Saturday, March 17, 2018

Sims' Circus | Checkerboards Meet Harlequins

Cover illustration by Gayle Porter Hoskins (1919)
Above Cover, The Ladies Home Journal (March 1919), with a stunning illustration by American artist Gayle Porter Hoskins (1887-1962). It depicts the dazzle-painted RMS Mauretania arriving in New York with the first returning American troops on December 1, 1918. It is evident why this checkerboard style of camouflage (mostly employed by the British) was compared to a harlequin's outfit. Public domain image.


Herman Whitaker, SIMS' CIRCUS: A Cruise with Our Destroyers Over There in The Independent (June 1, 1918), pp. 358-359—

From the train window approaching the base I obtained my first view of "Sims' circus" [in reference to its commander, US Admiral William Sims], as the flotilla had been named by the irreverent ensign…

…A convoy was ready to sail, a dozen or so of our destroyers were to be seen nestling like speckled chickens under the wings of the mother repair ships.

I said "speckled." It is, however, too weak a term for the "dazzle" paint with which they were bedaubed. No wonder the irreverent ensign dubbed them "brick-yards."

Barred, striped, blotched, smudged, ring straked with vivid pinks, arsenic greens, blowsy reds, violent blues, they looked like—like nothing in the world unless it be that most poisonous of drinks, a 'Frisco pousse cafe. All of the giraffes, zebras, leopards and tigers ever assembled in the "World's Greatest Aggregation" exhibit conventional patterns in comparison with this destroyer camouflage. The exception to this blazing color scheme, a recent arrival from home, looked in her dull lead paint like a Puritan maiden that had fallen by accident into a blowsy company of painted Jezebels.

The object of this wanton display is, of course, to fool Fritz of the submarines. That is might do so by hurting his eyes or the shock of his artistic sensibilities none would deny; but I found it hard to believe that these rainbow colors make a difference in visibility. Yet they do. Whereas, at sea the following day, the "Puritan maiden" showed a clear black outline at four miles with every spar clearly defined, the "Jezebels" presented at the same distance a blurred, wavering mass of color. It was difficult to tell bow from stern or judge their direction. They presented about as fair a target as a darting hummingbird.

Hypothetical dazzle schemes © Roy R. Behrens 2018

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Perils of Painting a Camouflaged Ship

Hypothetical dazzle schemes (2018)
Above and below. These are not historic ship camouflage schemes. They are hypothetical dazzle designs, produced by simply "looking through" cut-out silhouettes of ships, with various public domain photographs behind them. Produced by Roy R. Behrens (2018).


Unsigned, THE WHY AND HOW OF DAZZLE. Daily News (Perth, Western Australia). May 19, 1919, p. 4. Reprinted from the Christian Science Monitor

They certainly did look strange, those ships; patched and lined, like grandmother’s crazy quilt with broad black, white and blue bands and stripes, gray, green, and almost every color save the mythical sky-blue-pink.

Passengers on the ferries lined the rails and made many and varied comments on their strange appearance.

“You see,” said one Solomon to his unwise friend, “that camouflage’ is a great thing all right! Yes, sir, that ship there when she gits to sea will just go plumb out of sight, Pop! You don’t see her at all when she gets to sea, so the Dutchmen can’t shoot her with their periscopes.”

“Seems to me,” said his friend rather doubtfully, “that I can see her better than that gray one over there.”

“Pshaw! That’s because you aren’t in a submarine. When she gets to sea, she blends right in with the waves and matches right-on to ‘em.”

The two in conversation did not know that the dirty overalled man with jointed fishing pole and roll of plans standing near by, an amused listener to the conversation, had just finishing applying a crazy quite design to the steamer in question, and knew that the reason for the lines and patterns was not by any means to hide the ship from the submarine observer.

Early in the war, when the German were sinking everything in sight, stern necessity, ever the mother of invention, evolved many systems of marine camouflage. Several Americans—Mackay, Brush, Herzog and Toch—had systems which were called by naval men “low visibility,” the object imitating the water and sky. This was in some degree successful under certain conditions; indeed in some weathers the ship so painted would disappear at a distance of a mile. But for one thing, this low visibility would have been a great success.

This thing was the same machine set in a shell of a submarine called the “skin hydrophone,” a very delicate and accurate device for detecting the sounds of a ship’s propeller. A ship could be discovered long before she could be seen from the low elevation of a periscope, and her course fairly accurately determined. That is, accurately enough to tell if she were coming toward or going away from the listener. Also, under certain conditions, it could be told if she were going to the right or left.

Such an instrument disposed once and for all of low visibility as an absolute protection, and it remained for an English artist, Norman Wilkinson, Command, Royal Navy, to invent a new and effective way of combating the submarine peril.

Broadly stated, his method of camouflage was a distortion, an optical illusion based on varied elements of perspective and drawing. Ships painted in this manner seemed to be sailing an entirely different course from the one they really followed, much to the confusion of the submarine observer.

Some people seem to think that to sink a ship a submarine has only to sight it. This is hardly the case. Quite complicated computation of the vessel’s distance, speed, and course are necessary together with wind, current, and temperature of the water; and a good many ships were missed only by a few feet, but still missed, and a miss was as good as a thousand miles.

That was the problem for the camoufleurs, when the United States entered the war [in 1917]. The Royal Navy sent Wilkinson across the Atlantic to impart his method. Early last year a Boston advertising man, Henry C. Grover, was engaged by the [Emergency Fleet Corporation] Shipping Board to organize a department of camouflage for all our immense merchant marine which was to be built. The thing was absolutely new and untried, but he got a group of artists and draftsmen together, and with his usual genius for getting results, the thing was humming in a month.

