Monday, November 24, 2014

Laura Levin on Camouflage & Performance Art

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

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

Camouflage Skirts: A Sartorial Disaster

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

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


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

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


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

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Was Credit Camouflaged? | Roosevelt Murals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bittern Camouflage

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


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

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

Michael Torlen Remembers Hoyt L. Sherman

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

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Dazzle Camouflage | Deception & Illusion

On Monday, November 17, 2014, UNI Professor and Distinguished Scholar Roy R. Behrens will talk about World War I ship camouflage in a program titled Deception & Visual Illusion: World War I Ship Camouflage. He will share historic photographs of various disruptive schemes known at the time as "dazzle camouflage." Designed by artists, graphic designers, architects, theatre set designers, and vision scientists, these were intended to throw off the calculations of torpedo gunners on German U-boats (submarines). The event is free and open to the public.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Camouflage | Simulated Cuttlefish Skin

Article on John Rogers' research (2014)
In earlier posts, we've talked about the research of Woods Hole marine biologist Roger Hanlon, who for years has been researching the phenomenal ability of cuttlefish, and certain octopus and squid, to radically (and instantaneously) alter their surface color, texture and other visual attributes. A few years ago, this research was featured on PBS on NOVA in a terrific documentary called Kings of Camouflage (which is now on YouTube here).

The latest news is that John Rogers, a materials scientist and engineering professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (working with Hanlon) has succeeded in developing a fabric that simulates cuttlefish skin—"a flexible material that also has the potential to change color in the blink of an eye."

Reproduced above is a title page clipping from a recent article titled "Quick Camo" by Steffie Drucker in Technograph (Student Engineeering Magazine at the University of Illinois) Vol 130 Fall 2014, pp. 8-11. What a wonderfully interesting breakthrough.

*Thanks to Rich McDonald for this.

Dazzle Sculpture | Christopher Manzione

Dazzle © Christopher Manzione
A colleague of ours, photographer Noah Doely, recently called our attention to an outdoor public sculpture (above and below) titled Dazzle at the Franconia Sculpture Park in Shafer MN. The artist is Christopher Manzione, who also has a website here, where there is more information and examples of his other projects. There's also an online video in which he talks about his work.

Dazzle © Christopher Manzione

Monday, September 1, 2014

Film | DC Talk on Abbott Thayer & Camouflage

Roy R. Behrens (©2014), talk on Abbott H. Thayer and camouflage
As noted earlier, in mid-March 2014, The Origins of Camouflage, an exhibition of paintings and research artifacts (sponsored in part by the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art) opened at the Army and Navy Club in Washington DC. 

Organized by Gold Leaf Studios and the Abbott H. Thayer Estate, the exhibition opened with an evening of talks and discussions about Thayer's contributions to the art and science of camouflage, both zoological and military. 

A recorded version of a 20-minute talk we gave on Thayer in relation to the history and theory of camouflage was recently posted on YouTube.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Maynard Dixon, Dorothea Lange & Camouflage

Maynard Dixon, Sunset magazine, cover illustration
Recently we were able to watch on Public Television a two-hour American Masters film about the life of American photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965). Like so many people, we are well-acquainted with Lange's documentary photographs, notably her Depression-era images for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). But somehow we hadn't remembered that her first husband (for fifteen years) was the Southwestern Modernist painter Maynard Dixon (1875-1946).

Born in Fresno CA, Dixon was descended from a prominent Confederate family from Virginia. He may have been related to the British surveyor Jeremiah Dixon, whose name is one half of the boundary that divides North from South, the so-called Mason-Dixon Line. It is also sometimes claimed that the nickname "Dixie" for the South was derived from the same family name. Whatever, Maynard Dixon is not typically linked with the South, but with the Southwest and West, especially New Mexico and California.

For the moment, we haven't found any evidence that Dixon was a camouflage artist. But we have found indications that some of his artist-friends were camoufleurs in San Francisco during World War I, and that in 1917 he was among the founding members of the American Camouflage Western Division in San Francisco. Although he apparently did not design camouflage, his awareness of the practice can be assumed by the fact that among his associates were Santa Fe-area artists William Penhallow Henderson (1877-1943) and (Swedish-born) Bror Jullius Olsson Nordfeldt (1878-1955), both of whom were ship camoufleurs in San Francisco. For more information on Maynard Dixon, see Donald J. Hagerty's The Life of Maynard Dixon (Smith Gibbs, 2010).

