Monday, June 23, 2014

Camouflage Artist | Milwaukee's Eric Gugler

Eric Gugler (c1918), structural deception ploys
Above Eric Gugler, three-stage diagram for a World War I ship camouflage proposal (c1918) in which actual structural changes are made to the height and positioning of a ship's masts, smoke stacks, and other features in order to throw off the course calculations of U-boat gunners.

Comparable diagrams were initially made public in an article by Robert G. Skerrett, "How We Put It Over on the Periscope," in The Rudder. Vol 35 Nos 3 and 4, March and April 1919, pp. 97-102 and 175-179 (recently reprinted in our SHIP SHAPE: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook as "Hoodwinking the Periscope" (pp. 122-151)). The diagram shown here was published in Albert Roskam, Dazzle Painting: Kunst Als Camouflage: Camouflage Als Kunst (Netherlands: Stichting Kunstprojecten en Uitgevergij Spijik, 1987), which attributes it to the National Archives, but the style suggests the possibility that it may have been redrawn.


Gugler is a prominent name in the printing industry in Milwaukee WI. It begins with a German-born engraver named Henry Gugler, Sr (1816-1880), who came to the US in 1853. During the Civil War, he was an important engraver for the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington DC, producing, among other famous works, a life-sized steel engraving of Abraham Lincoln. In the 1870s, he moved to Milwaukee and became a partner with his son Julius Gugler (1848-1919) in the H. Gugler & Son Lithographing Company.

According to certain sources, Julius Gugler was a poet as well as a printer. Among other art-inclined family members were his daughter Frida Gugler (1874-1966), a painter who had studied with William Merrit Chase, and her younger brother, Eric Gugler (1889-1974), who achieved considerable success as a muralist, sculptor, interior designer and architect.

Notably, in the early 1930s, Eric Gugler worked closely with FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt in the expansion, replanning and redesign of the West Wing of the White House, including the current Oval Office. He designed the Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial (with sculptor Paul Manship), the FDR Memorial, a memorial to Eleanor Roosevelt at the United Nations, the Harvey Firestone Memorial in Akron OH, the World War II Memorial at Anzio Beach in Italy, a memorial for the Mayo Brothers in Rochester MN, and several buildings on the campus of Wabash College in Crawfordsville IN. He was also involved in the design of Arthurdale WV, the first New Deal federal subsistence housing project (c1933).

Unfortunately, almost no one is aware that he was also an early participant in the development of ship camouflage during World War I. That (and the efforts of other artists) was alluded to in a brief article in the Milwaukee Journal (December 9, 1918), which reported on a talk that week at the Rotary Club by the director of the Milwaukee Art Institute, Dudley Crafts Watson (guardian of Orson Welles). "The coming of war helped American art in an amazing manner," Watson claimed. "When the war broke out, it was a great problem what American artists would do to help win the war. The answer was found in the tremendous help given the country in their work in getting out effective Liberty Loan and other posters as well as in the camouflage departments of both army and navy."

Milwaukee-born architect and WW1 camoufleur Eric Gugler

As an aspiring artist-architect, Gugler studied at The Armour Institute (now the Illinois Institute of Technology) and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, then also earned a BA degree at Columbia University in 1911. For three years, before the war began, he also studied at the American Academy in Rome. Subsequently, he set up an architectural office in New York. In the 1930s, he married Broadway actress and dancer Anne Tonetti, who had been a protegé of Isadora Duncan.

So far, we haven't been able to find very much about his involvement in camouflage. We do know that he attended the "camouflage school" that was set up by muralist William Andrew Mackay, who, like Gugler, presumably also admired Theodore Roosevelt. And we also know that he was particularly interested in the use of perspective distortions (as in the diagrams shown above).