Sunday, October 28, 2012

More on Camoufleur H. Ledyard Towle

In earlier writings, we've documented the contributions of American women to camouflage, in connection with their service in the Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps during World War I. In the photo above, published in the Evening Public Ledger Philadelphia (May 13, 1918), four women camoufleurs are demonstrating their camouflaged "observer's suits." These had been constructed as part of a camouflage course, taught by a New York portrait painter, named H. Ledyard Towle, whom we wrote about recently with regard to his prominent later career as an industrial color consultant for DuPont, General Motors and Pittsburgh Plate Glass. Below is most likely a news publicity photograph of Towle at the time he was teaching this camouflage course.

More recently, we ran across an Associated Press news article in the Waterloo Courier (IA) (Wednesday, April 10, 1929, p. 14), which reproduces a photo of Towle, and describes him as a "chief color expert for the General Motors corporation" and "a pioneer in the movement which has brought lavender tea boxes, turquoise alarm clocks and a host of vivid motor cars."

Towle is briefly quoted about his experiences as an army camoufleur and camouflage instructor. "I went into the war thinking that art belonged to the chosen few," he recalls, but "I came out knowing that beauty belonged to every urchin in the street. Working on war-time camouflage problems taught me how to use color with a purpose. I saw the futility of painting portraits to collect dust in museums, and turned to camouflaging industry and its products of everyday life."

In June 1928, according to this news account, General Motors established an "art and color section," and Towle was appointed its "chief color expert." The article concludes: "He is now studying the 'color consciousness' of each section of the country, hoping to perfect hues which will satisfy the particular desires of each district." As we observed in an earlier post, the story of Towle's contributions (and other camoufleurs as well) to the uses of color in commerce has recently been published in Regina Lee Blaszczyk's The Color Revolution (2012).