Cover of The Life of Maynard Dixon (2010)

The American Camouflage Western Division was a spin-off of the New York-based American Camouflage group (aka the New York Camouflage Corps), founded by Barry Faulkner and Sherry Fry. The purpose of the Western branch, whose designated founder was A. Sheldon Pennoyer, was the recruitment of "painters, sculptors, scene painters, house painters and all others interested in the application of protective coloration and devices for the deception of enemies and the rendering invisible of our own forces." That text excerpt appeared in the August 1917 issue of Western Architect and Engineer, in an article titled "San Francisco Architects and Artists as Camoufleurs" (p. 58), as did a roster of those who had by that time joined the Western camouflage unit, among them Maynard Dixon. Here's the list—

Chairman: Mr. Arthur Brown, architect. Assistant Chairman: Mr. Bruce Nelson, artist. Secretary: Mr. A. Sheldon Pennoyer, artist. Executive Members: Mr. John I. Walter, president, San Francisco Art Association; Mr. Edgar Walter, sculptor; Mr. E.S. Williams, scene painter Alcazar theatre; Mr. Ralph Nieblas, scene painter Columbia theatre; Mr. Warren C. Perry, instructor in architecture, University of California; Mr. Maynard Dixon, artist; Mr. Lee [Fritz] Randolph, director California School of Fine Arts.

In addition there is mention of experiments in ship camouflage, of which it is said "that the results obtained by the use of several colors in small squares, maplike patches, serpentine lines and similar methods have rendered our ships more invisible than those of any other navy treated in this manner."

In the January 18, 1919, issue of the El Palacio (Journal of the Museum of New Mexico), there is the following note about "Talk on Ship Camouflage"—

William Penhallow Henderson, the Santa Fe artist, who was a camoufleur on the Pacific Coast, one of the three in charge of the camouflage work in the western ship yards, gave an illustrated and instructive talk on Ship Camouflage on Museum Night, January 7. Besides blackboard drawings, a model of a camouflaged ship made by O.T. [sic] Nordfeldt, was used to illustrate the lecture.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ship Camouflage | Wartime Dazzle Painting

L. Campbell Taylor (1919), watercolor
In the last year of World War 1, a writer named Hugh Hurst published an illustrated article on ship camouflage titled "Dazzle-Painting in War-Time" in International Studio (September 1919, pp. 93-99). It remains one of the most eloquent essays on the subject, and is of additional interest because it included reproductions of a handful of wonderful paintings of camouflaged ships in the settings of various harbors. The artists represented were (Reginald) Guy Kortright, John Everett (whom we've blogged about before), and L. Campbell Taylor, all of whom were "war artists," in the sense that they had been assigned not to design camouflage but to record their encounters with these entrancing while also bewildering forms. 

In Hurst's article, one of the paintings that was reproduced in color (as shown above) was Taylor's Dazzle Ships in Canada Dock, Liverpool. Watercolor, 1919. We found it well worth the sleuthing to track down an original copy of Hurst's article (it's reasonably easy to find through inter-library loan, and there is an online full view also*). In addition, the entire article and its illustrations have been reprinted (albeit in black and white only) in our recent collection, SHIP SHAPE: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook (2012). Here are the opening paragraphs of Hugh Hurst's delightful essay—

To the lover of the ship for the ship’s sake the appearance of our docks in the great ports during the war may perhaps have come as somewhat of a shock, but to the artist the transformation from a monotonous uniformity to a scene presenting a pageant-like array of strong color and strange designs this change can have been nothing but a joy. Certainly it has proved to many painters not merely a stimulus to record one outward aspect of the war, but a direct source of inspiration towards design and color. It was the artist who in devising means for saving tonnage provided, by accident as it were, these splendid scenes of fleets clothed in their war paint, such as were never before and, possibly, may never again be seen.

Although the accompanying drawings naturally lose some of their effect by being reproduced in black and white, to the uninitiated they may perhaps appear sufficiently bizarre. Those who were not fortunate enough to see the docks at one of our great ports during the war may imagine the arrival of a convoy—or, as frequently occurred, two at a time—of these painted ships, and the many miles of docks crowded with vessels of all sorts, from the stately Atlantic liner to the humbler craft bearing its cargo of coal or palm oil, each resplendent with a variety of bright-hued patterns, up-to-date designs of stripes in black and white or pale blue and deep ultramarine, and earlier designs of curves, patches, and semicircles. Take all these, huddle them together in what appears to be hopeless confusion, but which in reality is perfect order, bow and stern pointing in all directions, mix a little sunshine, add the varied and sparkling reflections, stir the hotchpotch up with smoke, life, and incessant movement, and it can safely be said that the word “dazzle” is not far from the mark. 

