Monday, July 24, 2017

Scandalous Camouflage Bathing Attire 1919

You may recall earlier posts that included photographs and news reports on scandalous dazzle-camouflaged bathing suits (see below) that began in the UK at the close of World War I, then spread to the US and elsewhere. We've now located an American newspaper cartoon on the same subject (reproduced above). Created by Walter R. Allman as part of his series called DOINGS OF THE DUFFS, it appeared on page 4 of The Palm Beach Post on August 20, 1919. It shows a woman dressed in the same kind of striped bathing suit that had been sighted on the beach.
William Edward Ross, “America’s Pledge to Humanity’s Cause” in The National Magazine. Vol XLVII No 7 (June 1918), p. 326—

The sudden importance of everything attached to ships has resulted in many new devices for their protection, and perhaps no word coined during the present war has sprung into such instant popularity as the term “camouflage.” Born of necessity, its particular appeal to the need of the hour has rendered it extremely expressive. The general definition of “camouflage” is to deceive the enemy through some subterfuge which leads him to believe that what he sees is not what it is. It has proven one of the most valuable adjuncts to present war tactics, as applied to naval and merchant marine disguise. 

The artists assigned to the camouflage work have a well-appointed studio and theatre [which simulate] conditions that the ships will experience on the ocean as portrayed. It is their duty to devise ways and means, as well as do the actual work, to disguise these vessels in such a way that they will be almost indistinguishable.

Records received from the British Government indicate that camouflage is working even more successfully than was believed possible. A recent test was made when a camouflaged British ship was fired at with blank torpedoes, and the submarine captain insisted that he had made the best shots he had ever made, but the men on the camouflaged vessel hardly knew they were being fired at, the shots went so wide of the mark. On another instance, two vessels were passing each other, one camouflaged, the other au natural. One captain figured that their courses were going to meet. He blew his whistle to signal change of course. The first vessel paid no attention to his signals, and he began to notice that the thing was sliding sideways. They passed about a quarter of a mile apart, although the captain would have sworn the camouflaged ship was coming directly toward him. The entire system is simply a matter of physics and optical illusion. It is what the British call the “dazzle system,” and, when several duly camouflaged ships are passing by in Hampton Roads, it resembles nothing so much as a futurist painting—a conglomerate mass of phantom shapes. The use of camouflage and its value as a protective force furnishes an apt paraphrase on a prominent quotation, namely, “The hand which wields the paint brush saves the ship.”

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Pull Together | Maritime Maine Exhibition

Burnell Poole (1918)
Above A new exhibition will open October 7, 2017, at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath ME. On the exhibition web page is a detail of a painting by Burnell Poole (1918) of two dazzle-painted ships, in which the USS Leviathan (in the background) is being escorted by the USS Allen, a destroyer. The exhibit will continue through June 10, 2018.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Camouflage | Organic Inevitability of Abstraction

Hypothetical dazzle camouflage
Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2017) devised by Roy R. Behrens by isolating a single detail from each of various paintings, made by artists from the past (only one artist appears twice).


Margaret Vandenburg, An American in Paris: A Novel. San Francisco CA: Cleis Press, 2001, an excerpt from a fictional conversation between Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway——

"My ambition is to render reality, which is itself a form of autobiography, with unwavering precision," said Picasso.

"How can you say that when your work is often so abstract?" Hemingway asked.

Picasso immediately took offense, "Abstract? Never!"

"But what about your theory about camouflage?" Hemingway insisted. "How the camouflage of each country is different, and how the subtle differences are the signatures of each nationality? And that camouflage itself proves the organic inevitability of modern abstraction?…"


Woody Allen, from his stand-up comedy act—

…I was in Europe many years ago with Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway had just written his first novel, and Gertrude Stein and I read it, and we said that is was a good novel, but not a great one, and that it needed some work, but it could be a fine book. And we laughed over it. Hemingway punched me in the mouth. 

That winter Picasso lived on the Rue d'Barque, and he had just painted a picture of a naked dental hygienist in the middle of the Gobi Desert. Gertrude Stein said it was a good picture, but not a great one, and I said it could be a fine picture. We laughed over it and Hemingway punched me in the mouth. 

Francis Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald came home from their wild new years eve party. It was April. Scott had just written Great Expectations, and Gertrude Stein and I read it, and we said it was a good book, but there was no need to have written it, 'cause Charles Dickens had already written it. We laughed over it, and Hemingway punched me in the mouth. 

