Monday, March 18, 2013

Important Thayer Camouflage Exhibit

Title slide of talk at National Sporting Library & Museum

What a weekend it was. Mary and I have just returned from a quick trip to Washington DC, to attend an exhibition called Abbott Handerson Thayer: A Beautiful Law of Nature, on view now through May 26, 2013, at the National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg VA. It is a "must see" installation for anyone with an interest in this turn-of-the-century master, whose early revelations about protective coloration in animals led to his being referred to as the "father of camouflage." Although a comparatively small selection (there are two rooms filled with original work), it is an undoubtedly groundbreaking event, in part because it focuses on his contributions to camouflage, and because so very few of these works have ever been on public view.

This exhibit came about through the collaborative efforts of the Curator of the NSL Museum Claudia Pfeiffer (whose efficiency was astonishing), the Gold Leaf Studios (framing expert William Adair and his able associate Ari Post), and the Abbott H. Thayer Estate and Family.

(l-r) Claudia Pfeiffer, Roy Behrens and Ari Post

Above is a photograph of (l to r) Claudia, myself and Ari discussing aspects of the installation. In addition to seeing Thayer's work (most of which I myself had never seen reproductions of, much less the genuine pieces), along with other works of art in concurrent exhibitions there, I was privileged to speak about "Abbott H. Thayer and the Uncloaking of Camouflage" on Saturday.

In an earlier blog post, I have already shared information about the contents and availability of Gold Leaf Studio's full-color exhibition catalog, which reproduces many of the works, and is supplemented by exhibition essays by UK zoologist Martin Stevens, American art historian William Kloss, myself, and Ari Post.

(l-r) Jean Reasoner Plunket, John Plunket and Roy Behrens

The exhibition and lecture opportunity were reason enough to make this a pleasurable, memorable journey. But there were two other highlights as well: First, we were able to spend several hours with owner Bill Adair at the Gold Leaf Studios, whose working space and cache of historic surprises were both eye-popping and mind-boggling (we could easily have snooped around for a entire week). And then (and this I'll never forget) we had the unexpected luck to be able to visit briefly with Abbott Thayer's granddaughter (portrait artist Jean Reasoner Plunket). Although we had never met, she and I had "co-starred" in the only film on Thayer's life, titled Invisible: Abbott Thayer and the Art of Camouflage. This delightful meeting was arranged by her son, Thayer's great-grandson, John Plunket, with whom we were able to talk extensively.

What a whirlwind trip it was. I am exhausted—if pleasantly so.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Camouflage Artist | Fritz Kleesattel

Vintage ad for Camel cigarettes (1940s)
 Fred Otto Kleesattel, better known as “Fritz” Kleesattel, was an American advertising artist who was born on July 10, 1889, in Cincinnati, Ohio. After studying at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, he worked as a graphic designer in Louisville, Kentucky, where he established a studio called Klee Ad Art.

His most memorable undertaking occurred in 1913, when he was commissioned by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to create the packaging for Camel cigarettes. It was Kleesattel who designed the Camel in the logo. It is said that he also contributed to the design of various labels for Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Heaven Hill Distilleries, and other corporate clients.

After the US entered World War I, Kleesattel enlisted in the American Army and was assigned to the camouflage training unit at Camp Sherman in Ohio. As a camoufleur with the rank of Sergeant, he was an assistant to Indiana-born camouflage artist and patent attorney Joseph Allen Minturn (1861-1943), who later wrote a book about his wartime experiences, titled The American Spirit (1921). In that memoir, Minturn (who mistakenly refers to him as “Kleesatelle”) recalls that Kleesattel was admired in the camp for his “conversion of a conspicuous latrine into a pen of mules,” one of which “had his head, made of painted tin, projecting out between the two top boards in such a natural way that his ears flapped in the wind, and Major Arthur Robinson declared it so fooled his favorite saddle mare that she neighed to it when he rode up one day to get a close view of the penned animals” (p. 97). Later, his and Minturn’s unit served overseas in France.

Kleesattel died in Louisville on January 16, 1965.

Joseph Allen Minturn, The American Spirit. Indianapolis IN: Globe Publishing, 1921.
Anon, “Camel (cigarette)” on Wikipedia at <>.