* Thanks to John Simpson for the link.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Painting of a Dazzle-Camouflaged Ship

Kenneth D. Shoesmith, HMS Queen (1919)
In recent weeks, we were delighted to receive a photograph (full view above) of a painting by UK maritime artist Kenneth Denton Shoesmith (1890-1939). It's a view of a Royal Navy battleship, the HMS Queen, as painted in 1919. For our purposes, it's especially interesting to note the dazzle-camouflaged ship behind and to the right of the HMS Queen. Below is a detail from the same watercolor painting. Private collection.

cropped detail from the same painting

Shoesmith's life and artistic achievements are vividly recounted in a richly illustrated book by Glyn L. Evans, titled The Maritime Art of Kenneth D. Shoesmith RI (Silverlink Publishing 2010), supplemented by 80 color and black and white images. Here's an author contact for additional information.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Camouflage Artist | Henry Reuterdahl (Again)

Henry Reuterdahl poster (1917). Public domain.
In an earlier post, we talked about Swedish-born American artist Henry Reuterdahl (1871-1925), and the mural that he painted for the Missouri State Capitol Building, titled The Navy Guarded the Way to France (1921. It included several camouflaged ships. 

But we failed to note that earlier, in 1917, he designed a wartime poster, with the caption He Guards the Road to France. Warm His Heart. As reproduced above, it too includes two dazzle-painted ships in the background.

Additional sources

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Camouflage Artist | Henry Reuterdahl

Portraits of Henry Reuterdahl
Above Three portraits of Swedish-born American artist Henry Reuterdahl. The pen-and-ink drawing is from a newspaper advertisement (Milwaukee Journal, February 17, 1913) for Tuxedo tobacco. Described in the ad as a "famous naval artist and expert on naval construction," Reuterdahl is quoted as saying: You've got to smoke while painting out of doors in winter—it helps you keep warm. And a pipeful of pure, mild Tuxedo tobacco makes one forget the cold, and the paint flows more freely.


We've known about Henry Reuterdahl (1871-1925) for a number of years, in part because he tried his hand at camouflaging a submarine chaser, the USS DeGrasse. We know this from a passage in Lida Rose McCabe, "Camouflage: War's Handmaid" (Art World, January 1918, pp. 313-318), in which she writes—

Contrary to [William Andrew] Mackay's or [Abbott H.] Thayer's method [for ship camouflage] is that of Henry Reuterdahl, the famous marine painter…

"There is no science that I know of in my ship camouflaging," said Reuterdahl who camouflaged the submarine chaser DeGrasse, "I am guided wholly by feeling acquired through twenty-five years more or less buffeting the sea."

In the meantime, we've now located a photograph of the USS DeGrasse, as painted in Reuterdahl's camouflage scheme. It's available online at the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NH 94479-A), and is also reproduced below. The camouflage is evident, but faintly so (the lack of color doesn't help). Splotchy and indefinite, it reminds me of the paintings of J.M.W. Turner.
Camouflaged USS DeGrasse (1918)

There is another reference to Reuterdahl's interest in camouflage in "Women Camoufleurs Disguise the Recruit" (an event we blogged about earlier) (New York Tribune, July 12, 1918, p. 6)—

[As the women camoufleurs were painting a multi-colored dazzle scheme on the ship-shaped NYC recruiting station] Henry Reuterdahl, the artist, was present with suggestions.

In retrospect, Reuterdahl's approach to camouflage is consistent with the style he used (with great success) in depicting heroic naval events as early as the Spanish-American War. He became, as one source put it, "a household word in the American Navy." The spontaneity of his style, combined with accuracy and amazing detail, is evident in his illustration (shown below) of the Atlantic Fleet in Rio (1908).

Henry Reuterdahl, Atlantic Fleet In Rio (1908)

Our interest in Reuterdahl and camouflage was rekindled about a week ago when Kansas City graphic designer Joe Boeckholt (we blogged recently about the current exhibit, initiated by the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site, that he designed about Benton's involvement with camouflage) shared his recent discovery that one of the murals in the Missouri State Capitol (Jefferson City) depicts a number of camouflaged ships. And the mural was painted by (guess who) Henry Reuterdahl. So far we haven't been able to find a good full-color image of that mural, but below is a reasonably clear grayscale version of it. 