That winter we went to Spain to see Manolete fight, and he was... looked to be eighteen, and Gertrude Stein said no, he was nineteen, but that he only looked eighteen, and I said sometimes a boy of eighteen will look nineteen, whereas other times a nineteen year old can easily look eighteen. That's the way it is with a true Spaniard. We laughed over that and Gertrude Stein punched me in the mouth. 

For more on Gertrude Stein, go here>>>

Devising Dazzle Camouflage by Isolating Details 6

Hypothetical dazzle camouflage
Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2017) devised by Roy R. Behrens by isolating details from four areas of a single painting by a famous artist from the past. Can you name the artist?


Steen Eiler Rasmussen, Experiencing Architecture. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1964, p. 94—

But the houses he [Le Corbusier] designed [during the late 1920s] were quite different—an attempt to create a Cubist framework for everyday life. They were color compositions without weight, just as intangible as the camouflage ships [in WWI].

Friday, June 30, 2017

Devising Dazzle Camouflage by Isolating Details 5

Hypothetical dazzle schemes
Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2017) devised by Roy R. Behrens by isolating details from four areas of a single painting by a famous artist from the past. Can you name the artist?


Willa Cather, One of Ours. New York: Knopf, 1922, p. 272—

Over in the Cunard and French docks they saw the first examples of the "camouflage" they had heard so much about; big vessels daubed over in crazy patterns that made the eyes ache, some in black and white, some in soft rainbow colors.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Devising Dazzle Camouflage by Isolating Details 4

Hypothetical dazzle schemes
Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2017) devised by Roy R. Behrens by isolating details from four areas of a single painting by a famous artist from the past. Can you name the artist?


Alfred E. Corebise, Art from the Trenches: America's Uniformed Artists in World War I. College Station: Texas A&M University, 1991, p. 26—

To [American artist and illustrator Ernest] Peixotto's artist eye, the [dazzle-painted] ships that he observed, "brilliantly camouflaged like wasps, queerly striped with black and white, with spots between of yellow, gray-blue, and water-green," or painted with low-visibility colors and "toned like Monet's pictures with spots of pink and green" never failed to fascinate.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Devising Dazzle Camouflage by Isolating Details 3

Hypothetical dazzle schemes
Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2017) devised by Roy R. Behrens by isolating details from four areas of a single painting by a famous artist from the past. Can you name the artist?


Northrup Fry, Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake. University of Toronto Press, 2004—

[In addition to camouflage] Another form of puzzle is provided by the painter who uses darkness as a positive basis and light as a sporadic scattering of it. The Dutch pictures with a candle in the center and the rest of the picture shading off to blackness at the edges are typical of this, and even Rembrandt and Vermeer do the same thing in subtler ways.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Devising Dazzle Camouflage by Isolating Details 2

Hypothetical dazzle schemes
Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2017) devised by Roy R. Behrens by isolating details from four areas of a single painting by a famous artist from the past. Can you name the artist?


A. Newnham, as quoted in H.B. Cott, Adaptive Coloration in Animals. London, Methuen, 1940, p. 330—

I was stretching across to collect a beetle and in withdrawing my hand touched what I took to be the disgusting excrement of a crow. Then to my astonishment I saw it was [not excrement but] a caterpillar half-hanging, half-lying limply down a leaf…[What] struck me was the skill with which the coloring rendered the varying surfaces, the dried section at the top, then the main portion, moist, viscid, soft, and the glistening globule at the end. A skilled artist, working with all the materials at his command, could not have done it better.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Devising Dazzle Camouflage by Isolating Details

Hypothetical dazzle schemes
Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2017) devised by Roy R. Behrens by isolating details from four areas of a single painting by a famous artist from the past. Can you name the artist?


Anon, "Cubism in War" in the New York Tribune, Sunday, September 15, 1918, p. 6—

Baffle painting is the latest development of marine camouflage, the idea being not to make the ship invisible, but to break up all accepted forms of a ship by masses of strong contrasting colors, distorting her appearance so as to destroy her general symmetry and bulk, the result being to keep the U-boats guessing as to whether she is "going or coming." A practical use has been found for cubism, after all.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Cornish Colony Camouflage | National Parks

Cornish Colony Camouflage
In an earlier blog post, we've talked at length about theatrical designer and arts administrator Homer Saint-Gaudens (1880-1958). The son of Augustus Saint-Gaudens (the most famous sculptor of his time) and a distant cousin of Winslow Homer, he was the officer in charge of US army camouflage during World War I. He grew up at his parents' home and studio near Cornish NH, sometimes called the Cornish Colony, which is now part of the National Park System.