Painting a ship is very simple—theoretically—just take a brush and painting and “go to it”—just like that. Of course we had a plan, a design furnished by the Navy Department, which showed a view of the two sides of the ship (the sides were different, by the way), and a husky gang of painters, but ship painting is different from painting a house; much larger, oh vastly.

Hypothetical dazzle schemes (2018)

When we first stood under the bows of a newly launched tank steamer and looked up at her, she was an appalling thing to a novice. Thirty-five feet out of water the bow towered, a sheer wall of steel, flaring outward at the top to make it doubly difficult. On that curving rampart we had to make accurate lines in curves, and beautiful parabolas (I think that is the word). At any rate, I would have given the old family clock and all my loose change just that minute for a pair of foot warmers.

It wasn’t so bad after we started, though the first ship was far from a model. Slinging stages over the bow, we put two painters on them with poles and chalk, and by gestures and megaphoned instructions from the wharf had them spot in points on the curves and connect them.

It is quite impossible, unless one is highly experienced, to draw these curves and lines when standing close to the ship. One needs to be 100 feet away properly to judge the proportion; and the effectiveness of the design depends largely on its accuracy. Later we learned to use a mirror, flashing the spots on the side one after the other along the course of a curve, and stretching a long chalk line from the straights snapped by a man in the center. Sometimes we used long “battens,” strips of thin board, bending them to the proper curves, and a 20-foot fish pole with a brush on the tip helped to strike in the more complicated forms. Strange as it may seem, the hardest forms to apply to a ship are long parallel straight lines which converge to points near bow or stern. For some reason we never could seem to get the angles just right.

It was no place for a dainty man, when worked on the floats alongside, for a rain of things descended on us. Bolts, hot rivets, scraps of iron, and heavier things like lumps of wood and heavy pieces of rope, when working in the shipyards, come down at unexpected intervals. No use yelling up at the man on the deck to be careful—with 500 men hammering and drilling and reaming, conversation is at a discount. You can only dodge and grin cheerfully at the painters.

Then again tugs and steamers have a way of pulling a heavy wash into the slips when one is on a high staging 12 feet or so above the water. The float rocks violently without the slightest warning, and if you have fallen overboard at the first roll you drop on hands and knees and grip until the float is fairly still again. When this is past, and you are congratulating yourself, some enthusiastic painter tips over his pail of dark blue, or whatever colors he happens to be using, directly above you, perhaps, or the cook happens to think of some refuse that needs disposing of, and then there are holes in the side of the ship where water—hot or cold—pops out without warning. A camoufleur is not a camoufleur unless he falls overboard regularly once a week.

Still, it was a great game while it lasted, taken with the interesting experimental work on little models in a mechanical theatre with a sea foreground and a painted strip to imitate sky—this in the intervals of ship-painting. The dazzle painted ships are now fast disappearing under their peace coasts of gray. May they never again need the services of American camoufleurs.

detailed information sources

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Camoufleur F.M. Watson Has Now Been Identified

US Ship Camoufleur Frank M. Watson (1928)
As explained in a couple of earlier posts, for years we have been trying to find the full name and identity of a World War I ship camouflage designer, nearly always cited as F.M. Watson, Chief Painter at the Norfolk Navy Yard.

At last, through the research efforts of Cathy Hyman of South Carolina, we have finally found our man. He was Frank Morris Watson, Sr. (1879-1966), from Portsmouth VA. Here is more about his life—

Frank Morris Watson, Sr. was born in Philadelphia PA on October 21, 1879 [in an earlier version of this posting, we listed his birth year as 1880, but it now appears to have been a year earlier). In the census for 1910, he listed his occupation as "house painter," but during World War I (possibly earlier), he was employed as Master Painter at the Norfolk Navy Yard in Portsmouth VA. He listed the same occupation in 1941 or 1942, when he was 61 years old.

In the March 22, 1928, issue of The Times Herald (Port Huron MI), he was featured in a photograph (as shown above), holding an artist’s palette and mahlstick, standing beside a life-sized, full-figure painting of Christ. The caption below the photograph reads—

Thirteen weeks of painting in his spare time resulted in this nine-foot painting of Jesus Christ by Frank M. Watson, of Portsmouth, Va. Watson is shown with the painting which he presented to a Portsmouth church. He is not a professional painter (p. 11).

A decade earlier, while employed at the Norfolk Navy Yard, he designed a number of posters, fourteen of which have survived (although badly faded) and are posted on the website of the North Carolina Digital Collections. It appears they were used for the purpose of raising funds for the war through Liberty Loan subscriptions from Navy Yard employees. They are signed F.M.W. Navy Yard Norfolk VA.

In US Navy history, Frank M. Watson (who, until recently, had not been clearly identified and was cited in government records as “Watson”) was known only as the designer of what was commonly called the Watson-Norfolk System for ship camouflage (c1917). It consisted of two distinctly different patterns, one for each side of the ship. For a trial period, these were applied to two American ships, the USS Anniston (formerly the USS Montgomery), and the USS Nebraska.

Watson-Norfolk System (two sides of same ship)

There are no full-color photographs of these ships (color photography, as we know it, had not yet been perfected), but there are detailed black and white photographs that show why Watson’s camouflage plans were among the most unusual. They are made of boldly-colored zigzag shapes (on the port side) and abstract rainbow patterns (on the starboard), both of which make use of perspective illusions. Watson’s scheme plan was approved for use on merchant ships (along with five other proposals) but was soon replaced by another approach.

Additional photographs of ships that have been painted with the Watson-Norfolk camouflage plan are reproduced below, as is the gravestone of Frank M. and Gertrude A. Watson, at Greenlawn Memorial Gardens, Chesapeake City, VA.

He died in Portsmouth VA on April 28, 1966.

