Saturday, October 20, 2012

Camouflage Artist | H. Ledyard Towle

Dazzle camouflaged USS Recruit (1918)

Published in recent weeks is a fascinating (and beautifully illustrated) new book by historian Regina Lee Blaszczyk, titled The Color Revolution (MIT Press). It is a well-researched study (as stated in the publisher's notes) of "the relationship of color and commerce, from haute couture to automobile showrooms to interior design, describing the often unrecognized role of the color profession in consumer culture," encompassing the period of 1850 to 1970. Of particular interest are recurrent references to the pivotal involvement of various WWI-era camouflage artists (especially H. Ledyard Towle) who, after the war, "applied their knowledge of visual deception to product design and created a new profession: the corporate colorist."

During the war, Towle had initiated a training course on camouflage for members of the Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps in New York (on the grounds of the current museum The Cloisters). As we have mentioned in earlier blogs, this unit of 35 to 50 women used camouflage as a publicity stunt, in support of recruiting, making early use of "reverse camouflage," as had been suggested by navy camoufleur Everett L. Warner. Overnight, in July 1918, they applied a dazzle camouflage scheme (designed by camoufleur William Andrew Mackay) to a wooden recruiting station aptly named the USS Recruit. This landlocked mock battleship was purposely not hidden—it was conspicuously located in Union Square in NYC (see photo above from the US Naval Historical Center, NH 41722).