As shown above, about two weeks ago, the website of the National Parks Conservation Association featured a blog post by Nicolas Brulliard on the connection to camouflage of the younger Saint-Gaudens, with reference to other Cornish Colony camoufleurs, among them the co-founders of the civilian American Camouflage Corps, sculptor Sherry Edmundson Fry, and muralist Barry Faulkner (who had been Homer Saint-Gaudens' roommate as a freshman at Harvard).

Below is a recent find from the Pictorial Section of the New York Times (Sunday, February 2, 1919). It's a photograph of Homer Saint-Gaudens at the time of his return to the US from Europe.

Homer Saint-Gaudens
For a related but different story about a link between camouflage and the US National Parks, go here for another earlier post.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Camouflage in Sioux City Iowa Tomorrow

Above Don't miss the upcoming public program on HOW CAMOUFLAGE WORKS: The Dazzling Past and Future of Natural and Military Camouflage.

Free and open to the public, it starts at 2:00 pm tomorrow afternoon, Sunday, May 21, 2017, at the Sioux City Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center / Betty Strong Encounter Center. It's an excellent educational facility at 900 Larsen Park Road in Sioux City (Exit 149 off I-29).

Roy R. Behrens, Professor of Art and Distinguished Scholar, teaches graphic design and design history at the University of Northern Iowa. He is internationally-known for his publications about art, design and the history of camouflage. The author of eight books and hundreds of published articles, he has appeared in films and interviews on NOVA, National Public Radio, 99% Invisible, Australian Public Television, BBC and IPTV. His most recent book is Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie (2016).


Stuart Guthrie, Faces in the Clouds. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 49—

…natural selection has produced highly camouflaged and practically invisible animals in every environment. A tawny, countershaded (darker above, lighter below) coyote walking on a tawny Colorado slope, for example, recently disappeared before my eyes merely by pausing and then reappeared simply by walking again.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Fourth of July Camouflage Parade 1918

Dazzle Ship float in NYC parade 1918
Among the vehicles in the 1918 Fourth of July parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City was a truck carrying a large-scale model ship. Adorned in a dazzle camouflage scheme (probably mostly black and white) in a nest of stars and stripes below, it was labeled with a sign that read “Built by Finnish shipbuilders, launched by Foundation Co., Kearny, New Jersey.” (Actually, the spelling is more eccentric than that: "Build by Finnish Ship Builders Launchd by Foundation Co., Kearny NJ.")

We’ve found four photographs of what may be the same parade float. Three of these are moving to the left, and appear to have been taken by the same photographer just moments apart. But the fourth (see colorized version above) is moving toward the right, so it may have been the work of a second photographer, on the opposite side of the street.

Sounds like a reasonable theory, but there are some inconsistencies: In the group of three photographs, the men walking along with the float are wearing fedora hats, but in the single photograph the men are dressed not in fedoras but in straw boater hats. Hmm. Were there two or more ship building floats that day, perhaps in recognition of the different nationalities of the shipbuilders? Or, was there an exchange of hats or escorts? On closer inspection, our best guess is that there were (at least) two different floats that day, largely because two different styles of dazzle designs seem to have been used on the two model ships—although, granted, we can see only the starboard side on one, the port side on the other.

Our versions of these photographs (reproduced below) have been digitally enhanced (dust and scratch removal, contrast adjustments, cropping) from the originals which are available online at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs website at the link below each image.




The fourth photograph (sepia-toned below) is listed as being the same event, on the same day. The source of its original is the National Archive and Records Administration (NARA) website as linked below the image.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Cat's Pajamas Camouflage | Fontana Park in Iowa

Animal Camouflage talk (2017)
Above Opening slides for a talk we gave recently on animal camouflage, titled The Cat's Pajamas, at Fontana Park, a Buchanan County park near Hazelton IA.

We had a delightful time talking about the exotic coloration of pets and wildlife, to the widest age group possible, from preschool to retirement age. It's a beautiful park, with camping, fishing, hiking, picnicking, and an impressive Interpretive Nature Center. During our visit, we watched a thriving family of bison, including one just recently born.

Cat's Pajamas sheet music (c1920s)

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Model of USS Agwidale in Dazzle Camouflage

Above Model of the USS Agwidale, US cargo ship, showing dazzle camouflage scheme (1918). The model is on exhibit at the Mariners' Museum, Newport News VA. Photographed by Mr.TinDoc (2012) and posted online at flickr with some rights reserved.