Reuterdahl mural in Missouri State Capitol

Titled The Navy Guarded the Road to France, the mural celebrates the achievements of US Navy captain J.K. Taussig, who, like the commanders of the other (dazzle-painted) ships included in the mural, was Missouri-born (or raised). Taussig is shown attacking a submarine aboard his ship, the destroyer USS Wadsworth. His heroism was much publicized in magazines and newspapers, as is shown below in the photograph of the USS Wadsworth in camouflage, with an inset photo of Taussig himself.
Camouflaged USS Wadsworth and Captain J.K. Taussig

Henry Reuterdahl's accomplishments, as a painter as well as a writer (Including a major controversy because of his outspoken comments about the Navy's lack of preparedness), could be told in great detail. But for blogging purposes, it might be wiser to conclude with two other interesting facts about him.

First, during WW1, he was an active contributor to wartime publicity and recruiting, for the purpose of which he created posters for Liberty Bond and Victory Liberty Loan fundraising drives. In one project, he collaborated with illustrator N.C. Wyeth on a huge, 90-foot long mural. In another, a video clip of which is online on YouTube (see screen grab below), he is shown installing a mural that includes a mechanically animated U-boat.

Reuterdahl completing wartime mural

Both Henry Reuterdahl and his wife (née Pauline Stephenson, Chicago) are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. What is puzzling is a news report titled FAMOUS NAVY PAINTER DIES IN AN ASYLUM: Lieut. Com. Henry Reuterdahl Suffered Nervous Breakdown in September in The Norwalk Hour (Norwalk CT), December 25, 1925. It states that, following a nervous breakdown, Reuterdahl was committed to State Elizabeth's Hospital for the Insane, where he died on December 21. His wife died six weeks later, on February 12. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

More on Golf, Camouflage & Alister Mackenzie

Inspired by Mackenzie's bunkers, or did art inspire him?
In the blog post prior to this one, we talked about Dr. Alister Mackenzie and his dual contributions to World War I camouflage and the design of major golf courses throughout the world. As a British army camoufleur, he designed trenches—or bunkers. And of course as a golf architect, he designed another kind of bunker, an odd-shaped hazard filled with sand.

I mention this because there is an article by another golf course designer, (Gordon) Desmond Muirhead (1923-2002), in which he too talks about the connections between golf course design and the visual arts. He speculates that the style of the bunkers that Mackenzie designed was probably influenced by the art of early Modernists, among them Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Joan Miro. Here is what he says in "Symbols in Golf Course Architecture" in Executive Golfer (July 1995)—

Mackenzie, a kilt-wearing Scotsman, had the fame and sometimes the temperament of a movie star after he had designed the Augusta National and Cypress Point CA golf courses, arguably two of the half dozen greatest golf courses of all time. His influence was enormous. As a doctor of medicine, a well-educated man, and a competent painter, Mackenzie would be familiar with Picasso and Matisse, because of the world-wide furor that arose over Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Picasso (1908) [sic, actually 1907] and the Fauves paintings by Matisse (1905-1907). It is true that Matisse derived some elaborate amoeboid shapes from early Japanese symbols. But half a century before Matisse, organic undulating shapes from the Arts and Crafts Movement had arisen from the tapestries of William Morris and the many artists of the Art Nouveau movement. In his old age, Matisse, who could no longer paint, used these undulating shapes as cutouts. Mackenzie was also a camouflage artist in WW1, and presumably used similar shapes for this relatively new profession. Anyway, his bunker shapes could have been designed by Matisse, Arp or several similar artists of that period.

Actually, the most compelling resemblance exists between Mackenzie's amoeboid sand traps and various abstract artworks by Hans Arp (aka Jean Arp), as shown on the covers of two well-known books by Harvard art theorist Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Entropy (1971), and Art and Visual Perception (1954, 1974) (as shown below). 

Book covers using artworks by Hans Arp

Design historian Bevis Hillier talked about the popularity of these shapes in The Style of the Century (London: Herbert Press, 1990), p. 119—

These amoeba-like forms invaded design in the immediate post-war period [WW2]…Like the picture frame, the "wiggly" became a hackneyed motif in graphic design…"Wigglies" were further popularized by the big exhibition of Hans Arp's works at the Valentin Gallery, New York, in 1949.

