Thursday, May 30, 2019

WWI Camouflage Artist | Frederick Alexander Pawla

Ship Camouflage Scheme (starboard) / Frederick A. Pawla
The surname of Frederick A(lexander) Pawla (1876-1964) rhymes with Paula and is easily misspelled. Most likely that’s one of the reasons why his contributions to World War I ship camouflage are rarely acknowledged.

The facts of his life are at issue as well. It seems that he was born in Wimbledon, England, in 1876 (another source claims Scotland), but left home at age 14 to become a sailor. Various sources make differing claims: Some say that he left home to join the US Navy, but a news article from 1952 states that he left London not for the US but for Sydney AU, where he worked on Australian government ships. He eventually turned to painting and studied there with Australian marine painter William Lister Lister. But “the wanderlust seized him and he came to the United States.” Others claim that he was a scout in the Boer War, that he participated in the first Chino-Japanese war (1894-95), and that he served in the US Merchant Marine.

In that 1952 news article, when he and his wife had recently moved to Santa Cruz CA, Pawla was said to have previously lived on the French Riviera, in Hawaii, Tahiti, and Australia, as well as in various regions of the US.

According to ship modeler Aryeh Wetherhorn, Pawla was a “highly important” marine camoufleur for the US during World War I, but is now “largely forgotten.” On Wetherhorn’s website are screen shots of government documents from the NARA (National Archives and Records Administration), in which Pawla is listed as having originated the “dazzle” camouflage designs for various ships, but is insufficiently credited because he is listed as Paula.

His wartime contributions to camouflage service are noted only briefly in another news article from 1922, when he and his wife had resettled from New York to Tampa FL. It is also stated that he had made a painting of the USS Leviathan, which “earned for the artist an official commendation of the highest kind.”

Following WWI, Benedict Crowell, US Assistant Secretary of War, openly applauded Pawla’s camouflage efforts. In 1921, Crowell wrote an overview of the war. He noted that dazzle-painting was officially adopted in 1917 as standard practice for American ship camouflage, made possible by a consensus among the US Navy, the Shipping Board, and the Embarkation Service of the AEF (American Expeditionary Forces, which at the time was the title for the US Army).

Pawla was in charge of camouflage for the AEF Embarkation Service. He oversaw the camouflage of “many of the army transports, particularly cargo carriers,” and, according to Crowell, was “one of the most valuable men in the Government for this sort of work.” But most accounts of WWI American ship camouflage are focused on the efforts of the Navy and the Shipping Board, and the fact that Pawla was associated with the Army may also explain why his work is infrequently cited. At least two post-war news articles state that he worked for the Army, one of which claims that he “was commissioned as an officer in the infantry, after which he took charge of the inauguration of camouflage in the army transport service.”

If he oversaw the camouflage of cargo ships that transported horses, equipment and other supplies to Europe, it may not necessarily mean that he himself designed the actual camouflage schemes. As Wetherhorn goes on to note—

[Pawla’s role as the New York embarkation officer] involved the scheduling, coordination, and supervision of ships that carried the US Army Expeditionary Force to France. It also meant [that] he managed to schedule the painting of camouflage patterns on all types of ships that were involved. It was Lieutenant Pawla [who] arranged time at the various shipyards for painting camouflage while the vessels were waiting to embark troops or load cargo before joining a convoy to cross the Atlantic.

At the same time, his direct involvement in designing camouflage may be confirmed in other ways. In recent years, concurrent with the WWI Centenary, a limited number of full-color diagrams for WWI ship camouflage schemes (hand-colored in gouache in some cases, or more often as lithographic prints) have been scanned and posted on US government websites. The artists who designed the schemes are sometimes noted in red pencil, and the name Pawla is clearly written on several of those. One of those prints is reproduced at the top of this page.

A duplicate, nearly complete set of the lithographic prints (455 in number) is in the collection of the Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design, but they lack the penciled-in names of the artists who designed them.

