Saturday, April 19, 2014

Camouflage Artist | Thomas Hart Benton

Benton camouflage kiosk at the National WWI Museum (Kansas City)
Well, maybe it's stretching it slightly to say that American artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) was a camouflage artist, because he didn't actually design ship camouflage during World War I. Nor was he responsible, like so many other artists, for actually applying the paint to the ships. But he was very much involved in ship camouflage while serving in the US Navy, because it was his assignment to travel around the bay at Norfolk VA, and to make visual records of the camouflage designs of any ships that he observed, including those of other countries.

Benton's service as a camouflage artist is being acknowledged, from April 19 through October 12, 2014, by a small kiosk exhibition on the lower level Research Center area at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City MO. The display was initiated by a non-profit organization called the Friends of the Benton Home, and designed by Joe Boeckholt, a Kansas City graphic designer. (By the way, there is an interesting online video tour of the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site.) This year is Benton's 125th birthday anniversary. We were pleased to contribute by providing a few of the image files. The installation looks wonderful, judging from the on-site photographs above. Below on this post is an announcement of the event on the museum website.

In a letter to a friend, here's what Benton had to say about his wartime experience (as quoted in Henry Adams, Thomas Hart Benton: An American Original NY: Knopf, 1989)—

I am now officially listed as [a] "camoufleur" and I have a nice quiet room in Norfolk and an office in which to work. There are two more 'camoufleurs' in the office with me, a photographer and a young would-be artist [possibly Louis Bouché, who had the same assignment]. Twice a week I leave the office at Norfolk with the fellow who takes the photographs. We go on board a 40-foot motor boat and cruise around the bay making sketches and photographs of newly arrived camouflaged ships. The sketches are finished back at the office (the colors of the camouflage are put in) and along with reports giving name, type, tonnage, etc., of each ship are sent to Washington to be filed. This is done so that if the ship should be torpedoed or lost in any way all the facts concerning her appearance etc. can easily be found.

Scans of two of Benton's ship documentation reports (including his colored renderings of ships) are included in the current display.