But prior to that, they had also been commonly used in camouflage, where they were jokingly sometimes called "greeny-browny blobs." In his autobiography titled Indigo Days, British artist Julian Trevelyan (who designed civilian building camouflage during WW2) believed that the "wiggly" came from WW2 army camouflage patterns, while others have claimed that it's similar to a kidney-shaped artist's palette, or a cross-section of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto's famous Savoy glassware vase (1947).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Link Between Golf and Camouflage

Alister Mackenzie (1915), demonstration of trench camouflage

There is a direct connection between golf and camouflage. It resides in the dual achievements of a British surgeon, Dr. Alister Mackenzie (1870-1934), who was one of modern history’s leading golf course designers, as well as an early contributor to World War I army camouflage.

Mackenzie served as a surgeon with the Somerset Regiment in South Africa during the Boer War. In the process, he studied the effective use of camouflage by the Boers.

Later, during WW1, he returned to military service not as a surgeon but as a camouflage expert. Following the war, he turned his full attention to golf course design (called “golf course architecture”), for which he became internationally known. He designed some of the world’s finest golf courses, among them Augusta National Golf Club (Augusta GA), Cypress Point Club (Monterey Peninsula CA), Royal Melbourne Golf Club (AU), Pasatiempo Golf Club (Santa Cruz CA), Crystal Downs Country Club (Ann Arbor MI), Lahinch Golf Course (Ireland), and Meadow Club (Fairfax CA).


As early as 1915, he published an article on “Military Entrenchments” in Golf Illustrated (Vol 3 No 1, pp. 42-44), in which he wrote—

…what earthly connection is there between golf course construction and trench making? The connection consists in the imitation of nature. The whole secret of successful golf course construction and concealment in trench making consists in making artificial features indistinguishable from natural ones, and for the last ten years I have been daily attempting to imitate nature.

Accompanying that article were two comparative photographs (reproduced above). One of them (top) is a side view of soldiers in a trench designed by Mackenzie, while a second photo (bottom) is the same trench as viewed from the front, from 10 yards away. The caption notes: The man standing up is behind the trench. The men’s heads while firing were completely concealed at 40 yards away.


Alister Mackenzie, “Entrenchments and Camouflage” [credited to “Lecture by a British Officer Skilled in Landscape Gardening”] in Professional Memoirs, Corps of Engineers, US Army and Engineeer Department. Vol 14 No 47, pp. 574-638—

The brilliant successes of the Boers were due to great extent to their making the best use of natural cover and the construction of artificial cover indistinguishable from nature.


 In 1920, Mackenzie published a book titled Golf Architecture (London: Simpkin, Marshall, et al) in which he claimed—

There is an extraordinary resemblance between what is now known as the camouflage of military earthworks and golf-course construction.

The writer was fortunate during the war in being asked to give the demonstrations to members of the Army Council which were the foundation of, and led to the establishment of, the first school of camouflage.

These demonstrations were evolved from his experience as a golf-course architect in the imitation of natural features.…

There are many other attributes in common between the successful golf architect and the camoufleur
(pp. 128-129).


Anon, DR. MACKENZIE IN AUSTRALIA in The Advertiser (Adelaide AU), October 20, 1926, p. 15—

Dr. A. Mackenzie, an expert in golf architecture, is traveling to Melbourne by the Otranto, which reached Fremantle today from London. Dr. Mackenzie’s mission to Australia is in connection with the laying out of the Royal Mebourne golf links, but his visit has brought inquiries for consultations from other golf clubs in almost every state…

During the war he was in charge of the camouflage schools, and was responsible for many of the methods used during war time for disguising army operations. Dr. Mackenzie said he sought after several essentials in golf architecture. Every hazard, green and other essentials of a golf course should appear to be the work of Nature, and he strove to make them so. He aimed at increasing the interest of golfers in their links by providing alternative routes for weaker players, and more difficult if more interesting ways for higher standard golfers.