While the sources are unlisted, Wetherhorn* provides a list of ships that he credits as having been “camouflaged” by Pawla. With considerable effort, one can find photographs of the majority of these ships, but not when they were covered with dazzle patterns. His list includes the following (when I’ve wondered if ship names were incorrectly listed, I’ve added suggested alternatives in brackets): SS Arcadia, SS Bayano [SS Bayamo?], SS Buford, SS City of Atlanta, SS Duca Degli Abruzzi, SS Hewitt, SS Kilpatrick, SS Montanian [SS Montanan?], SS Munwood, SS Pennsylvanian [USS Scranton], SS Eagle, SS El Occidente, SS El Sol, SS Findland [SS Finland?], SS Floridian, SS George H. Henry, SS Itaska, SS Kentuckian, SS Edward Luckenbach, SS Medina, SS Montosa [SS Montoso?], SS Newton, SS Neches, SS Oregonian, Rondo [SS War Wonder?], SS Panaman, SS San Jacinto, SS Tamayo, SS Tiger, SS Tivies [SS Tivives?], SS Tungus [SS Tongos?] and SS Tyr.

USS Panaman (c1918) in dazzle camouflage

I was able to find a photograph of the dazzle-painted USS Panaman (reproduced above), and there are also online images of several ships that were named after various members of the Luckenbach family, the USS Edward Luckenbach being one. During WWI, the Luckenbach Steamship Company, headed by Edgar F. Luckenbach, supplied at least eight cargo ships for the purpose of transporting troops. In a document dated 1918, Edwin F. Luckenbach is on a list of those who studied ship camouflage in New York under William Andrew Mackay.

Based on material online, especially historic newspapers, Pawla may have accomplished considerably more as a ship camoufleur than he did as an artist in subsequent years. As a civilian artist, according to the 1952 news article, “His greatest work, in point of both magnitude and interest, is a cyclorama of [the Battle of] Chateau-Thierry, which has been exhibited in many of the large cities in the US.” This may be the same cyclorama that was installed at Luna Park in Coney Island in 1927. News reports in Brooklyn described it as follows—

fifty feet high and three hundred [and] sixty-five feet in circumference. There are more than one thousand sheets of galvanized iron, eight feet long, weighing seven and one-half tons. There are two thousand electric lamps with fifteen thousand additional watts to produce the varied effects.…As you stand on an elevated platform, you see the war fields, machine gun nests, snipers, heavy artillery and airplanes in action, in one of the world’s most exacting struggles.

An earlier cyclorama had recreated the Battle of Gettysburg, but this one for Chateau-Thierry, a journalist claimed, was “the most sensational and educational attraction ever brought to this famous resort” and “has broken all records for attendance.” Regrettably, neither Pawla nor any other artists are mentioned as being responsible for the cyclorama.**  ***

Pawla’s other artwork is not so illustrious. In California, he is credited with having created three murals (the main panel is seventy feet wide) about California history for installation at the high school in Burlingame CA. For years, these were said to have been commissioned by the government as Depression-era WPA (Works Progress Administration) public artworks. But several contemporaneous news articles make it clear that the murals were completed in 1934 and purchased by the school itself, using funds raised by the students.

•••

* Another interesting post by Wetherhorn (not on his website but on the Naval History Blog) is a brief account of the camouflage contributions of the well-known American artist Arthur B. Carles and his sister Sara Elizabeth Carles. His post provides considerable insight into the activities of Sara Carles and other American women in connection with ship camouflage. Reproduced on the page are several Reports on Camouflaged Ships, indicating that these women were land observers (not designers of camouflage schemes) who were stationed at various harbors and assigned to making colored drawings/paintings of any camouflaged ships that they observed, both US and others. As we have blogged about earlier, Thomas Hart Benton had the same assignment at Norfolk, as did other artists.

** Update (same day as original post): Having now searched further in online newspapers, I am increasingly hesitant about crediting Pawla with the Chateau-Thierry cyclorama. I have found no mention of his name. Instead, I have now discovered reports that say it was an "imported cyclorama" and that the actual painting required the skills of "eighteen French painters." At the same time, how many Chateau-Thierry cycloramas can there be? Perhaps he supervised the project and/or its installation at Coney Island.

*** In an essay published a few years ago, titled "Setting the Stage for Deception: Perspective Distortion in World War I Camouflage" (full text online), we talked about the relatedness of the use of forced perspective in cycloramas and ship camouflage.