Anon, from the Bradford Era (Bradford PA) on April 5, 1918—

The staunchest upholders of the academic in art can scarcely carry their opposition to cubism into its new field as a basis for camouflage. It has been evident, for some time, to people living near Atlantic ports, that cubism has been pitched open as the most valuable system of reducing the visibility of ocean liners. The seemingly systemless way in which greens, blues, grays, and pinks are panted on in bands and blocks of color has quite puzzled persons who have gained close views of these ships; but at a distance of a mile, another story is told, for the various masses of color set up a curious and disconcerting dazzling effect. Painting with gray has been largely superseded by the new method, which escapes the silhouette effect that too often betrayed the gray ships.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Dazzle Ships | Chris Barton and Victo Ngai 2017

Cover illustration | Victo Ngai 2017
Above The cover of a wonderful forthcoming book by award-winning children's book author Chris Barton, titled DAZZLE SHIPS: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Milbrook Press, 2017). The illustrator is Victo Ngai, about whom you can find out more at this Science Library Journal post.

The cover is phenomenal, as is the one full-color page spread I've seen (reproduced below). The illustrator is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (my alma mater as well), where she studied illustration. As anyone knows who follows this blog, the RISD Fleet Library is also the location of a collection of the full-color lithographic dazzle ship camouflage plans from WWI (one of only three surviving sets).

Wish you had a copy now? That would be wonderful. Unfortunately, I'm jumping the gun because I couldn't wait to share the news. It won't actually be published until September, but you can pre-order it now.

Page spread from Chris Barton, DAZZLE SHIPS (2017)

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ciara Phillips | Exquisite Dazzle-Camouflaged Ship

Dazzle-camouflaged ship |  Ciara Phillips
This is the centenary span of years that marks the occurrence of World War I, from 1914 to 1919. As early as 2014, various agencies began to provide opportunities for artists and arts organizations (especially in the UK) to revisit the process of applying dazzle camouflage schemes to currently existing ships. We’ve featured quite a few of those on earlier blog posts, including those in London, Liverpool, the Island of Jersey and (in Australia) on Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra. There were others as well.

There is one we haven’t yet mentioned, oddly enough, because it’s easily one of our favorites. It differs from the others, because some of those, although their designs are disruptive, do not have a lot to do with the dazzle camouflage schemes that were used in WWI. Sometimes this may have occurred because the artists commissioned were too intent on being uniquely “creative,” on arriving at something appropriate for our own time period, or on using the opportunity to endorse a pressing social concern.

Actually, there’s no reason why all three of those intentions can’t have been emphasized—and, at the same time, have given priority to a design that was in keeping with the intentions of the WWI camouflage artists. The designs that they produced were not arbitrary confusions, not radical juxtapositions of bits. They were certainly accused of that, but as was explained at the time by American ship camoufleur Everett Longley Warner

…it was precisely when our work was most firmly grounded on the book of Euclid that the uninitiated were the most positive that the ships were being painted haphazard by a group of crazy cubists.

Of the recent centenary ships, the most successful one (I think) was designed by Ciara Phillips, titled Every Woman Dazzle Ship, for the Edinburgh Art Festival (EAF) and 14-18 NOW. There’s an online time lapse video of the painting process, and a brief but informative interview with the artist. By the way, it was of particular interest to learn that one of Phillips’ primary influences was the work of American printmaker and social activist Corita Kent, a favorite artist of ours as well.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mirrored Camouflage Listening Posts in WWI

An apparent problem during World War I was that of trying to conceal an eavesdropper within listening distance of the enemy's position. As we've shown in earlier posts, this was sometimes accomplished by constructing (probably using papier mâché) the convincing likeness of a rotting horse carcass. Hollowed out and equipped with peepholes, it was of sufficient size that a soldier could secretly listen during the day, then return to his unit in darkness.

It is impossible to know how often (if at all) "ye olde dead horse deception" was actually used on the battlefield. The only photographs we've seen were made as demonstrations at camouflage training camps, and distributed to various American news services, for amusing wartime anecdotes. If the method were actually used on the battlefield, it would not be wise to reveal it to the public.

Other devices were also employed, or at least they were tested at camouflage training camps. Reproduced above, for example, is a US Army photograph of three soldiers who were testing a curious listening device that consists of a mirrored sheet mounted on a wooden frame (tilted forward slightly). The irregularly-shaped leafy edge is an attempt to make it fit in better within a natural setting. Because the panel front is mirrored, a distant observer would see a reflected image of the terrain, but not the soldier behind it. It may seem like a brilliant idea, but it can't have been very effective. In this photograph, the three soldiers are positioned so closely together that their own bodies would be partly visible in the mirror of the person behind them.

