camoufleur in New York with the US Shipping Board. He subsequently worked on projects in Jacksonville FL, Tampa FL, Washington DC, Charleston SC, and Savannah GA. The war effectively ended with the Armistice on November 1, 1918, and soon after Masters returned to New York, where he resumed his profession as an advertising illustrator.

Advertising poster for Century Magazine by Frank B. Masters (1903)


Above The two black-and-white illustrations by Frank B. Masters shown were originally published in the Washington Evening Star (Washington DC) on September 22, 1907.  

News articles about the launching of the SS Everglades were published in the Tampa Tribune on July 30, and August 4, 1918; and in the Tampa Bay Times on May 24, and August 1, 1918.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Don Jules Camou | Ye Olde Checkerboard Technique

Full-page article on Don Jules Camou (1932)
Five years ago, I ran across a news article that claimed that modern camouflage was originated in the 19th century by a French general named Jacques Camou (1792-1868). At first, I thought it was a joke. The coincidence of the person’s name and the Modern-era military term (which did not come into common use until 1914) was bizarre.

But I have now found a more detailed news article from 1932 that provides an account of the life of Don Jules Camou (not Jacques Camou), described as a major landowner (“a dictator, almost”) in the Mexican state of Sonora. Written by Oren Arnold, the article is titled INVENTED CAMOUFLAGE A CENTURY AGO TO SAVE HIS RANCH FROM THE APACHES: Fooling the enemy with paint was not originated by modern war strategists after all—for wily Jules Camou used it against his Indian foes in 1832 (Arizona Daily Star, May 22, 1932).

Accompanying the article are several surprisingly clear photographs of the then surviving structures on the Camou estate, located in Sonora, 250 miles south of the Mexican-American border. When the article came out, it was claimed that “more than 100 alleged heirs” were “still squabbling over his estate, and romantic yarns about him are becoming a vital part of Sonoran folklore.” Reportedly, part of the interest was due to the possibility of ore deposits, and, less credible, the rumor that a cache of gold was hidden somewhere on the property. “The courts at Hermosillo, the capital city of Sonora,” the article notes, “are crowded with matters concerning the Jules Camou estate.”

Jules Camou’s purported use of camouflage took place in 1832. His cattle ranch was huge; according to the article, “a horseman can travel in a straight line for two days” and never leave the estate. Each year he raised as many as 16,000 head of cattle, the success of which required dependable access to water. He decided to construct a dam with which to form a 400-acre lake. But he was plagued by frequent attacks by neighboring Apaches, who regarded him as an intruder.

In order to construct the dam, Camou first devised a large ranch fortress, with a cylindrical stone tower at each end. When attacked, the workers could flee to the towers, and fire at the attackers from above through five-inch square-shaped portholes. But the portholes themselves were a target. It was Camou’s innovation to make the portholes hard to see by randomly locating them within a surface pattern of painted squares. As a result, the article claims, “where any one Indian might before have seen four or five targets, he now could see only a confusing picture of colored squares.”

Did Camou actually do this? It seems that he did, but even so, it’s unlikely that he was the first. A comparable checkerboard pattern (to conceal the location of gun ports) had long been used by ships at sea. In an earlier posting about camouflage and checkerboards, we referenced the aforementioned Jacques Camou, who appears to have had no connection to Mexico. In Paris, there is a street called rue Camou, named in his honor.

In the article on Jules (not Jacques), historian John McPhee is quoted as saying—

…Jules Camou originated what we now call “camouflage.” I don’t know whether he named it or not, but it is at least a coincidence that the names—Camou and camou-flage—should be so similar, isn’t it?

Related to this is an earlier news article with the headline GERMAN CONSUL MADE TO PAY HEAVY RANSOM: Sonora Rebels Abuse Max Muller and Extort $10,000 From Him, in the Los Angeles Call (April 4, 1913). The article tells the story of the threat to wealthy residents of Sonora, who are in danger of being kidnapped and held for ransom. One of the victims was Max Muller, who was vice president of the Bank of Sonora and the German consul at Hermosillo. After paying the ransom and being released, Muller fled to safety in Los Angeles, where other Sonorans had already fled. The article adds—

Among the refugees now here [in LA] are thirty-two wealthy members of the Camou family, headed by Fermin Camou and Albert Camou. This family owns practically all of the state of Sonora, and is rated as worth more than three million dollars.  