Note A slightly different version of this text has been provided to

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Inept Portrayals of Camouflage from World War I

Charles de Lacy (1919)
We ran across these recently. They are two illustrations from John S. Margerison, Our Wonderful Navy: The Story of the Sure Shield in Peace and War. London: Cassell and Co, Ltd (1919). The illustrations are the work of a British marine painter, probably not a camoufleur, named Charles John de Lacy (1856-1929). The one above is dramatically cropped, since the original image was twice as wide, spanning a two-page spread, with some of it lost in the binding. This is by far the better half. It shows a dazzle-painted American troopship being escorted by a convoy, but the dazzle pattern on the troop ship is absurdly simple-minded. Even more symmetrical,  redundant and predictable are the dazzle designs on what are said to be minesweepers in the illustration shown below. In both, the dazzle pattern is hardly confusing. Instead of obscuring the vessels' shapes, it articulates their physical form, making them even more readable. Interesting images, nevertheless.

Charles de Lacy (1919)

detailed information

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Camouflage Artists | The Kearton Brothers

The Keartons' stuffed cow decoy
One of our favorite websites, hands down, is that of The Public Domain Review. Once there, perhaps our favorite essay (and one that's especially pertinent to our camouflage blog) is John Bevis' account of two turn-of-the-century wildlife photographers, the Kearton brothers. Titled Stuffed Ox, Dummy Tree, Artificial Rock: Deception the Work of Richard and Cherry Kearton, the essay describes and illustrates the ingenious attempts of these British pranksters to cleverly conceal themselves, in order to take candid photographs of animals in their natural habitat. They then published the results in several books (all of which are in public domain and available online). Bevis (author of the essay) has himself published a book about these phenomenal, pioneering naturalists, titled The Keartons: Inventing Nature Photography (Uniformbooks, 2016).

Above are two of their photographs, showing two views of one of their inventions, a stuffed ox, (in Bevis' words)—

a hide realistically shaped over a padded frame, whose interior was just sufficiently capacious for both camera, mounted in the brisket and focusing through a hole in the hide, and photographer, bent into an excruciatingly uncomfortable posture…The stuffed ox enjoyed a brilliant but brief working life, being retired damaged at the end of the 1900 season after being blown over with Cherry [Kearton] inside.

But there's more—much more—such as a stuffed sheep, a large artificial rock, a spurious hollow tree trunk, a mask that shields the photographer's face, and a phony rubbish heap. Anyone familiar with various wartime camouflage tricks (see for example the decoy papier maché cow below, held aloft by World War I French camoufleurs), said to have originated with artists, will recognize that the Keartons' inventions anticipate those by at least a decade.

French camoufleurs with cow decoy

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Camouflage Artist | Harry Shenker

Cover illustration (1949) by Harry Shenker
As noted in the text below, WWI American camoufleur Harry Shenker worked as a graphic designer and illustrator for the Farm Credit Administration in the period following World War II. While functioning as art editor of that agency's in-house employee newsletter, called the Grapevine, he sometimes published his own cartoons, such as the cover illustration above from the July 29, 1949 issue.


Harry Shenker was born May 8, 1888, in Vilna, Russia, in what is now Lithuania. His mother, Sophia Frances Cabressky, died while he was still an infant. His father, Jacob Shenker, immigrated to the US in 1891. He was a former commission merchant and real estate man, and was prominent in the Hebrew community in Hartford CT. Harry emigrated to the US in 1900 (at age twelve), and lived in Hartford with his father and his stepmother, Sophaia Shenker (whom Jacob had married in 1898).

Federal employment records indicate that Harry, soon after his arrival, while still a teenager, was living in Brooklyn NY (possibly with Jacob’s sister). He studied drawing in New York at the Art Students League in 1903-1905, and at the Art Students League in Hartford from 1905-1910.

In 1910, when in his early twenties, he applied for a passport to study abroad for five years, at locations that included the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. At that time, he spelled his name as “Schenker,” not “Shenker.” In the passport application, he describes himself as 5 feet 9 inches tall, with brown eyes, wide nose, a medium forehead and short chin. His complexion was dark brown, with brown hair and a roundish face. He returned to the US in May 1914, sailing from the port at La Havre, and soon after reapplied (by now, he spelled his name as “Shenker”) to return to France to study for two additional years.

Like many artists, Harry Shenker enjoyed painting along the coast of Brittany, in the vicinity of Locquirec, a strikingly beautiful village situated around a charming little harbor. According to Alain Levron (owner of the Loïc de Pors Melleca gallery), “Many painters, seduced by the beauty of this coast, put their easel there: [among them] Félix Valloton, Georges Rohner, Harry Shenker, Marius Borgeaud…” [1]. While painting there and at other locations in France, Shenker enjoyed a certain measure of success: On federal employment applications, he lists “$10,000” in annual income while working in that country as an ‘independent contractor and artist.”

He was still living in France when World War I began in July of 1914. He remained in wartime Paris, but in 1917, the US also declared war against Germany, with France, England and Russia as allies. When the US entered the war, Shenker enlisted in the US Army in Paris, which was officially known at the time as the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). No doubt because of his training as an artist, he was assigned to Company B of the 40th Engineers, known as the American Camouflage Section. It was headed by Homer Saint-Gaudens, a theatre designer whose father was Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of the most famous sculptors of the time.

As confirmed by federal employment records (dated 1949), Shenker’s WWI army service began in August 1917 and ended in October 1919. He lists his position as “Sergeant, Master Engineer, Senior Grade, 40th Engineers” and adds that he “had supervision [of] over 2,000 workers in camouflage work in France for the US Army.” He describes himself as “a landscape artist,” and requests that he be assigned to “Art and camouflage work.”