The National Archives and Records Administration online documentation of this (NARA 55162019 and 55162023) includes an additional photograph (as in before-and-after views). In that image (shown below), we see the enemy's point of view (more or less) and—voila!—there is not a trace of the hidden listeners (well, almost).

This idea was not unprecedented at the time of WWI, and it has since resurfaced frequently, probably independently of its older wartime function. As one of many examples, reproduced below is a patent drawing for a "Reflective Hunting Blind," invented c2008 by Kevin Pottmeyer and Chester Burdette and registered as US Patent 8579007 B2. It is currently available as the GhostBlind Waterfowl Blind.

It consists of four hinged panels, irregularly shaped along the top edge, with peepholes through which a hunter can look. The inner surface is covered with a disruptive camouflage pattern, while the side that faces out (as shown here) is a reflective mirror surface (tilted forward slightly). As a result, the inventors explain—

A game animal looking into the front of the blind from a distance therefore sees only a reflection of the terrain surrounding the blind, thereby making the blind substantially indiscernible from the surrounding terrain and effectively obscuring a hunter…

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

WWI Camouflaged Observation Car

Above Camouflaged World War I US Army staff observation car (c1918). Based on an Ordnance Department photograph now in the collection of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). 165-WW-296A-019. Extracted from original black and white photograph and digitally colorized.


Anon, ‘Soul Study’ Photos for Ugly Folk: Camera Decreases Years and Removes Double Chins for Patrons (reprinted from the New York Sun) in Abel’s Photographic Weekly. Vol 30 No 774, October 21, 1922, pp. 460-462.

I’m satisfied with photography that shows people as they are. I think that’s what it’s for. I never could see that it was any compliment to a photograph to say that it looked like an oil painting.

It isn’t a photograph’s business to be like an oil painting, and a thing that imitates something else is just a joke, with no sincerity or usefulness in it. All that foggy, smokey, posey camouflage that they’ve dragged into photography to make it look like art doesn’t make any impression on me at all. I want a picture of myself as I am or none at all, but if you want one that makes you look like a dying duck in a thunderstorm you’d better go and get it without consulting me. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dazzle-Camouflaged Beverage Can

Above Des Moines-based graphic designer Kenny Miesner (former student of whom we have warm memories) shared with us this image and link to Focus Lab studio's concept (not actually used by the client) of a dazzle-camouflaged beer can. It reminded us of a reviewer's comment when the Chelsea Arts Club Dazzle Ball was held in London in 1919. The writer cautioned that the dazzle-patterned costumes might cause the dancers to collide. No doubt a couple of beers would help.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Game | DazzleShip Battleships

Box cover of Dazzleship Battleships game (2017)
Above Last year we were asked to serve as a consultant (fact-checker on the booklet text) in the development of a new boxed game called Dazzleship Battleships, the cover of which is reproduced here. Produced by Laurence King, it has recently been published. The container cover, the open box and some of its components are shown below.

Among the inside components is a brief illustrated overview of the method and the rationale for World War I ship camouflage, called dazzle-painting.

A spread from the booklet is shown below. Overall, what a wonderful package design. A beautiful object, game or none. Collectors of exquisite graphic design will love it.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Papier Mâché Used in Wartime Camouflage

H.L. Messmore with battlefield dummy (1918)
Above Above is a colorized version of a 1918 photograph of H.L. Messmore, a prominent supplier of components for amusement parks, carnivals and expositions. For example, he contributed to the Panama Exposition in San Francisco, the Chicago World’s Fair, the Golden Gate Exposition and the New York World’s Fair. He was a partner in Messmore and Damon, which his brother George established in 1914. It was H.L. who built the Electric Park in Detroit in 1907, and also served as manager of Luna Park at Coney Island.

During World War I, H.L. Messmore appears to have shared with the army his expertise in making papier mâché and plaster figures. In this photograph, he is inspecting an unpainted dummy of a soldier, to which he is about to add sculpted binoculars. The caption on the black and white photograph (which is available online at the National Archives and Records Administration website) states that “after use in this country in the Liberty Loan Campaign, [it] will be placed in a trench in France as a dummy target.”

In earlier posts, we’ve talked about such uses of plaster and papier mâche dummies during WWI. Since horse carcasses were a common feature at the front, hollowed-out dummy horses might be used as observation posts. An instructional example (in this case, it appears to be a clay model) is shown below, both front and back, including the rough-hewn shape of a soldier inside.

