Saturday, November 14, 2015

Camouflage Artists | Kimon Nicolaides and Mark Reed

WWI British camouflaged artillery
In a blog post several years ago, we mentioned that American artist and teacher Kimon Nicolaides (1891-1938), primarily known as the author of a famous drawing textbook, The Natural Way to Draw (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941), was also an American Army camoufleur during World War I. He taught what is commonly called "contour drawing." More recently, we've run across a newspaper article by Amy MacMaster, titled HE BECAME AN ARTIST IN SPITE OF OPPOSITION, from the Brooklyn Eagle Magazine (Sunday, March 23, 1930), which includes a substantial discussion of his service as a camoufleur.

Nicolaides' father was a Greek importer; his mother was Irish. According to the article—

To the Greek side of him may, no doubt, be ascribed his artistic inclinations; to the Irish side, his great love of boxing.

Despite his father's objections, he ended up studying art at the National Academy of Design, the Corcoran School, the Philadelphia Academy, and the NYC Art Students' League. Interestingly, he showed his early drawings to comic artist Winsor McCay at the New York World, who found him a position at a vaudeville booking company. Soon after came World War I, which the article recalls in the following way—

When the war came, he enlisted, in spite of his strong opposition to war. He applied for admission to the Aviation Corps, but heard of the forming of the Camouflage Corps, and went into that. He covered three-inch guns to protect them from airplane observation.

He was sent to France and connected with the Field Artillery. He spent much time in one small town, Bar-sur-Aube, on the River Aube, and came to love the French country scenes. 

An important part of the work of the Camouflage Corps was in teaching the American soldiers and officers the importance of simple camouflage maneuvers. For example, the making of paths on green fields meant the drawings of white lines for the eye of the aviator; the desisting from the making of paths amounted to camouflage.

Mr. Nicolaides, as a private, was put in charge of the camouflage disciplining of a whole battery. As the word camouflage acquired a frivolous connotation early in the war, however, his task was not an easy one.

The article goes on to say that Nicolaides became friends with an American architect and playwright named Mark Reed (1890-1969), most likely while still in France, since both served in the Camouflage Corps. Returning to the US after the war, Nicolaides and Reed "rode the rails" in search of adventure. Originally intended as a cross-country (even worldwide) excursion, it was short-lived because of Reed's sudden, surprising success as a New York playwright.

Originally from Chelmsford MA, Reed had played football at Dartmouth, studied architecture at MIT, then took up playwrighting at Harvard. For a time, he was even the editor of the Women's Journal, a major women's rights periodical.

While researching Reed's camouflage service, we came across an online article about his wife, Virginia Reed (née Virginia Belding), a one-time prominent model (as a model for advertising artists, she had posed for Maud Humphrey (mother of actor Humphrey Bogart), James Montgomery Flagg, Arthur William Brown, and others). Titled THE LADY ON THE SIXTH FLOOR, the article was written by Edward Bliss for the Lifestyle Section of the Washington Post (January 22, 1995). According to the article—

He [Mark Reed] had written only one play before America's entry in the First World War. He enlisted in the Army, which, hearing he had painted scenery for plays, sent him overseas to design camouflage for its big guns.

Virginia (Belding) Reed was born in Des Moines IA, but grew up in Manhattan. She and Mark Reed were married about 1940. The article tells the story of how their marriage came about, at a time when he was living in New York while she was in Florida. She recalls—

He sent me a telegram saying, "Meet me at the high school in Clinton." That's Clinton, Iowa!…He'd never been to Clinton, and neither had I.…trying to choose a place to meet, he just poked the road map and hit Clinton. He knew it had a high school, every town did—and picked it as a place to meet.

So she drove to the Clinton IA high school from Florida—

…in my ramshackle Chevy…and he drove up in his Buick.…We were married in Dubuque. We found the courthouse, and a judge married us with two janitors as our witnesses.

They were happily married for 29 years.