Sources
Anon. Recollections of… Brooklyn Life and Activities of Long Island Society (Brooklyn NY), May 14, 1927, p. 19.

Anon. The cyclorama… Brooklyn Life and Activities of Long Island Society (Brooklyn NY) , August 13, 1927, p. 16.

Anon. MURAL ARTIST IN TAMPA TO OPEN STUDIO: WAS IN CAMOUFLAGE DEPARTMENT. The Tampa Tribune (Tampa FL) November 3, 1922, p. 7.

Anon. PAWLA PAINTINGS ON EXHIBIT SOON AT BURLINGAME HI. San Mateo Times (San Mateo CA), April 20, 1934.

Crowell, Benedict. The Giant Hand: Our Mobilization and Control of Industry and Natural Resources, 1917-1918. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1921.


Hanifin, Ada. Paintings by Pawla on View: Soldier-of-Fortune and Veteran of Many Wars Holds One-Man-Show of Ships at Gumps, in San Francisco Examiner, Sunday, February 4, 1934.

Rawson, Laura. FAMED MARINE ARTIST FREDERICK PAWLA NOW LIVING IN SANTA CRUZ in Santa Cruz Sentinel-News, November 7, 1952, p. 2.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Camouflage Artifacts at Spencer Museum of Art

Above Photograph of the interior of a World War I British submarine under construction. The intense exterior lighting is casting shadows on the workers inside, and providing an apt demonstration of the disruption of shapes using shadows. This photograph was published in France in Le Miroir magazine on February 10, 1918, with the following caption—

The British fleet, which was by far the most powerful in the world during peacetime, has increased its superiority since the beginning of the war thanks to the strengthening of its ordnance. It is not possible, of course, to offer precise information on this subject. The fact that the German fleet remains in the port indicates that our enemies are not fooled by the results of naval combat. Our allies have launched many submarines. Here is one of them under construction.

•••

On March 2, 2019, an exhibition opened at the Spencer Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence. It continues through June 9, but unfortunately I found out about it only recently and won't be able to see it. Titled Camouflage and Other Hidden Treasures, it includes a selection of artifacts from the Eric Gustav Carlson WWI Collection, which includes nearly 4,000 items from the Great War. The current exhibition includes only about 1/60th of the full collection.

Over the years, Kansas and Missouri have increasingly become prime locations for research pertaining to art, architecture and design in connection with camouflage. In Kansas City MO (as we mentioned in an earlier blog), there is the National WWI Museum (formerly the Liberty Memorial), which features what remains of a huge WWI diorama, called the Pantheon de la Guerre. Completed by French artists in 1918, it originally included about five thousand full-length figures, including identifiable images of some of the French army's camoufleurs.

Also of significance is the Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City MO. It was designed by New York architects  Evarts Tracy and Egerton Swartwout in 1917. When the US entered WWI that year, Tracy was among the first officers in the American Camouflage Corps. Prior to that, one of the co-founders of a civilian forerunner to that unit was Iowa-born sculptor Sherry Edmundson Fry, who was commissioned to create the figure of Ceres that stands on top of the building's dome. Inside the building, in the House Lounge, are the famous Missouri history murals by Thomas Hart Benton, who was a US Navy camoufleur during WWI. Also inside is a mural (with two camouflaged ships in the background) titled The Navy Guarded the Road to France. It was painted in 1921 by US naval camoufleur Henry Reuterdahl, whom we've often blogged about.

There's yet another option: The Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University in Wichita KS owns what may be the largest collection of paintings and other artworks by Frederick Judd Waugh, who was a prominent American ship camoufleur during WWI.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Camouflage Artist \ Theatre Designer Victor H. Martin

Above World War I US Army camoufleurs applying chalk lines to military equipment in advance of painting camouflage.

•••

So here’s another puzzling find. In its official activities report in 1920,  the Free Public Library of Elizabeth NJ included the following statement—

An interesting exhibition of Naval Camouflage work of the US Shipping Board was held in the library, October 5th to 8th [1920]. The models, perfect replicas of actual vessels, about twenty-five in number including a submarine, were prepared by Mr. Victor Martin of Elizabeth, who, with a large number of assistants during the War [WWI] was entrusted with the duty of camouflaging great numbers of mercantile vessels. Several of the models were examples of the Martin School of Camouflage marking, while others exhibited the French and English types. The periscope, theatre, and mechanism were made and set up by Captains Bickel and Grauss of our Elizabeth Fire Department and the entire exhibit was a very finished one.