Alister Mackenzie, quoted in H.C, GOLF: Pavilion Gossip in The Australasian (Melbourne AU), October 30, 1926, p. 33—

Many soldiers at home and overseas have been engaged in what is now known as camouflage. The successful concealment of gun emplacements and other earthworks of military importance, as in the best types of golf course construction, depends on utilizing natural features to the fullest extent and the construction of artificial ones so that they are indistinguishable from nature. An object of military importance resembling a natural feature as viewed from the ground and the air may, and in all probability will, be overlooked to such an extent that it escapes the disagreeable attention of the enemy. My readers must not from this get the impression that there should be any concealment in golf course construction; the exact opposite is advisable, but it is suggested that the fullest use of natural features and the construction of artificial ones indistinguishable from nature are just as important as in earthworks.


Alister Mackenzie, quoted in ECONOMICS OF WORLD TOPIC FOR ROTARIANS: Dr. Alister Mackenzie of Pasatiempo Gives Talk to Club in Santa Cruz News (Santa Cruz CA), October 8, 1932, p. 2—

Since my youth I have always been foolish enough to tilt at windmills and fight against public opinion. In war I fought against the training of soldiers. In the fall of 1914 I offered to prove to the British war office that a force of civilians trained to conceal their fortifications on common sense lines could successfully repulse an army of soldiers ten times their number. This offer was rejected but two years afterward I was ordered to London to give these demonstrations to the King, the army council and the leading generals who were home at that time.

These demonstrations because the origin of the school of camouflage. Owing to jealousies and perhaps lack of diplomacy on my part, I was subjected to insults, abuse and even reduction in rank.


Anon, FOUNDER OF THE SCHOOL OF CAMOUFLAGE IN LONDON DIES AT PASATIEMPO HOME: Dr. Alister Mackenzie, Golf Architect, Passes Away in Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz CA), January 7, 1934, p. 7—

Dr. Alister MacKenzie, internationally famous golf course architect, author and founder of the Camouflage School, England, which all officers of the allied forces during the World War attended to learn camouflage, died early yesterday afternoon at his home in Pasatiempo. He was 63 years of age, a native of Scotland, and had resided in this city since March 1930.

…He was working on a book on camouflage at the time of his death…

During a recent visit to the Hoover Memorial War Library at Standford, Dr. Mackenzie asked the librarian for some book[s] on camouflage. He was told there had been no real book on the subject printed, but that the library had on file copies of articles from the pen of a famous military engineer. These were given to Dr. Mackenzie. He found them to be his own writings [delivered as lectures initially in 1914] in the Military Engineer of Washington DC, appearing without credit being given to him.

The founding of the camouflage school in [Hyde Park, London] England was perhaps one of Dr. Mackenzie’s greatest achievements. It was the initial gesture in the art of camouflage, which performed a wonderful service during the war and was so effective in aiding the allies in their operations against the German forces.


Anon, GOLF AND ARMAMENTS in Daily Advertiser (Wagga Waggs, New South Wales AU), April 19, 1934, p. 2—

Dr. Alister Mackenzie (who was in Australia within the past year or two, but has since died) won universal fame as a golf architect…

But he was something more than a golf architect. He had a creative mind and a rare intelligence…

Perhaps Dr. Mackenzie best displayed his genius, and his quick perception of vitally important truths, in connection with his camouflage work. During the war he was one of the outstanding camouflage experts. In this work his quick and highly sensitized mind learned something which possessed great international importance. He thoroughly believed that camouflage could be used not merely for defensive purposes, but as a tremendous factor in preventing war. Before he died he was credited with working on a book which was intended to “prove that the peace of the world would be assured if all the nations would camouflage their defenses.”


In January 1934, the same month in which Alister Mackenzie died, his final (and most extensive) article on camouflage in relation to golf course design—titled “Common Sense of Camouflage Defense”—was published in The Military Engineer (Vol 26 No 145, pp. 42-47). >>>more

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Camouflaged Courtship

Grandma Demon Chaperone (1917)
Above A cartoon by F. Fox from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, August 21, 1917, p. 7. An accompanying headline title reads: Grandma the Demon Chaperone Is Certain That Clara's New Striped Dress Is Camouflage, and in the cartoon itself Grandma is saying That young man may be keeping his arm to himself but


Anon, "SWEET GIRL" IS SHERIFF: Masher Is Nabbed by Officer in Feminine Camouflage in the Idaho Register (Blackfoot ID), October 14, 1919—

Pawnee, Okla.—When Frank Brown of Meramec accosted a beautiful woman "just too sweet to lie," on a street corner the other night, he was rudely shocked. A strong hand gripped his right arm and a voice that was anything but sweet informed him he was under arrest. In the struggle the "sweet thing's" hair came off and the red ribbon about the left wrist was torn from the sleeve, and the features of the sheriff, smeared with paint and powder, were revealed. Brown was charged with improper use of the mails in attempting to make an appointment with a young woman with whom he was not acquainted.


