Saturday, October 22, 2011

Camouflage Artist | Daniel Putnam Brinley

Daniel Putnam Brinley (1879-1963)

Above Daniel Putnam Brinley, Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum (J0001309).


In earlier posts, we've talked about American muralist William Andrew Mackay, who was a major contributor to World War I ship camouflage. Over the years, we've been able to expand the list of those who worked with him as camouflage artists when he oversaw the painting of merchant ships in the New York area for the US Shipping Board. We've also found the names of those who studied with him at a camouflage school he established during the war, among them Harold Everitt Austin, Charles Bittinger, Henry Scott Bluhm, Thomas Casilear Cole, Maurice Lisso Freedman, Eric Gugler, W.S. Gephart, George Edgerly Harris, Kenneth S. Maclntire, Raymond J. Richardson, Frank Julius Spicker, Walter L. Ward, and Charles D. Bosisio. There were others as well.

A name that should be added is that of another muralist, Daniel Putnam Brinley (1879-1963), who not only worked on ship camouflage with Mackay, but may also have served in the US Army as a camoufleur. The primary documentation for this is in the Daniel Putnam Brinley and Katherine Sanger Brinley papers in the Archives of American Art. In that collection, there is a Brinley typescript that seems to be a chronology of his "camouflage work for navy" in Baltimore in October 1917. He mentions Mackay (referred to as "Mac") and Commander J.O. Fisher, who worked with Mackay on early experiments in ship camouflage. There is another interesting entry (dated October 21) in which he notes that, while visiting Fisher in Washington DC, he also "went over to the Camp [American University] to see what was going on with the [US Army] Camouflage Corps." In the following passage, he mentions three of the original members of that unit, William Twigg-Smith, William Nell and Barry Faulkner (a cousin of Abbott H. Thayer):

They [the Camouflage Corps] are still in rather a hectic state as far as I can see, and the chief interest at present is a vaudeville show [a fund-raising effort] they are getting up. I asked for Twigg but he was not around. I saw Billy Nell and he seemed to be enjoying himself although he said he had had a bad cold…They all wanted to know what had happened to me and when I told them they said they could not understand it especially Barry Faulkner as he said that the surgeon put him down as blind without his glasses! and some of the men said that they never had their eyes looked at, rather amusing is it not.

In a later entry, Brinley mentions another Army camoufleur, an illustrator named F. Earl Christy. Another document in the AAA collection is a letter written by Mackay on September 7 of that same year. Apparently Brinley (who had served in the Army in 1916, prior to the US participation in WWI) was hoping to be able to join the Army Camouflage Corps, and Mackay's letter is a verification of his experience and capabilities. It reads in part:

This is to certify that the bearer, Daniel Putnam Brinley has worked under my directions and is thoroughly familiar with the laws of light and form as applied to the term "Camouflage."

His knowledge of color for concealment is of greatest value and his ability to assist me on important experiments carried on for the United States Navy is of greatest importance.

One other odd connection: Of Brinley's artistic achievements, one of the best-known is a series of maps he created for the Liberty Memorial (the National World War I Museum) in Kansas City MO, which are on exhibit in Memory Hall. As noted in an earlier post, that same museum also has the surviving portion of a huge diorama, the Panthéon de la Guerre, completed in 1918 by French artists who were serving as army camoufleurs.


[Added June 23, 2014]: Brinley was also a member of the American Association of Painters and Sculptors (AAPS), which organized the Armory Show in New York in 1913. Shortly after its opening, they held an uproarious dinner at Healy's Restaurant in honor of "our Friends and Enemies of the Press." Elizabeth Lunday, in The Modern Art Invasion (Guilford CT: Lyons Press, 2013, p. 75), describes what happened as the evening wore on—

Perhaps inspired by the dancing waitresses, artist D. Putnam Brinley, who stood nearly seven feet tall, began a high-kicking contest, which he unsurprisingly won. Then the short, bearded sculptor Jo Davidson joined him on the floor, and he and Brinley danced a tango. A heavy knock was heard at the door and in walked a doddering old man in a long white beard and an old-fashioned stovepipe hat. He introduced himself as The National Academy of Design, then joined Davidson and Brinley in a riotous Turkey Trot.


 [Added January 15, 2016] Abel G. Warshawsky, The Memories of an American Impressionist. Ben L. Bassham, ed. Kent OH: Kent State University Press, 1980, p. 19—

My most difficult opponent in hand-wrestling was Putnam Brindly [sic], a young giant, six feet three in his socks, whom I met many years later decorating army huts on the French front when my brother and I were similarly engaged. He was then so tall that he could do stencils on the ceiling without using a ladder.

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