Marking out color areas with chalk lines
Born in New York in 1877, Victor H. Martin appears to have worked as a scenic artist (theatre designer) in the years prior to WWI, with a studio at 145 East 56th Street in New York. During the war, he contributed to the camouflage of merchant ships, apparently as a civilian under William Andrew Mackay, head of the Second District of the US Shipping Board. His name appears on a 1918 listing of sixty-four camoufleurs who were associated with Mackay. After the war, he returned to theatrical design, for which he joined the Pauline MacLean Stock Company at Celeron Park in Jamestown NY for the summer of 1919. He taught commercial art (graphic design) at the Baron de Hirsch Trade School* in New York until his retirement in 1941. He died on June 23, 1944, in Elizabeth NJ.

Ship with incomplete camouflage, showing chalk lines


The library’s account of his wartime responsibilities is confusing. We have not found any other mention of a “Martin School of Camouflage,” but there are numerous claims about Mackay having founded a camouflage school. Equally bewildering is the use of the term “camouflage marking” instead of “camouflage painting.” It’s puzzling because it could refer to the use of chalk lines to “mark out” color zones on the surface of the ship in advance of the actual painting. Over the years, we have discovered text references to this method of “marking out” color boundaries as well as various photographs of chalk lines being applied to ships, tanks, and other vehicles. Some of these accounts have been posted on this blog.

USS Gretavale with chalk lines, in process of being painted


* The Baron de Hirsch Trade School (on East 64th Street in Manhattan) was set up in 1891 for the purpose providing free vocational training for Jewish men, especially to immigrants from Russia and Romania. It is of peripheral interest that this is the school attended by two of the Three Stooges, the brothers Shemp and Moe Howard. Shemp studied plumbing and Moe was an electrician, but they abandoned those ambitions to become vaudeville entertainers in 1922.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Stinemetz Knew Stieglitz | WWI Ship Camouflage

Alfred Stieglitz, Hands of Helen Freeman (c1920)
Everyland, an American monthly periodical published by Christian missionaries, was self-described as "a magazine of world friendship for boys and girls." Among its various activities, it sponsored drawing contests. In its June 1920 issue (Vol 11 No 6), it included the following paragraph—

Morgan Stinemetz…is our Art Editor. During the war, he was in the camouflage service of the navy. It is he who will judge the results of the drawing contests, so look out for him!

So who was Morgan Stinemetz? In addition to that page in Everyland, I've found two other sources. One is a multi-page article by Louise Davis, titled ARTIST'S RETREAT: Morgan Stinemetz, who dropped an illustrator's career to become Methodist Publishing House art editor, is a man who finds joy in country life. Published in The Nashville Tennessean Magazine on September 7, 1952 (pp. 6-7, 18-19), it was illustrated by eight photographs of the artist and his artwork, interwoven with interview excerpts. I also found a newspaper obituary that was featured in the Nashville Tennessean on August 20, 1969 (p. 23). He had died at a nursing home in Nashville two days earlier.

Stinemetz was born in Washington DC in 1886. His grandfather, Major Thomas P. Morgan, was one of the first DC police commissioners. His father-in-law was an important DC publisher. As a child, Stinemetz had been interested in animals, as well as in painting and drawing. He studied at the Corcoran School of Art in DC, the National Academy of Design in New York, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia with Thomas P. Anshutz, a student and later a colleague of Thomas Eakins.

From Philadelphia, Stinemetz returned to New York, where (these are Louise Davis' words) "cubism and other various other 'isms' that startled the new century were taking a firm hold. He experimented with all of them and had his paintings in numerous shows, including the first International Art Show at the Armory in New York in 1913, when Matisse and Picasso were first shown in this country."