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Seven to seventy | Edward Simmons looking back

Edward Simmons, Girl Reading (1893)
Edward Simmons, From Seven to Seventy: Memories of a Painter and a Yankee. New York: Harpers, 1922, p. 341—

…and then came the War. I was too old to go; they even refused me in the Camouflage section, although I insist I would have been of use.

Although I was not allowed to take part in the War, my whole world changed. The color of everything—we were enmeshed in khaki. To eyes accustomed to riotous shades, this deadening of the whole tone of things was tremendously depressing… I wanted to keep step, and felt as if I were marching, marching, marching—until I would suddenly become conscious that I was only sitting still. I had never found the necessity of realizing the meaning of the old saying, “He also serves—“ For the first time I was forced to acknowledge that it was the age of the young.

Edward Simmons (date unknown)

Sunday, June 28, 2020

There is much more to know about Walt McDougall

Everglades Poster (©2018) Roy R. Behrens
American cartoonist Walt McDougall (1858-1938) was the subject of the previous post, in which we reprinted the full text of a newspaper story he wrote about his attempts to persuade the US military to adopt the use of camouflage during World War I.

As it turns out, there is much more to know about him, and part of the information is in his autobiography, titled This is the Life! (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926). In that book (full text available online), he talks about how he became interested in protective coloration in nature when he was appointed the Game Protector of Florida, under the Migratory Bird Act. During his tenure in that role, the population of white egrets (which had been nearing extinction before) grew substantially, and manatee (then commonly known as the “sea cow”) became “more plentiful than the real cow, which is rather rare in Florida.” He goes on to describe how he also became interested in wartime camouflage

Shortly after hostilities began in France, I encountered some badly wounded Canadian officers who had been sent South to recuperate, and often took them out boating. From them one day I learned about “camouflage” as practiced in the European armies, The prospect of this novel application of paint to warfare excited me immensely; I seemed to glimpse an opening whereby many aged artists could be of service to their country [p. 307].…

…In July I went to Washington…to preach camouflage to an incredulous and derisive lot of official dumb-bells who thought I was trying to introduce a new brand of French cheese. I was dubbed “Camouflage Walt” in the Press Club. I wrote a couple of page stories for the [Washington] Post that helped to make the word familiar, but alas, the reputation of humor is ruinous to any serious purpose; I got a few laughs but no consideration, although seven hundred French and English artists were even then engaged in developing the new defensive art. General Joe Kuhn, head of the War College, assured me it “was mere frills and piffle” [p. 308].

Aside from his camouflage efforts, there are other interesting aspects of McDougall’s life. In 1902, while he was a cartoonist for The North American in Philadelphia, a fellow cartoonist named Charles Nelan satirized the Governor of Pennsylvania (Samuel Pennypacker) by depicting him as a parrot. Rather like current political ploys, Pennypacker responded by calling for a legislative rule (called the “anti-cartoon act”) that would make it unlawful to portray politicians “as birds or animals.” In response, McDougall created new caricatures of the governer and other hacks—not as birds and animals, but as trees, vegetables, and a beer stein, as reproduced below.

Another, far more somber, aspect of McDougall’s biography took place decades later, when, destitute, forgotten, and living alone, he ended his life at age 80 by shooting himself in the head with an old pistol. This is how the story was told in HE MADE OTHERS LAUGH in the Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro KY), on March 12, 1938—

He had amused unnumbered thousands with his facile pen, helped elect one president with a masterful cartoon, been associated with another, and been employed by a third, yet when Walt McDougall came to die it was all alone and with a pistol clasped in his good right hand. At 80 the cartoonist, author and humorist found himself at the end of the road; money gone, friends forgetful. He had been dead a week, the coroner said.

