Saturday, February 13, 2016

Camouflage Artist | Walter L. Tubesing

French camoufleurs armband insignia (not the US version)*
Walter L. Tubesing (1889-1949) was an American artist from St. Paul MN. He is of particular interest because he was among the artists who comprised the first American Army Camouflage Corps during World War I. He began his training (along with 250 others) at Camp American University (Washington DC) in September 1917. While in training there, he was listed as having contributed to issues of The Camoufleur, an illustrated camp newspaper that we've blogged about before.

Their training continued in the US for four months, and then the unit was reassigned to France (landing at Brest). Corporal Tubesing served as a camoufleur in France (Paris, Dijon, Nancy, Chateau Thierry and St. Michiel) for the rest of the war. At Dijon, he and other soldiers worked with French women in producing camouflage netting, and contributed to the camouflage of YMCA tents (see example below), where childcare was available for the French workers. He and his fellow camoufleurs even produced a circus-themed musical show for the French children.

Camouflaged YMCA tent in France, c1918. Public domain.

When his Tubesing’s unit returned to the US in February 1919, he was among those listed in an article in the society pages of the Washington Times (February 9, 1919, p11), which reported on the fundraising activities of the League of American Penwomen. Through the courtesy of the Fortieth Engineers, the article notes, members of “the Camouflage Section will make the posters and decorations” for the organization’s upcoming carnival ball. It also offers this aside—

Men of the camouflage corps are seen on the streets of Washington wearing funny looking yellow lizards on the left shoulder. The lizard is really a chameleon, a “critter” which changes color according to the background on which it is placed. The insignia therefore is significant of their work.

The following is a list of the camouflage artists who contributed to the carnival ball (including our many corrections): "Leslie Thrasher, H. K[err] Eby, A. Bloudheim, H[enry] R. Sutter, A. Rottnere [probably Abraham Rattner], G[eorge] B[radford] Ashworth, Fred[eric] S[eymour] [called Feg] Murray, Robert Laswent [maybe Robert Lawson], Joseph Cox, [Frederic] Earl Christie [Christy], Frank [Francis William] Swain, Don Methvin, Walter Tubesing, Howard [Ashman] Patterson and [William]Twigg Smith."

A month later, Tubesing’s work in camouflage was described at length in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune (March 9, 1919), in an article titled CAMOUFLAGE IN WAR WORK; ARTISTS TOIL AS FOE SHELLS FLY. Corporal Walter Tubesing, Back From the Front; Shatters Several Illusions. Fish Net, Chicken Wire, Burlap and Canvas Important Tools of Workers. A photograph of the artist (not clear enough to publish here) appeared with the article.

The article states that “Mr. Tubesing lives at 714 Ashland Avenue, St. Paul, but is a member of the Attic Club in Minneapolis and has a studio here.” Through other sources, we learned that he was married to Lura Tubesing, and that, in 1940, they lived at 1854 Jefferson Avenue in St. Paul.

In the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (Brainerd MN), on April 4, 1949, page 4, there was news about his death. He died in St. Paul at age 60 on April 1, 1949, in the collision of a car driven by Alvin Hofstedt (age 35), a co-worker in St. Paul, and a Northwestern Railway passenger train, at a grade crossing near Tubesing’s home.

* Image is a detail from Hardy Blechman, DPM: Disruptive Pattern Material: An Encyclopedia of Camouflage (London: DPM, 2004), p. 274.