He became interested in the literary excursions of Gertrude Stein, and developed a friendship with Alfred Stieglitz, photographer, gallery owner, and the publisher of Camera Work. In 1916, Stieglitz met the painter Georgia O'Keeffe, and soon after they became a pair. It is interesting to note that in the years just prior to this, O'Keeffe had studied with an art educator (and an advocate of the theories of Arthur Wesley Dow) named Alon Bement, who had been her greatest influence. During World War I, Bement was a major contributor to American ship camouflage.

As for Stinemetz, he soon became disillusioned with Modernism. Quoting Davis, he became "fed up with the artificiality of the whole movement." At gallery openings, when he mingled with those in attendance, "he overheard them 'interpreting' things into his work that he had never thought of. …They analyzed every brush stroke, he said, and he was sick of it. He gave up painting on the spot," and turned instead to a new career as a book and magazine illustrator. In subsequent years, he became a well-known illustrator for a variety of popular magazines, among them Collier's, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Outdoor Life, and others. He especially enjoyed animal illustrations, and eventually became well-known for his drawings and prints of Scottie dogs. Over the years, he moved from the East Coast to Cincinnati, then settled in Nashville TN as the art director for the Methodist Publishing House.

The US entered WWI in 1917, and soon after artists, designers and architects were encouraged to use their expertise in the development of wartime camouflage. Stinemetz was one of those who contributed to naval camouflage. The article by Davis states that "he served in the navy, capitalizing on the tricks of cubism to camouflage our ships so that enemy submarines would miscalculate their aim."  The obituary simply notes that "he designed camouflage for ships of the US Navy." But he may have remained a civilian, since the Navy and the US Shipping Board worked with both military and civilian artists in designing, testing and painting "dazzle" camouflage patterns on ships, both military and commercial (called merchant ships).

Until these references were found, I had never heard of Morgan Stinemetz, much less about his service as a ship camoufleur, so it may be wise to be skeptical of the claim (stated first in the Davis article, then repeated verbatim in the obituary) that "so effective were his distortions of perspective that a record of his camouflage patterns was filed in various museums." Obviously, if such documents still exist, it would surely be helpful to find them.

Postscript (added May 10, 2019): I was mistaken. I had heard of Morgan Stinemetz. A couple of years ago, I gained access to a list (dated September 26, 1918) of sixty-four artists who had studied ship camouflage in New York with William Andrew Mackay. Stinemetz's name is on that list of American Shipping Board camoufleurs from the Second District. This suggests that Stinemetz was a civilian, and most likely not in the Navy.

Frank Lloyd Wright Meets Camoufleur Barry Faulkner

Frank Lloyd Wright poster © Roy R. Behrens (2017)
Above Frank Lloyd Wright's City National Bank and Park Inn Hotel in Mason City Iowa. Poster by Roy R. Behrens (2017).

•••

In the Iowa City Press-Citizen (Iowa City IA), on April 21, 1932 (p. 8), there was an entry in Charles B. Driscoll's column "The World and All," in which he reported on a recent experience in New York with American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Here's an excerpt—

Recently I attended a delightful party in honor of Frank Lloyd Wright at the studio of Barry Faulkner in East Seventy-Second Street. I found the guest of honor one of the most distinguished gentlemen I have met in moons.

Barry Faulkner's studio? Really. Those who know about the origins of the WWI American Army Camouflage will recognize that name. Faulkner, from New Hampshire, was Abbott H. Thayer's cousin. In collaboration with his friend, Iowa-born sculptor Sherry Edmundson Fry,  he co-founded the American Camouflage Corps, comprised of civilian artists and architects.

Driscoll continues—

To Mr. Wright, I ventured to put this question: "Why do your building designs so persistently emphasize the horizontal line?"

I had observed in pictures of the buildings designed by Wright the long roofline, the veranda or porch paralleling the roofline, and other efforts to squelch the vertical.

"Because," he replied, "the horizontal is the restful line, the line of repose and domesticity. It is what we need in this country."

"Then you must not think well of our New York architecture, with its emphasis on the vertical?" I asked.

"Is there architecture in New York?" replied the distinguished guest.

And I went hunting for another sandwich.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Englishwomen's Clothing Styles Go Bang in 1921

Above Pablo Picasso, Three Musicians, oil on canvas (1921). Philadelphia Museum of Art. Wikipedia (public domain).