Spurious Horse Carcass (c1918)
When I was an art student in the 1960s, I thought papier mâché was a non-durable technique used only by hobbyists and amateurs. But I learned from one of my painting teachers that it was highly durable and had been used very seriously in building all sorts of astonishing things. In particular, he showed me a functional lute that he had made using papier mâché. I was amazed, since it looked and felt identical to a lute made out of wood. He also built highly detailed, elaborate marionettes from the same materials.

Arthur B. Jensen's book (1919)
During WWI, one of the people who made an effort to extend the use of papier mâché for military purposes was a man named Arthur B. Jensen (1899-1987), who was Danish-born (apparently) and lived in the vicinity of Rockford IL. While serving in the US Army Reserves, he was the senior instructor in the Camouflage Department of the Blackhawk Division, which was initially stationed at Camp Grant IL, near Rockford. At the end of the war, he published a book on the use of plaster and papier mâché for modeling, titled Jensen System of Modeling: Employing the Superskill Modeling Device (1919). As he explains and illustrates, while stationed at Camp Grant, he and other soldiers made a 25-foot high statue of Blackhawk (the Native American leader), constructed of waterproofed plaster and papier mâché. Reproduced below is the title spread of Jensen’s book, and a photograph of the statue he made.

Papier mache statue of Blackhawk (c1918)

The following is an excerpt from Jensen’s book (pp. 3-4)—

Plaste papier modeling has a glorious past. The US Army used this method in the World War for making dummies to attract enemy fire and so learn their location, and in many other ways. In several instances, a dead horse lying on No-Man's Land near the enemy trench was replaced by a good duplicate made in plaste papier, and the observer would crawl into the paper horse before dawn each day and observe the enemy's action all day at close range. Great guns were imitated in this material and placed in the vicinity of real guns that were carefully concealed through camouflage. The Boche [German] observers sent out to discover the location of the real batteries that were doing the havoc to the enemy would discover the paper guns only, and so the enemy artillery would train their fire on the dummy batteries and allow the real guns to continue their fire without being molested. The real guns were concealed by having their outlines painted out by means of broken forms of various colors painted all over the guns, and also covering the guns with foliage. A great statue of Blackhawk, 25 feet high,was modeled in this material and waterproofed, just before the Blackhawk Division left Camp Grant IL, for France in July 1918. This work was done by the Blackhawk Division's Camouflage Department, of which the writer was a member. It still stands, after these many months, defying the elements; the winds and rains and snows could not destroy it; and it still looks as permanent as though carved out of solid rock.

[Added March 22, 2017] Since our original post of this page, we've discovered a related article in the March 1920 issue of Boy's Life magazine, titled "The Use of Plaste Papier in the War" (p. 55), including the following excerpt—

Plaste papier is really nothing more than wrapping paper dipped in plaste, which makes it plastic and pliable while the artist is modeling with it, and very hard and rigid after it dries.  It was very light, being modeled as a hollow shell, and so could be carried about near the fornt line trenches easily.

To make this substance even more easily handled, Lieutenant A[rthur] B. Jensen has invented a superskill modeling device, which consists of aluminum strips which describe the important lines of the head, neck and shoulders of a man and woman. This device enables anyone to secure the correct lines and proportions of the head, without interfering in the slightest with the modeler's originality. On the same frame one can model the head of President Wilson, a portrait of himself, the bust of Venus de Milo, or any other subject.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

David Linneweh | Compositional Camouflage

Configuration (Rockford) © David Linneweh 2013 •
Above A long-time friend, Joseph Podlesnik (artist, photographer, filmmaker, teacher), recently introduced me to the work of artist David Linneweh. I was especially struck by this particular painting, titled Configuration (Rockford), 24 x 36 in., oil and graphite on panel (2013). It is so very exactly composed and beautifully executed. It's just also very smart in the ways in which it taunts us with suggested (yet withheld) connections. In every inch of its surface, one encounters an on-going battle between flat graphic abstraction and the illusion of three-dimensional form. This is not cubism, but it has much in common with that, as it does with World War I ship camouflage.

In looking at this painting, I am reminded of Wylie Sypher's account (see Rococco to Cubism in Art and Literature) of the constructive-destructive strategies of the cubist designers and painters. These include (as Sypher wrote)—

…a breaking of contours, the passage, so that form merges with the space about it or with other forms, planes or tones that bleed into other planes and tones; outlines that coincide with other outlines, then suddenly reappear in new relations; surfaces that simultaneously recede and advance in relation to other surfaces; parts of objects shifted away, displaced, or changed in tone until forms disappear behind themselves.

Linneweh teaches at the College of Dupage (Glen Ellyn IL), and the College of Lake County (Grayslake IL). He appears to be prolific, as judged by his website, online portfolio, and an interesting series of podcasts called Studio Break. His efforts are well-deserving of an extended, serious look.

• Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Camouflage Artist | Anne Lemanski

Camoufleur © Anne Lemanski 2014
Above In recent days, we've been fortunate to run across the innovative sculpture of Anne Lemanski, an American artist whose representations of animals are in part derived from her knowledge of protective coloration in nature, aka animal camouflage.

Abbott Thayer would be delighted.

The piece shown here is Camoufleur (2014), and is made with vintage paper, epoxy, wood, etc. It measures 15.5 x 15 x 8.5 inches. There are many other works by her that are equally astonishing, as can be viewed on her website. See Ocelot (2016) and Tiger Target (2016) below.

All works copyright © Anne Lemanski. Reproduced with her permission.

Ocelot © Anne Lemanski 2026

Tiger Target © Anne Lemanski 2016

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Smithsonian | World War I Ship Camouflage

Smithsonian article on WWI ship camouflage
Above and below World War I government photographs of two of the women camoufleurs, called Yeomen (F) to distinguish them from men, who served in the US Naval Reserve with the Design Subsection of the navy's Camouflage Section. In an attempt to find opportunities for women to participate meaningfully in the war, a small number were allowed to work on ship camouflage.

As shown here, women were only responsible for assembling small wooden ship models, on which camouflage schemes were painted by men, for testing in a periscope-equipped observation theatre. Only the men were allowed to design the actual schemes. Shown here are colorized versions of public domain black and white news photographs (c1918) in the collection of the National Archives and Records Administration.


Linda Rodriquez McRobbie, from an excellent, detailed article on WWI dazzle ship camouflage online at

…In order for a U-boat gunner to fire and hit his target from as far as 1,900 meters away (and not closer than 300 meters, as torpedoes required at least that much running distance to arm), he had to accurately predict where the target would be based on informed guesses. Compounding the difficulty was the fact that he had typically less than 30 seconds to sight the target ship through the periscope, or risk the periscope’s wake being seen and giving away the submarine’s location. Typical U-boats could only carry 12 very expensive and very slow torpedoes at a time, so the gunner had to get it right the first time.

“If you’re hunting for ducks, right, all you have to do is lead the target and it’s a simple process. But if you’re a submarine aiming at a ship, you have to calculate how fast a ship is going, where is it going, and aim the torpedo so that they both get to the same spot at the same time,” says Roy R. Behrens, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa, author of several books on dazzle camouflage and the writer behind the camouflage resource blog Camoupedia

Wilkinson’s idea was to “dazzle” the gunner so that he would either be unable to take the shot with any confidence or spoil it if he did. “Wilkinson said you had to only be 8 to 10 degrees off for the torpedo to miss. And even if it were hit, if [the torpedo] didn’t hit the most vital part, that would be better than being hit directly.”… more>>>

WWI American woman camoufleur

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Camouflage Fashion | Swimsuits, Stripes & Headgear

Dazzle-Painted Bathing Suit (1919) [colorized]
Above This is a young, fashionable sun bather at the beach at Margate in 1919, dressed in a scandalous dazzle-painted bathing suit. The fad was enormously popular—it went viral at the time—and widely covered in the press. We've talked about this in earlier posts, the only difference being that this is our colorized version of one of the news photos.


Anon, "Camouflage Finds Use in Fashions" in The Coshocton Tribune (Coshocton OH) (April 15, 1920), p. 7—

LONDON—The artists who decorated our recently almost invisible ships and who hid the armies of the western front behind and under painted canvas and "ersatz" villages are out of a job.

Hence the Spring millinery styles.

The dazzle hat has arrived, and with it a game.

Says one fashion writer:

"If you see coming toward you a woman who in some unaccountable way seems to melt into a sort of rainbow mass above the shoulders, don't be alarmed; try to find her hat."

To the uninitiated the new Spring designs seem to be meaningless collections of colored stripes and zig-zags. Some are even more like forked lightning.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

US Camouflage Artists Preparing Ships for Testing

US Ship Camouflage Artists (1918) [colorized]
Above Our unfinished colorization of a World War I US Navy photograph, an original of which is in the collection of the National Archives and Record Service (No 165-WW-70C-001). It is described as having been received from the Navy Department, Bureau of Construction and Repair, on July 12, 1918, but there is no indication of when it was actually taken.

In this photograph, four ship camouflage artists are applying dazzle camouflage schemes to various sizes and types of wooden ship models. When completed, the models were stored on the shelves on the back wall. We now know the identities of these four artists, all of whom had been career artists in civilian life. They are (left to right) John Gregory, Gordon Stevenson, Frederick Judd Waugh, and Manley Kercheval Nash.