From Questions and Answers in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 24, 1919, p. 6—

Legs—I would like to know how to reduce the size of my legs. One leg is 14 1/2 inches around the heaviest part of the calf, and the other is 15 inches. I weigh 120 pounds, and my body is otherwise slim.

Answer—The calf of the leg measures 14 1/2 inches in the ideal woman. Wear vertical stripes if you wish to camouflage your perfect calves.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

More HMS President Camouflage News

News article from Mail Online
Above Another news article, this one from the London Daily Mail, reporting on the centenary "dazzle-painting" (freely interpreted) of a World War 1 British ship, the HMS President. It is permanently moored on the Thames in the center of London, where it now functions as a floating events venue.

While the photographs are certainly fun, the text is marred by erroneous claims that "dazzle camouflage was originally inspired by modernist artworks," and that pioneering marine camoufleur Norman Wilkinson was "inspired by cubist and vorticist artworks." To our knowledge, the only vorticist involved was Edward Wadsworth and he (according to his daughter) was not a camouflage designer, but a dock officer who supervised the application of designs devised by others.

It also states that the camouflage pattern on each ship was unique. While that was the initial intention, it proved too ambitious, with the result that the same design was often adjusted and applied to a number of ships, as seen in this example.

In the US, Wilkinson's equivalent was American Impressionist Everett L. Warner, who was hardly a cubist. He did use abstract geometric shapes in his design of dazzle schemes, but it was all highly calculated and purposeful. And yet, recalled Warner, "it was precisely when our work was most firmly grounded on the book of Euclid that the uninitiated were the most positive that the ships were being painted haphazard by a group of crazy cubists."

Finally, the article claims that dazzle camouflage "fell out of favor by the 1940s, because it was rendered useless by the introduction of radar." I can't speak for the UK, but that certainly wasn't the case in the US (or in Germany even), where some of the most outlandish designs were in use throughout World War 2. Indeed, there may even be more photographs of bizarre dazzle-painted ships in WW2 than in WW1.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Newly Camouflaged HMS President

Dazzle-Camouflaged HMS President
World War 1 began in 1914 (the US did not enter the war until 1917), so for the British and others, this is the conflict's centenary year. As a result, all sorts of things are going on. Among them is the dazzle-painting of two British ships, the Edmund Gardner (in Liverpool) and the HMS President, which is permanently moored on the Thames, in the center of London.

HMS President is an actual WW1 ship, and was in fact dazzle-camouflaged during that war. For the centenary, however, it was decided to adorn it in a current, new design, which German artist Tobias Rehberger was commissioned to create. Its completion was announced today in a Guardian article (see above). 

It's a good article with four very interesting photos, but be forewarned that there is an error: The second photo in the article is that of a dazzle-painted WW1 troop ship, mistakenly identified as the USS Leviathan (formerly the SS Vaterland). In fact, it is the RMS Mauretania, a British troop ship which we've blogged about here and here.

more info

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Countershading | Thayer's Disappearing Ducks

from MAS Context (Summer 2014)
We have featured earlier posts about American artist and naturalist Abbott H. Thayer’s use of wooden duck decoys to demonstrate countershading. Additional information continues to surface almost daily. Some of this is detailed in an essay in the Summer 2014 issue of a Chicago-based design and architecture magazine called MAS Context. Here’s the link to the free online version, with the title page above. Other discoveries are below.


Barry Faulkner, Barry Faulkner: Sketches from an Artist’s Life. Dublin NH: William L. Bauhan, 1973, p. 18—

My first vivid memory of [his cousin] Abbott Thayer recalls him crouching in the dust of School Street, demonstrating to Mrs. Weeks, our teacher of drawing in the public schools, his newly evolved theory of Obliterative Gradation, or Protective Coloration—the foundations of his discovery of why birds and animals are difficult to see against their natural background.

The demonstration consisted of two small wooden ducks, mounted on wires, both painted the color of the dirt on which they stood, representing for the moment a natural background. One duck stood out solid and rotund, but the other Thayer had painted darker on its back and lighter on its belly until it had no more solidity than a cobweb. Suddenly a frightened cat bounded between Thayer’s legs, avoided the ungraded duck and dashed into and knocked over the duck it couldn’t see.  Cousin Abbott was as happy as a child at the cat’s vindication of his theory. Mrs. Weeks was entertained, if not enlightened.


