Wednesday, June 26, 2013

San Francisco Camouflage Artists

Chameleons, German book illustration (1897)
We've recently located a 1919 news article that describes the return to San Francisco from the war in France of twenty-five American camoufleurs, all but two of whom were from San Francisco. They arrived on the evening of February 12, and the news story (including three photographs) appeared on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle the following day. The headline reads (in part): S.F. SOLDIER ARTISTS BACK FROM FRONT. Detachment of Camoufleurs From 20th Engineers Return to City. It mentions in particular Sergeant Frank W. Swain, who "was a well-known art student of San Francisco before he joined the camouflage section. He studied at the University of California School of Fine Arts, and later under [Frank] Duveneck, the great American artist of Cincinnati." Here is the article's list of the twenty-five men in the unit—

Lieutenants [Richard S.] Meryman and Jack [Gage] Stark [neither one from San Francisco]; Sergeant Nishan Tooroonjian, sculptor; Sergeant Jack L. Osthoff, artist; Sergeant Frank W. Swain, artist; Sergeant Louis De Wald, artist; Sergeant Marcus M. Meherin, Jr, artist; Sergeant Joseph Kopersky, designer; Sergeant Sam Macloud, painter; Stanley Long, painter; Sergeant Albert [Sheldon] Pennoyer, artist; Corporal Clifford Neil, artist; Sergeant William R. Moran, mechanic; Sergeant Frank Duncan, artist…

…All of the men wore on their left shoulder a yellow chameleon—nature's own camoufleur, and emblematic of the soldiers' work in colors to deceive and mislead.

Some of these names are familiar. The lieutenant in charge, Richard S[umner] Meryman, was a student of Abbott H. Thayer in Dublin NH, and had collaborated with Thayer and (his son) Gerald H. Thayer prior to 1909 in illustrating their influential book on Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (available online). 

In two earlier blog posts, we've also talked about A. Sheldon Pennoyer, who was one of the founders of the pre-war organization called the American Camouflage Western Division. There is mention of Pennoyer in an earlier column called "Artists and Their Work" by Anna Cora Winchell (San Francisco Chronicle, November 23, 1917), which reads as follows—

A greeting from artists and the camouflage corps comes from Camp Lewis, Washington, through A. Sheldon Pennoyer. It will be remembered that he was the dominating spirit, previous to being drafted, in organizing the camouflage in San Francisco.


 From R. Tripp Evans, Grant Wood: A Life. New York: Knopf, 2010—

During World War I, [Grant] Wood was stationed in Washington DC, where he worked for the American Expeditionary Force Camouflage Division…Given his penchant for self-effacement it is equally fitting, as [his sister] Nan records, that he kept a pet chameleon in his studio.

additional sources