Saturday, November 20, 2010

Camouflage Artist | Perkins Harnly

The following is an excerpt from an Oral History Interview of American artist Perkins Harnly (1901-1986), who served as a Depression-era Works Progress Administration muralist and, during World War II, as a camouflage instructor. The interview, which took place on October 15, 1981, was conducted for the Archives of American Art by Estil Pennington and Lynda Hartigan. The entire interview can be accessed online here

Mr. Harnly: …when the WPA broke up—when the war was declared, you see—we were put on defense projects. I was put in aluminum.
Ms. Hartigan: And you taught camouflage design?
Mr. Harnly: Yes. I was an…instructor of officers. Yes, I certainly was. One of my officers in camouflage was William Pahlmann, who was the famous interior decorator. Gene Davis, who was the art [director] of [Good] Housekeeping Magazine. I had big shots.
Mr. Pennington: Leslie Cheek, did you work with him?
Mr. Harnly: I know the name, I know the name. I know the—I can't place him at the moment. But they gave me the project of the people who had much experience, much background, and all that. And we went to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the place where Homer Saint-Gaudens was, a relative, son of the great sculptor, I think.
Mr. Pennington: Yes.
Mr. Harnly: Well, anyhow, he was the head of this thing, of camouflage, until the air bombing of Cologne. It took 22,000 planes to mow the city down. All but the cathedral, they left the cathedral. And after that, camouflage, as we knew it, was not of any use. They used tactical camouflage after that.