…[US President Woodrow] Wilson commissioned McDougall to study camouflage in Europe and the report he made was the basis for much this country did in that direction during the early days of the war.•

With age and adversity upon him, the maker of laughs for other people turned to painting and his diary. If McDougall was quite frank with his pages they should have a worthwhile story to tell.

In other accounts of his passing, there are repeated references to his diary, but so far we haven't found it. It would be interesting to read, although assuredly painful. We have found only one published entry, described as having been one of his last. It reads—

Stove won’t work—tough times.


• This claim seems to contradict McDougall's own account of his limited success. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The wizard of oz becomes schooled on camouflage

Walt McDougall (1904), Land of Oz comic page
There is no denying that American artist Walt McDougall (1858-1938) was an extraordinary cartoonist. His work is funny and beautifully drawn. Above is a single full-color newspaper page (1904) for L. Frank Baum's Land of Oz. And at the bottom of this blog post is another full-page comic (1897), amazingly structured, in which works by a number of cartoonists are featured—McDougall's work is inside the triangle on the left of the page. Both of these cartoons are in public domain, and can be accessed as image files on McDougall's Wikipedia page.

McDougall was also interested in camouflage, and he wrote a long newspaper account about that subject during World War I. I've republished the entire text below. But I haven't republished the illustrations he made for it. None of those drawings are of the quality of his cartoons, and one of them is blatantly offensive: it shows military brass having drinks at the Army and Navy Club (where I once lectured—on the subject of camouflage) in Washington DC. An African-American waiter is shown as a clueless black-faced minstrel, as was thought to be funny back then. It brings up painful memories of my own childhood when, as recently as the early 1950s, the movie theatre in the small Iowa community in which I grew up was still featuring "minstrel shows" in which white musicians (there were no black residents at the time) would perform in blackface. With that as a timely disclaimer, here is the text of McDougall's article—

Walt M’Dougall, TRAILING THE CAMOUFLAGE IN WASHINGTON JUNGLES: Certain Adventures of a Patriot Who Endeavored to Do His Bit for Our Newest Art: An “Inside Story” of the Incident That Gave Birth to Camouflage, Written and Illustrated by the Man Who Hereby Sets Forth His Claim to Rank as the Original “Camouflager,” in The Washington Post, June 10, 1917, p. 3—

Camouflage is pronounced as it is spelled, with the “g” soft and mushy, as in “garage,” and with the accent on the “cam.” The art and mystery of concealing batteries, roads and large, important officials by means of artificial scenery was given this name by the French, who knew that it would be a long time before people could determine whether it was a new kind of cheese or a bit of feminine wearing apparel.

Some time ago I became possessed of certain reliable information regarding camouflage through a returned Canadian officer and promptly addressed the War Department a fervent appeal to send me to the French front to gather further information, models, data, and insect parasites for the instruction of our own army. I realized that the task required the imagination of a playwright, the art of a scene painter, the skill of a stage carpenter, the strength of a blacksmith, the nerve of a literary agent, the stomach of a hyena, and the nerve of a motion picture substitute.

Nobody knows what became of that appeal.

New York Got the Edge
Two weeks ago I arrived in Florida in response to a suggestion from a high official to present my plea in person, and almost immediately discovered that while I had been dreaming under the orange blossoms a national camouflage division had been organized in New York, with units in various other cities, and that a number of able-bodied artists already were drilling at night in vacant lots. It was even said that they were wearing uniforms. Now, New York usually tumbles to a new thing only after all the rest of the country has tried it out, and then it starts it off as a new and original fad, but in this case, it seems to have got there first.

Somewhat startled and nervous, I devoted my initial efforts to ascertaining just how far the movement had progressed. Hastily seeking the aforesaid prominent official I was guided to the War Department, where we consulted a bland and amiable Major Blank, who, after candidly admitting that he had never heard of camouflage, said that from what I had revealed to him he didn’t think it quite fair to pester the department about such piffle when it was so busy with really important matters.