At the end of WWI, he received a service citation, and was honorably discharged on November 30, 1918. In that same year, Shenker married a French woman named Marcelle Marie Dalabardon (born in 1890), who was a portrait artist, sculptor and still-life painter. It appears that the couple then settled in France, living on the Brittany Coast (her family lived in Bourg de Locquirec) and working out of their converted boathouse studio.

Harry Shenker (n.d.) Port Breton Panorama

In the fall of 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, it is believed that the Shenkers were living at Marcelle’s parent’s home in Locquirec. Soon after, World War II began, with the Germans on the one side and the British and French on the other. Understandably apprehensive, it is also recalled that Harry and Marcelle burned and buried their lifetime works, and departed on a ship to the US on April 25, 1941. In the meantime, in Hartford, Harry’s father died on the following day. It may be indicative of a cleft between father and son that, in Jacob Shenker’s will, Harry was left only five dollars, while others were given substantial amounts, including real estate.

The US declared war and joined the Allies in World War II only weeks after Harry’s return from France. He registered for the draft, but did not serve. Searching for work, he was fortunate to come to know two men named Verne Hemstreet (whose family he became close friends with) and B.F. Viehmann. Both men were managers for the Farm Credit Administration (FCA), a federal agency that began in 1933 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal government reforms. Through the encouragement of these two acquaintances, Harry Shenker was hired to work for the FCA, and eventually held long-term positions as a graphic designer and illustrator for that agency.

Around 1948-1950, Shenker was identified as the Art Editor of a modestly-printed periodical called the Farm Credit Club Grapevine, which was an in-house newsletter for FCA employees. The cartoon drawings he produced for the Grapevine during those post-war years are lively and refreshing, and may be his most endearing work. Earlier, in the same newsletter, an account of his wartime experiences in Nazi-occupied France was published as a four-page article called “Life Under Nazi Domination.” Published in the November 18, 1942 issue [2].

While working for the same agency, Harry Shenker also offered an informal “art class” for FCA employees, and published various notes (called Lessons in Modern Art) in the Grapevine. These too are available online at Archive.Org.

Following the end of WWII, Marcelle Shenker traveled back and forth between the US and her parents’ home in Locquirec. She was concerned about its upkeep, as well as wanting to affirm its postwar ownership by her family. At the conclusion of a long career, Harry Shenker retired in 1965 (at age 77), and he and his wife returned to France. He lived for another thirteen years. When he died in Paris in 1979, the American Legion acquired his principal artworks [3].


[1] Bretagne-grandeur-nature. Le Point. Revised 1/17/2007. <>.

[2] S.U. Baxter, "Life Under Nazi Domination." The Farm Service Credit Club Grapevine. November 18, 1942, Vol 1 No 7. available online.
[3] Harry Shenker à la galerie d'art. © Le Télégramme. 21 July 1998. <>.


This biographical article is comprised of information that was provided by Cathy Hyman of Blythewood SC. It is based on factual data found in various US government documents, in internet research and online newspaper archives, as well as the childhood recollections of the daughter of Verne Hemstreet, who, as a management executive at the Farm Credit Administration, befriended Harry Shenker and his wife Marcelle in the early 1940s and housed them for several of their most difficult years in Kansas City and Washington DC.

A slightly different version of this has also been provided to

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Camouflage Artist | Frank Overton Colbert

Frank Overton Colbert (1923)
Frank Overton Colbert was born at Riverside, in Oklahoma Indian Territory, on August 6, 1895. He is more commonly known as F. Overton Colbert, or, less often, as Frank Overton Redfeather Colbert. “Redfeather” is in reference to his Native American ancestry. His parents, Holmes Colbert (a Harvard graduate) and Ella Overton Colbert (educated in Europe), and earlier relatives were wealthy, prominent members of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma. His maternal grandfather, Frank Overton, was a well-known politician, and one of his cousins was Captain Benjamin Colbert, whom Theodore Roosevelt had singled out, during the Spanish-American War, as one of the finest of the celebrated Rough Riders.

The Chickasaw and Choctaw peoples are historically closely related, which may account for Colbert being known as “Choc” while serving in the US Navy during World War I. According to the Benezit Dictionary of Artists, he was also known as “François” in France, where “He was one of the most curious figures of Paris’s Left Bank and was known as ‘the Redskin of Montparnasse.’” In another account of that Bohemian phase of his life, he is described as “a Redskin with all his feathers named Colbert.”

From an early age, Colbert hoped to become an artist, a choice that his father discouraged. As a compromise, he enrolled in the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College, where he became a skilled mechanic. But at the end of that technical training, he was no less interested in art. His father withdrew his financial support, and Colbert left Oklahoma to explore the country on his own. He wandered westward, earning money by working intermittently at temporary jobs. Typically, he worked as a farm laborer, repaired machinery, and painted signs and posters. He also gave trick shooting exhibitions to paying audiences. Later, in newspaper stories, he claimed to be friends with Buffalo Bill, and it may have been during these wanderlust years that he became acquainted with that scout and Wild West showman.

Having reached Los Angeles after three months, Colbert set off for Alaska. It took him eight months (with extended pauses to earn money) to reach Seattle, from where he then sailed on to Nome by ship. From Alaska, he traveled by dog sled into Canada, near the Arctic Circle (where he painted the Northern Lights), then embarked on an arduous lengthy return, moving slowly south along the Pacific Coast again as far as South America, then across Panama into Mexico, and back to the US.

By 1917, while still in his early twenties, he ended up in Washington DC, where he became acquainted with a widely known Beaux-Arts painter and sculptor named Paul Wayland Bartlett. Earlier that year, Bartlett had co-founded a group of Washington artists called the American Camouflage Division. Bartlett was its chairman, while among the other members were Felix Mahoney, Michel Jacobs, Glen Brown, Richard Brooks, A.G. Smith, Alexis B. Many, and J. Crozier. The US had not yet entered the war, but it seemed inevitable, and it was this group’s plan to offer their artistic expertise in the development of wartime camouflage. At the same time, comparable groups had also been formed in New York City (called the New York Camouflage Society or American Camouflage) and San Francisco (American Camouflage Western Division).