Haldane Macfall [reviewing a London exhibition of paintings by John Everett of WWI camouflaged ships], "The Dazzle-Painter" in Land and Water (February 6, 1919), p. 31—

Now, whilst the guns, for instance, on land were best fogged from observation by camouflage, this problem was not quite so easy for the sea-folk. The sea-gong camouflage artist had to wash out all land laws and discover the whole business anew. First of all, the main object of true camouflage, invisibility, had to go by the board. The light made invisibility pretty questionable: a light sky behind any ship converts it into a solid silhouette. The painter soon found this out; but his endeavor discovered to him a fact almost as important, and on that fact the camouflaging of ships was largely developed. Nothing could reveal this to the landsman better than the art of John Everett in these paintings, in which he has displayed the beauty that camouflage wrought upon modern shipping in an age that we are wont to look upon as lacking in color and romance. The fact may perhaps be most simply stated somewhat thus: The painting of a ship upon the sea in stripes, or violently contrasted masses employed by skill, curiously enough makes it prodigiously difficult to make out her movement and intention of movement, to make out exactly how she is steering. As Lieutenant [Jan] Gordon neatly puts it, "Dazzle-painting attains its object, not by eluding the submarine by invisibility, but by confusing his judgment." It perplexes the submarine as to the ship's course, its range, and its size. Everett has deliberately treated these dazzle-painted ships with realism and set down his impressions without qualification; and the result is a convincingness that is untainted by any suggestion of trickery or special pleading.


Below Following completion of the dazzle painted ship models, each was carefully tested in an observation theatre, which simulated its appearance through a periscope at sea against different backgrounds, varied lighting , and in various weather conditions). Shown here are two camouflage artists from the same Navy unit, in the process of testing the models. The person at the periscope is architect Harold Van Buskirk, executive officer in charge of the two camouflage subsections (the one shown here was in Washington DC; the other at Eastman Laboratories in Rochester NY). Standing beside him is Kenneth MacIntire, an artist who headed the workshop in which the wooden models were made.

Ship Model Testing Theatre (1918) [colorized]
For more information on American and British WWI ship camouflage (both detailed text and images), see James Taylor's recent book on DAZZLE: Disguise and Disruption in War and Art (2016).

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bedlam Abounds | Shipshapeliness and Camouflage

USS West Bridge in dazzle camouflage
Above Photograph of the USS West Bridge, as photographed on May 25, 1918, with a dazzle camouflage scheme applied. This is a digitally colorized version, and does not literally represent the colors applied to the actual ship. The public domain photograph on which this rendering is based is in the collection of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NH 65098-A).


Lewis Ransome Freeman [describing a dazzle-camouflaged ship], Sea Hounds. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1919, pp. 112-113—

The fantastic pile of multi-colored slabs blotting out a broken patch of sky above the seaward end of the estuary, if it had been on land, might have been anything from a row of hangars, viewed in slant perspective, to the scaffolding of a scenic railway, or a "Goblin's Castle" in Luna Park…Distorted by the camouflage, the tumbled mass of jumbled colors continued to loom in jagged indefinitiveness as we closed in from astern, and it was only when we had come up well abreast of it that the parts settled down into "ship-shapeliness," and the silhouette of perhaps the most famous of the world's great steamers [USS Lymptania] sharpened against the sunlit afternoon clouds.


Below Digitally colorized version of a black and white news photograph of two members of the Design Subsection of the US Navy's marine camouflage unit near the end of World War I. On the right is Lieutenant Harold Van Buskirk, who was the officer in charge of two teams of artists and scientists (in Washington DC and at Eastman Kodak in Rochester NY, respectively) who designed ship camouflage plans.

US Camoufleurs R.J. Richardson and Harold Van Buskirk

On the left is Raymond J. Richardson, in charge of the drafting room, who had studied camouflage earlier in New York with muralist William Andrew Mackay. Van Buskirk is holding the drawn-up camouflage plans for a certain vessel, a camouflage-painted model of which is being held by Richardson. If the painted model passed the observation tests, the drawing was sent to the US Geological Survey and reproduced in multiples as colored lithographs. These printed plans were then sent out to District Camoufleurs at eleven coastal shipyards throughout the country, for use in applying the schemes to the ships. Nearly 500 different plans were drawn up, colored and printed, of which three complete or partial sets are known to have survived. One of those sets is at the Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design, while another is at the National Archives and Records Administration.