“Major, on my word of honor as a gentleman,” I repeated, “I assure you that while camouflage is a new war game, it isn’t piffle. It is saving thousands of lives and guns and military material in France.”

Patting me soothingly on the shoulder, he suggested: “Why not go over on your own account as a private citizen and study it?”

When I asked him, rather testily, I admit, how long he thought I’d last gumshoeing around the French front with a camera, a sketchbook, and a tape measure, picking centimeters and calories off the big guns, he appeared a trifle hurt, but when he got his breath he said that the War Department couldn’t bother with “frills” at this time and that perhaps I might manage to get away with the second or third division of troops going over.

I asked the next man who was consulted, point-blank, if he had ever heard of camouflage.

Thought It a New Insect Powder
“Yes,” said he in a flash; “It is the new insect powder they’re getting from the Phillippines.” However, he was only a civilian.

I began to see, dimly, that my task was going to difficult. We went to the Cosmos Club to dine, where I met an African explorer, who wanted to bet me that camouflage was a subspecies of the dingo family. Late at night, reduced to a sort of dumb despair, I went to the Press Club, where I encountered artist Felix Mahoney, [a cartoonist as well] who proved to have at his finger-ends all the knowledge there is about “Who’s Who and Where” in camouflaging. He formed the local unit and invited me to witness the evening drill the following night. I was surprised to learn that they were not drilling with paintbrushes, but actually learning the military manual under the instruction of a real army officer. This looked like something really tangible.

I also learned that evening that among other things it is supposed that “the camouflage artist is like any other soldier. He goes where he is sent, and, in addition to his arms, he carries a 6-inch sketch box, which is his palette, one-half of the box fitting on his thumb in true palette fashion, while the other half holds his little sketch boards and colors. The scene to be ‘camouflaged’ is sketched exactly as it appears in colors that match the true ones. This sketch is conveyed to the base of operations, where other artists copy it upon a large canvas. The framework, if there is any, is designed and the finished ‘scene’ is rushed to the spot it is intended to conceal.”

When I pointed out that if the scenery was already there in situ it scarcely needed to be disguised by an artificial creation precisely imitating its details to conceal it from the enemy, I was regarded with pity.

He Is the Original Camouflager
Now, I need to explain, perhaps, my interest in this matter. Long before the famous bank robbery where the burglars painted a fake safe and robbed the genuine one behind it, in my boyhood days, in fact, I cleverly painted a life-size effigy of my slight and skinny self and set it up in the cornfield where I was supposed to be watching the crows, and while mother thought I was on the job, I was lying under a willow by the creek fishing for perch. While I expose past duplicity with regret, my mother being long dead, I feel it needful to establish my claim as the original camouflager.

Well, I had already begun to suspect that I stood a swell chance of getting to the front, but I persisted. The next day I met a man in another department who confessed that he had heard that the French used artists in the army to “stimulate scenery” in deceiving the enemy. Needless to say, he meant “simulate.” I saw the young and enthusiastic artists drill that evening and conferred with them. They expected, every one of them, to be sent to the front, but they were rather misty as to how they were to be instructed, and where, in their special form of military art.  I took occasion to explain that I deserved to be sent over in order to qualify as an instructor for just such lads back here at home. None of these boys wanted to be generals or even captains—they wanted to camouflage.

After three days I got so that I found myself in the Army and Navy Club ordering camouflage cocktails for an aged major general and I realized that I had reached a critical stage. I proceeded to obtain a new slant on the subject. Armed with a note from Mr. Tumulty I sought the Assistant Secretary of War, but his private secretary, an alert and observing young fellow, seeing the wild, haunted look in my eyes, the hectic four-flush mantling my cheeks and my ill-concealed impatience, steered me up against some husky colonels in a remote part of the building. These officers, kindly and genial, humored me by listening to my ravings, and finally Mr. McKenna sent me by the department bus to the War College, having previously telephoned General Kuhn that I was coming.