At the time, as an art student at the city’s School of Fine Arts, Colbert was surely aware of this camouflage group, which had been featured prominently in The Washington Star and other newspapers. Soon after the US entered the war, Colbert enlisted in the navy, where, according to a news story—

His precise knowledge of color was of value to the camouflage department, and many of his designs were used in the disguising of transports.

This is confirmed by another news article at the end of the war, in the Durant Weekly News (Durant OK) on September 12, 1919. After two years of service, the article notes, he was being discharged with the rank of CCM (Chief Carpenter’s Mate). He had been assigned, it continues, to

 the work of camouflaging ships of the service so that they might be more difficult of recognition by the enemy submarines. He has been many times back and forth over the sea and first and last has seen service on every type of vessel afloat.

Following WWI, Colbert returned not to Washington DC, but moved instead to Greenwich Village in New York, where he lived in an apartment on Cornelia Street while studying art at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts (now Parsons School of Design). That apartment was infested with bedbugs, and (true or not) Colbert later recalled an incident in which he killed a large bedbug that crawled across his drawing board, by stabbing it with a pin. Elaborating on his colored drawing of the dead insect, he designed a textile pattern, which he sold “to one of the city’s largest silk houses” where it became “one of the season’s best sellers.” He later moved to Sheridan Square.

There was a major breakthrough in Colbert’s career as an artist in February 1921, when an exhibition of his work was held at the Montross Gallery on Fifth Avenue in New York, a prominent gallery “where only the work of artists who have ‘arrived’ is permitted for exhibition.” Favorable if brief reviews were published in The Nation, The Arts, The New York Tribune and other publications. In addition, his work caught the attention of a New York journalist and art publicist named Holger Cahill. Newly hired to promote the Society of Independent Artists, Cahill believed that Colbert’s artwork exemplified an American brand of indigenous primitivism which he called Inje-Inje. As a consequence, Colbert began to produce what New York critics called Indian folklore pictures that represented aspects of Native American gods. Non-Indians need not be concerned about not understanding the images, advised one critic, because “the explanation appears beside the picture…”

The Trail to Happy Hunting Ground (1923), Frank Overton Colbert•
An additional factor that prompted Colbert to produce non-European Indian-influenced art may have been (as he recalled) a conversation with William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) that had taken place years earlier. “Red Feather,” Cody said to him, “you dip your brush in the rainbow and paint the Indian from the soul of all the generations of Indians, with the philosophy and precision of European thought.” He also advised: “In your art you belong to the poet with the painter’s eye for color and arrangement. You must be an Indian first and last, however well you become educated.”

As sales of Colbert’s work increased, he painted and exhibited in Paris and Florence as well as New York. According to a news article in the Durant Weekly News on December 15, 1922, he had been visiting Oklahoma for two weeks, but had to return to New York to open a new exhibition at the Montross Gallery. By mid-January, he “will sail to Paris, to continue his artwork in his studio there, as well as another studio in Florence.” Having spent time in earlier years in those two cities, it claims, he “is already a splendid conversationalist in both the French and Italian languages.”

It was apparently during his European episodes that he became a familiar oddity in the cafes and nightclubs of Montparnasse, where he could be seen drawing on site in pastels on thick, yellow sheets of butcher paper. He was especially noticed because he would be wearing a full Native American wardrobe, with an elaborate headdress.

He sometimes also dressed this way when he was in New York. We know this because of a story about his association with American author Mary Hunter Austin. On January 8, 1922, the National Arts Club in New York gathered for a banquet in honor of Austin’s achievements as a writer. As honored guest, Austin could choose to dress as she pleased. And she did: in honor of the American Southwest, she arrived in an outlandish Spanish-like dress that made her appear, as one critic said, to be wrapped in the flag of New Mexico. As a further indiscretion, her escort for the evening was none other than Frank Overton Colbert, who was dressed in buckskin Indian garb, with a headdress of flamingo feathers. His outfit included a necklace strung with nasty-looking teeth. When a socialite at the gathering asked what kind of animal’s teeth they were, Colbert answered “Alligator.” “Oh, how awful,” the woman exclaimed, and then politely added, “But I suppose you see it as the same as a pearl necklace.” To which Colbert responded, “No, not at all—any fool can take a pearl away from an oyster.”

We know that Colbert married, but all but nothing is known of his wife, who went with him to Paris in 1923. Her name was Kate Landon Colbert, and she was born in 1899, but we do not know how or when she died. Nor do we know where she is buried. They had one child, a son named Robert Holmes Colbert, who was born in 1926 in France and died at the age of 50 in 1976.

We also know that Colbert did not do entirely well in Europe. True, his work was chosen for the Salon d’Automne in 1923, and for the Salon des Indépendants in 1926. But it appears he succumbed to depression, and it became necessary to move back to the US (presumably with his wife and son). It is unclear where he settled after returning to the US, but he may have been living in Colorado, because at least one source reports that he was hospitalized in that state in 1941 because of mental illness.

Whatever the tragic circumstances, he died on March 20, 1953, and is buried in a military cemetery at Fort Lyons CO.


• Painting reproduced above is courtesy of Steven S. Powers. 