George Palmer Putnam, Wide Margins: A Publisher’s Autobiography. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company. 1942, p. 33—

We who were at Dublin [NH, where Abbott Thayer lived] were forever having first-hand lessons in protective coloring. Perhaps it would be dummies of birds set out in conspicuous places. Some were painted as in actual life, their upper parts dark, light below. Others had this reversed, with dark breasts and bottoms, and light backs. Those concocted in nature's way flattened amazingly against any routine background; the light below and the dark above, counteracting shadow and brilliance, made flat planes. These visual decoys we'd constantly trip over. But the others, where nature's process was reversed, stood out brutally in any environment.


Mary Fuertes Boynton, ed., Louis Agassiz Fuertes: His Life Briiefly Told and His Correspondence. New York: Oxford University Press, 1956, p. 119—

[The Thayers’ book, Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom] is weakened only by its tone…and by the ambiguity of some, and prominence of others, of the illustrations. For example, in the photographs of models used to display the effect of countershading, the shaded model disappears so completely that you cannot believe it was ever there in the first place; an altered or falsified picture would have been more persuasive.


Fabian, “The Bushlover” in The Brisbane Courier (Queensland AU), October 9, 1926, p. 18—

An interesting experiment was made a short time ago at the British Museum of Natural History to demonstrate the great advantage of Nature’s commonest color arrangement among living creatures. Most of us have noticed that the great majority of animals are colored darker above and lighter below, and this is true, not only of nearly all our marsupials, but of most of the native birds as well. The rule holds good, too, in the case of fish, and, as more light comes from above than from below, the desired result is that the average fish in water becomes almost transparent and invisible. The British Museum experiment was carried out by Mr. [Abbott] Thayer, of America. He lined a large square box with gray flannel and placed in it two bird models, which were fastened to a rod running through the middle of the box. Both of these were covered with flannel, cut from the same material as that used to line the box, but one was painted dark above and white below, while the other was left in its plain gray. To the surprise of many observers the uncolored bird was decidedly the more conspicuous, and it was stated that at a few yards’ distance the painted bird, by counteracting the normal light and shade, was almost invisible. In Australia this color scheme for birds is a very common one. It is worth noting also that our really brilliant birds are almost always those of the dense shrubs, where protection is comparatively easy, while the birds of the plains and the open grassy spaces are far more protectively colored.


Roger Pocock, “The Art of Concealment: Devices on Land and Sea” in The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania) January 3, 1918, p. 6—

On the permanent staff of the Natural History Museum in London, there are two little wooden ducks…They are dressed in gray flannel, and each housed in a glass case with a gray flannel background. No. 1 duck is dressed in a plain gray flannel, and you can see her plainly at a hundred yards, because of the dark shadows cast by her neck and body, as well as by the brightness of her back. No. 2 duck is slightly whitened underneath to counteract the shadows, and slightly bronzed on top to counteract the light. Even at six feet the showcase appears to be empty. There is no sign of a duck. No hawk, no fox, no sportsman with a scatter gun and a small dog could possibly discover or kill the invisible duck unless she moved or made foolish quacks to guide her enemies. A great many years ago I wrote to Lords of the [British] Admiralty imploring them to go and see the invisible duck who could teach them priceless lessons in the art of concealing battleships and cruisers…


James Devaney, “Nature Notes: An Experiment” in The Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Queensland AU), June 5, 1935, p. 4—

To illustrate just what it is which makes some birds hard to see, an interesting experiment was carried out by the American painter Abbott Thayer, who was also a keen Nature student. He wanted to prove how the darker back and lighter belly is a color scheme which tends to make birds less visible, so he made two wooden ducks as models. These he seated in a box on a perch, and both the interior of the box and the wooden ducks themselves were covered with brownish flannel. The ducks, exactly the same hue as their surroundings, were still plainly visible at a good distance. Then the experimenter [Abbott Thayer], who had an artist’s knowledge of color values, took his brushes and darkened the back of one and painted its under surface a whitish color. That particular duck then escaped notice at a little distance, and was absolutely invisible at about twelve feet, while the other one was very plain. Thayer carried out other experiments with imitation insects to show how Mother Nature gets her camouflage effects.