They Treated Him Kindly
Right here I want to express my appreciation of the unfailing kindness, cheerful patience and delightful good humor of every official whose valuable time I monopolized during the week. Although they uniformly refused to take me seriously, they took me in and made me at home in every case. I lunched with the general staff on Friday, after walking many miles across country to the War College, a point usually reached only by airplane and wireless, and although I had neither guide, compass or chart, I got there before everything was eaten.

Here I received another shock. I found that General Kuhn actually knew all about camouflage! I mean, all that is known in the United States. That is nearly nothing, but the general had heard about what had been revealed. His delightful personality eased the pain I felt when I saw that he also regarded camouflage as frillery and military lingeries, as it were, but when he kindly enlightened me as to the number (something like 76,000) of eager, earnest souls who ardently desired to sail for France this week in order to study gas-bombing, trench ventilation, painless starvation, cathedral reconstruction, explosive frankfurters, dog training, the German system of converting their dead into toilet soaps, smokeless tobacco and the like on the battlefield, I saw a great light. I now perceive why departmental business proceeds slowly and painfully. If officials are as invariably polite, courteous, and obliging to every crank, bug, and jobseeker as they were to me it is wonderful that anything is accomplished, and it follows that camouflaging the departments is as necessary as anything else.

He Gave Up the Quest
The last man I interviewed on the subject was the celebrated sculptor, Mr. Paul Barlett, chairman of the executive committee of the Washington camouflage division. He assured me that a small army of artists, eminent and otherwise, was preparing to go to France, where they were to take up this pursuit.

“Do you mean that the government will send this division over as an actual organization of artists?” I asked.

He intimated that such was his understanding.

“And when this army, well-drilled and qualified as soldiers, arrives at the front, will it be marched somewhere and proceed to become students of camouflage, under the instruction of 700 busy scene painters now occupied in disguising France, or will they just camouflage around, picking up the art between the barrage fire and the hospitals?” I persisted.

Mr. Bartlett’s manner suggested that my question peeved him, or, at least, so it seemed to me, and I obtained no answer to the question of how our earnest seekers after knowledge would become qualified to proceed to camouflage. However, this finished my efforts to inject my own personality into the movement. I will not see France until the war is over, and I will never know more about camouflaging than anybody else does.

Walt McDougall and others (1897)

Monday, June 22, 2020

Earl B. Wooden | Hollywood designer and camoufleur

Earl B. Wooden (1893-1952) was a Kansas-born scenic film designer, who (as a "set decorator" and "set dresser") produced scenery for Hollywood films. One of those was Corpus Christi Bandits (1945), the poster for which is shown above. During World War I, he also served as a US Army camouflage artist, as described in the news article below.


Stockton Review and Rooks County Record (Stockton KS), January 31, 1918—

Mr. and Mrs. E.B. Wooden received a letter this week from their son Earl, notifying them that he had arrived safely in France, where he went from California recently to work in the Camouflage Corps. His particular work will be the planning and architectural construction of camouflage for artillery and other things at the front that must be concealed from enemy airplanes. In this, he is an adept, as he has been engaged for the past four years in the creation of artificial scenery for a big film company at University City in Los Angeles. He says his work has hitherto ben to deceive the public at the movies; now it will be the pull the wool over the Bosche's eyes. His parents knew of his going and were surprised as well as pleased over getting word from him so promptly.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Dustin Keller | Camouflaged household appliances

Dustin Keller / Lozenge camouflage toaster
Ala serendipity, we've run across an online site called Keller's Blog on which a Canadian high school teacher (of art and guitar) named Dustin Keller has posted a camouflaged-themed problem for his students at the John Oliver Secondary School in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Dustin Keller / Three-tone camouflage toaster

A variety of problems are posted there, but the one that we were drawn to (of course) is Skins & Camouflage. As specified on that page, the students were asked to design a prototype of a quasi-camouflaged "small household applicance," such as (for example) a toaster.

Dustin Keller / Dazzle camouflage toaster

The three examples posted here were designed by Mr. Keller. It's a great idea—elegant, fun, and nifty for sure. Surely, his students enjoyed it.