Colbert, François Overton Redfeather. Benezit Dictionary of Artists (2006).
FAMOUS ARTIST HERE PRIOR TO TRIP TO EUROPE. Durant Weekly News (Durant OK),  December 15, 1922, p. 7.
Franck, D. Bohemian Paris: Picasso, Modigilani, Matisse, and the Birth of Modern Art. New York: Grove Press, 2003.
INDIAN ARTIST IS EARNING HIS WAY FROM CITY TO CITY. Los Angeles Herald. September 30, 1915.
INDIAN ARTIST IS VISITOR IN BISBEE. Overton Colbert of Famous Oklahoma Family Is Making Tour of Country. Bisbee Daily Review (Bisbee AZ). September 19, 1915, p. 6.
INDIAN ARTIST ON WARPATH. Remarkable Story of Oklahoma Born Genius on Road to Fame. WAS AIDED BY CODY. Civilization and Savagery in Struggle for Mastery of Colbert’s Nature. Tulsa Daily World (Tulsa OK) March 13, 1921, Sec A Page 9—
INDIAN ARTIST'S WORK HERE. F. Overton Arrives With His Paintings. Tulsa Daily World. October 28, 1922, p. 5.
Loving, P. "Art: An American Painter" in The Nation. January 26, 1921, p. 125.
Moore, A.W. Holger Cahill's Inje-Inje: The Story of a Modern Primitivism. Online. 
Saw Much Water Service. Durant Weekly News (Durant OK),  September 12, 1919, p. 4. 
Some Current Art Shows in the Local Galleries. New York Tribune. December 4, 1921, p. 1B. 

Note: There is a newspaper photograph (poorly printed) of Colbert, dressed in a feathered headdress and other Native American attire, in the World’s News (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), February 16, 1924, p. 4. The headline reads IMMORTALIZING THE ARTS OF HIS FATHERS, with a caption beneath the photo that claims that he is “François Overton Colbert, the last chief [sic] of the Chickasaw Indians, of Oklahoma, known to his people as Red Feather, now in Paris, where he is at work upon a series of canvases painted in the Indian manner.” 

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Camouflage Artist | I.B. Hazelton

Recruiting Poster (1914) by I.B. Hazelton
Isaac Brewster Hazelton (known professionally as I.B. Hazelton) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 30, 1875. At age three, his family moved to Wellesley, where, in 1889, he graduated from Wellesley High School. That same year, he enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied Engineering, Draftsmanship and Art. He graduated from MIT in 1894.

Hazelton’s father was a prominent physician named Isaac Hills Hazelton, who served during the Civil War as Assistant Surgeon in the U.S. Navy, and, subsequently, as a doctor at two asylums for the insane, in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. There were three daughters in the family, one of whom was Mary Brewster Hazelton, who became an accomplished portrait painter. The extensive family papers, known as the Hazelton Family Collection, are housed in the Wellesley Historical Society in Wellesley MA.

Throughout his life, I.B. Hazelton was a prolific illustrator, specializing in illustrations for advertisements, pulp magazines and books. After marrying in 1906, he and his wife moved to Providence, where he taught for several years at the Rhode Island School of Design.

In 1912, they settled in New York, where he worked for a publishing firm, while also concurrently working as a freelance illustrator. World War I began in Europe in 1914, and, although the US did not enter the war until 1917, Hazelton began to look for ways to contribute to the war effort.

According to David Saunders, in a biographical essay on the website for Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists, Hazelton designed a popular army recruiting poster (Men Wanted for the Army) in 1914, as is reproduced above. Saunders adds that later—

On September 12, 1918, he registered wth the draft board and was recorded to be of medium height, medium build, with gray eyes and brown hair. He was forty-four, married and the father of a child, so he was not selected for military service.

Denied the option of active service, Hazelton studied ship camouflage in 1918 with muralist and camouflage artist William Andrew Mackay (as proven by a letter signed by Hazelton and other associates of Mackay on September 25, 1918). For the remainder of the war, he worked in New York (as noted in a listing of the civilian wartime service of MIT graduates) as a

Marine Camoufleur, N.Y. District, U.S. Shipping Board, superintending painting of camouflage designs on ships, and research on the subject of camouflage.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Hazelton pursued his work as an illustrator for newspapers, books and magazines. At age 73, while commuting to his Jersey City home from his Manhattan studio, he died of a heart attack on January 27, 1943.


Note A slightly different version of this biographical entry has also been contributed to

Monday, February 12, 2018

Camouflage Artist | Ivan Opffer

Homer St-Gaudens (c1918) by Ivan Opffer
Ivan Opffer was born in Nyborg, Denmark, on June 4, 1897, to a family of Danish scholars and journalists. His brother was Emil Opffer, a Danish merchant seaman and journalist who was known for his relationship with American writer Hart Crane.

Ivan was raised in Mexico City and New York, where his anarchist father was the editor of a radical Danish-language newspaper. His involvement in painting and drawing began at an early age. At a summer workshop, he met and studied drawing with Winslow Homer, then went on to study at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League of New York.

When the US entered World War I, Opffer was one of the members of the American Army Camouflage Corps, headed by Homer Saint-Gaudens (whose mother was a relative of Winslow Homer), the son of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. As a camoufleur, Opffer served with other artists and architects, some of whom became well-known, including Barry Faulkner, Sherry Edmundson Fry, Kimon Nicolaides, Robert Lawson, Abraham Rattner, Kerr Eby and others. It was this same unit, while still in training in at Camp American University in Washington DC, that launched a camp newspaper called The Camoufleur. Only three issues were published before the unit’s deployment to France in late 1917. In the October 31 issue, a satirical portrait by Opffer of Homer Saint-Gaudens (titled “Our Boss”) was published on page 5 (as reproduced above).

After the war, Opffer returned to New York, where he became known for his caricatures of leading Modern writers, among them James Joyce, Edgar Lee Masters, Siegfried Sassoon, George Bernard Shaw, Carl Sandburg, G.K. Chesterton, and Thomas Mann.

In the years between the wars, Opffer married Betty à Beckett Chomley, and settled in Paris, where he was a student at the Academie Julian. He also lived in London and Copenhagen, where his drawings were frequently published in newspapers and magazines. With the outbreak of World War II, he and his family returned to New York and lived in Greenwich Village. Among his friends in that era were William Butler Yeats, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Dylan Thomas and Ernest Hemingway. He and his wife Betty are said to be portrayed in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

When he retired in the 1960s, Opffer moved back to Copenhagen, where he died on March 3, 1980.


This account is partly based on an online information page that was written by Ivan Opffer’s granddaughter, Yvonne Opffer Conybeare. Accessed on January 17, 2018 at <>.

A slightly different version of this biographical note has also been contributed to

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Camouflage Artist | Frank H. Schwarz

Oregon Statehouse Rotunda (1938) Frank H. Schwarz
Frank Henry Schwarz was born in New York City on June 21, 1894, but his family moved to Chicago, where he eventually studied at the Chicago Art Institute. He survived by working as a bus boy in a restaurant, while his father returned to New York, where he worked as a waiter.

During World War I, Schwarz joined the American Army Camouflage Corps, where he served with other artists, among them Barry Faulkner, Sherry Edmundson Fry, and Robert Lawson. He remained with that unit in France, until, at the war’s end, he was stricken by pneumonia. While regaining his health, he settled in New York, where he set up a painting studio in Greenwich Village (as did several others from the same camouflage unit).

In the summer of 1921, Schwarz was featured in an article in The New York Times, titled PAINTER FACING EVICTION WHEN PAINTING WINS PRIX DE ROME. The article reported that, at age twenty-six and penniless, Schwarz had been only minutes away from being evicted from his NYC two-room studio when, to his surprise, a letter arrived telling him that he had won the Prix de Rome, among the most coveted prizes in art. In the weeks that followed, his success was featured nationwide in various newspapers. The painting for which he won the award was A Tribute to Heroism.

In 1926, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Three years later, one of his works was acquired by the Brooklyn Museum.

Among his most enduring works are a number of murals, commissioned for architectural sites. He may have turned to murals as a result of his wartime connection to fellow camoufleur and muralist Barry Faulkner. In 1938, Schwarz and Faulkner were among the primary muralists for the Oregon State Capitol in Salem. It was Schwarz who painted two large murals for the building’s rotunda, the dome interior, and a mural in the Senate chamber. Later, Schwarz completed mural commissions for other buildings in the US and Canada.

He died on September 5, 1951, in Mount Vernon, New York.


Faulkner, Barry, and Frank H. Schwarz. “Three Murals in the Capitol.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 41: 2 (June, 1940), 132-136.

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Camouflage Artist | More on Oswald Moser

The Dwarf (1920) by Oswald Moser (self-portrait on left)
Oswald Moser (his full name at birth was Robert Oswald Moser) was born in London in 1874. His training as an artist began in the same city at St John’s Wood Art School (called The Wood). He began to exhibit professionally in 1904, and enjoyed success in subsequent years, including an Honorable Mention (1907) and a Silver Medal (1922) at the Paris Salon. A writer as well as an artist, he sometimes illustrated his own stories.

During World War I, he served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, during which he contributed to the development of disruptive ship camouflage (called “dazzle-painting”). Moser was one of the artists who worked in the camouflage section headed by British marine painter Norman Wilkinson at Burlington House (Royal College of Art), beginning in November 1917.

There is a photograph of Moser, seated beside a dazzle-painted ship model of a British ocean liner, the RMS Olympic. It can be accessed on the website of the [US] Navy History and Heritage Command (NH 120779), where the caption mistakenly claims that he was “head of British dazzle painting and camouflage for ships.”  It is also reproduced on page 38 of James Taylor’s book about dazzle camouflage (2016), as well as in an earlier post on this blog.

Moser’s wife, Mary Louise (Murray) Moser, was also associated with that wartime camouflage unit. Indeed, there is a well-known photograph of the testing theatre at Burlington House (reproduced below) in which, I am told, the man looking through the periscope on the right is Oswald Moser, while his wife is the woman on the opposite side.

British ship camouflage testing theatre

It may not be undue to say that Moser’s paintings are sometimes odd and fantasy-based. Of particular distinction are a painting titled Wounded Sailors Listening to Musicians Playing on Board a Ship (c1918), another titled The Dwarf: Scenes from the Tales of Richoux (1920, as shown at the top of this page), which includes a strange self-portrait, and a more straightforward Self-Portrait (1938), that is now in the collection of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth.

There was some public controversy about one of his paintings, titled The Lord of Creation (1937). When exhibited at the Royal Academy’s Annual Exhibition, some people saw it as indecently referring to King Edward VIII, who had abdicated the throne in order to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson (the Duke and Duchess of Windsor).  Although Moser denied the connection, the painting was removed from the exhibition.

He continued to exhibit until the early 1940s. He died in 1953.


Taylor, James. Dazzle: disguise and disruption in war and art. UK: Pool of London Press, 2016.
Williams, David. Liners in battledress. St. Catharines, Ontario: Vanwell Publishing Ltd, 1989.

Note A slightly different version of this biographical note has also been contributed to 

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Camouflage Artist | Cecil George Charles King

WWI camouflage ships (1918) Cecil George Charles King
Above Watercolor painting by Cecil George Charles King (1918), showing two dazzle-painted merchant ships (one in conspicuous zebra stripes) at dockside in Leith. Scotland. This and other images, with additional text and links, can be found on the 14-18-NOW WWI Centenary Art Commissions webpage. Starting this season (2018), in marking the final year of the centenary, that organization will be hosting dazzle-themed events in New York.


Cecil George Charles King (not to be confused with an Irish artist named Cecil King) was born in the London Borough of Hounslow on August 6, 1881. He initially studied engineering, but in a change of profession, he chose to study art instead in London at the  Westminster School of Art. He also studied in Paris, where he worked with Jean-Paul Laurens and Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen.

In 1917, when British painter Norman Wilkinson was sanctioned by the government to set up at Burlington House (Royal College of Art) a wartime “dazzle-painting” team for ship camouflage, King was “Wilkinson’s right-hand man.” This was in part, as James Taylor (2016) explains, because King “was a long-standing friend with shared interests in maritime subjects and poster designs which promoted travel by rail and ship.” He joined the camouflage section on August 18, 1917, and remained there for the rest of the war. 


King appears briefly in a news article by Mordaunt Hall (byline of British-born journalist Frederick Wentworth Mordaunt Hall, who had been an advance man for Buffalo Bill's Wild West, spied for England in World War I, and later became the first film critic for the New York Times), titled THE SILK HATTED MAN OF THE GEORGE WASHINGTON, in the New York Herald (March 2, 1919)—

Lieutenant Cecil King, RNVR, one of the men who have accomplished great things as a "dazzle painter" of ships, started the story ball rolling with:

"A young English cadet was ordered to come before an admiral who, as the youngsters put it in the royal navy, wanted to look into his eyeballs. 'Name three great English admirals,' said the examining admiral in loud tones. The cadet, sitting on the corner of a chair that might have held three his size, was perhaps not exactly at ease in such august presence.

'Drake, sir,' he began.

'Very good,' thundered the Admiral. 'Now another?'

'Nelson, sir.'

'Very good, and the third?'

The cadet moved forward on his chair and then piped:

'I didn't quite catch your name, sir.'"

We were all laughing when who should come through our compartment but [American] Admiral [William] Sims and one of his aids.


Of greater value and relevance is a news feature (a report on an article written by King) titled DAZZLE PAINTING that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald (New South Wales, Australia) on September 2, 1919 (p. 6). This is the full text—

During the war the secrets of camouflage and dazzle painting were jealously guarded, but since then the curtain has been lifted, and an article by Mr. Cecil King in the last issue of the journal of The Imperial Arts League throws still further light on the subject. Dazzle painting is technically not camouflage, but a specialized and comparatively recent development of it. It was introduced in 1917, when Mr. Norman Wilkinson, the well-known marine artist, was placed in charge of the new department, with Mr. King as his assistant. Its success was instantaneous; before long the personnel of the staff had been many times multiplied, depots established in every part of consequence, and the whole of the mercantile marine which plied in dangerous waters clothed in a Josephean coat of many colors. The object of dazzle painting was briefly to create illusion by applying certain principles of optics to the treatment of solid masses by painting out shadows, for instance, or by painting them in where they did not exist. The effect of a good design was to make it extremely difficult for an observer from the waterline to determine the character or size of a ship, or to judge the course she was steering. As the design depended on its efficiency on its conformity to the structure of the individual ship, no two designs could be precisely alike, but by degrees certain schemes of color and arrangement were found to answer best, and then a general plan was adopted, with modification to suit each particular case; finally the "zebra pattern" was evolved, of which we have seen so many examples in Sydney Harbor. The dazzle painter's art was a highly complex one; he had to take many perplexing factors into consideration: different conditions of light and atmosphere required different methods of treatment. A design that would protect a ship bound for the Archangel through the misty grayness of the North Sea and the Arctic would be totally unsuitable for a voyage through the hard, brilliant light of the Mediterranean. He could not afford to work by rule of thumb, and the success which attended his efforts is proved by the decline in the rate of sinkings. While everyone rejoices in the removal of the occasion for dazzle painting, there are some who regret the latter's disappearance. It produced an effect resembling a crazy dream from Alice in Wonderland, but it gave a touch of variety and picturesqueness now lacking in shipping. To see a great liner in her camouflage was to be reminded of a very dignified and imposing lady reluctantly masquerading at a fancy dress ball in a fantastic futurist costume.


Long after the war, King published an article titled MARINE CAMOUFLAGE (he was responding to an earlier article in the same magazine) in Ships and ship models: a magazine for all lovers of ships and the sea (November 1937, pp. 73-76). The article doesn't offer much that isn't already known (it does give credit to the work of Norman Wilkinson, Abbott H. Thayer, Professor Abel, W.L. Wylie, and an artist named Parkinson), as in the following excerpt (p. 74)—

Dazzle camouflage was based on a realization of the fact that it is impossible to conceal a merchant ship from the submarine, even if she be not emitting smoke, and that—if the presence of the ship were known—it was far better to confuse the submarine's estimates of her true course and other matters, by distorting her appearance, than to attempt any reduction of her visibility. This result had to be obtained by using violent contrasts of color, or rather of tone, many of the most efficient designs being of black and white only.

King's illustrations were often published in such prominent periodicals as The Sphere and Illustrated London News, and as travel posters. He was vice-president of the Society of Marine Artists, and, in 1932, became Marine Painter to the Royal Thames Yacht Club.

Cecil King died on December 9, 1942.


Behrens, Roy R. Camoupedia: a compendium of research on art, architecture and camouflage. Dysart IA: Bobolink Books, 2006.
Behrens, Roy R., ed. Ship shape: a dazzle camouflage sourcebook. Dysart IA: Bobolink Books, 2006.
Taylor, James. Dazzle: disguise and disruption in war and art. UK: Pool of London Press, 2016.
Williams, David. Liners in battledress. St. Catharines, Ontario: Vanwell Publishing Ltd, 1989.

NOTE A shorter, different version of this text has also been contributed to 

new signed copies still remain