•••

LONDON FROCKS TO DAZZLE U.S. in Wisconsin State Journal (Madison WI), April 16, 1920, p. 8—

LONDON—This summer will find Englishwomen “dazzle-painted.”

A society dressmaker announces that the coming frocks will reveal the mostly startling color London has ever seen. Hitherto Englishwomen have shown a decided preference for clothes of the neat-but-not-gaudy type.

Many an American, commenting on the clothes which adorn England’s fair sex, has remarked: “But they’re so drab. I’ve never seen an Englishwoman wearing a color which goes bang!”

Well, this summer Americans are going to witness all the explosions in women’s garb that futurist inspiration can devise. Dresses will be fantastic, materials will be dyed to resemble the patchwork quilts with which the Victorian grand-dame was wont to camouflage her beds and sofas.

Chintz, too, is to be worn quite a lot. Curtains and cushion covers will be torn from their moorings and converted into little “coatees,” and the housewife will look like one of her own pieces of furniture—decked out in summer coverings.

All those futurist artists who saw the war in streaks and splashes are busy painting dazzle designs of the same nature for the cloth manufacturers.


Harlequin Beetle

Cave Canem | How To Camouflage Your Dog

How to camouflage your dog
Artist unknown. Catchpenny print, 18th century "puzzle picture" titled The Isle of Dogs.

•••

Anon, THE MAGIC OF CAMOUFLAGE in Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), September 19, 1918, p. 6—

An American artist has discovered a new use of camouflage. He has a favorite dog which his neighbors have been kicking out of their way whenever the animal chanced to stray there.

He had been admiring the great camouflaged battleships on the Hudson River and reading of eminent members of the British Royal Academy, garbed as colonels, directing painters on the Western Front how to camouflage a gun emplacement into a village school or a poultry run.

A happy idea struck him: he would camouflage his dog—all but the tip of his tail. So he has, with the result that the dog now looks like something else, and enjoys complete immunity from the attentions of his neighbors, for he moves about as a beautiful cloud effect.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Explaining Camouflage to Welsh Cub Scouts in 1919

Poster © Roy R. Behrens 2019
Above and below Posters designed by Roy R. Behrens to advertise events at the Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls IA (2009). From a series of twenty-five posters, all of which can be viewed online.

•••

Milford Haven Cub [Scout] Notes in Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph (Wales), July 9, 1919—

A Talk about Camouflage
I suppose a good number of you Cubs have heard the word “Camouflage”? These big words puzzle some of the older folk sometimes, and when they see a word which they do not understand, they go and look for a book called a “dictionary” which explains the meaning.

Deceiving the Enemy
When the word “camouflage” was first brought to the public notice, people wondered what it meant.

We people who live near the coast soon found out what “camouflage” meant. At first we saw most peculiar painted ships, and as you looked at them, you could imagine they represented all kinds of wild animals. To look at them in the distance, they did not look like ships, and really it was puzzling, and when we turned to our neighbor and said, “look at that funny ship,” they said she is “camouflaged.”

Now I wonder if you Cubs understand why those ships were painted in this way? Why was the ship “camouflaged”?

It was to deceive the enemy.

Nature’s Camouflage
You little Cubs have little gardens at school, you learn to grow all kinds of flowers and things. When your flowers grow and bear nice green leaves, sometimes you wonder why they don’t grow much nicer, the petals of the flowers are all eaten away, and scarcely a green leaf on them. Now, if you look very, very closely and very, very hard, you will find tiny little flies, slugs, and insects creeping round the flowers.

Do you know why it is you never can see those little pests? If is because nature has “camouflaged” them to protect them from their enemy. Nature has made them the same color as the plants they live upon or at least a similar color, and they are in this peculiar color to deceive the enemy.


Poster © Roy R. Behrens 2019
 

Camouflage Cartoon by Futurist Felix Del Marle 1919

Felix Del Marle (1919)
Above Felix Del Marle, cartoon titled "League of Nations" (predecessor to the United Nations), as published in Le Rire (April 19, 1919). An accompanying caption reads—

The President: No more wars! Those who want to provoke will have to dread the big cannon of the League.

A Voice in the Crowd: Yes, if it's not just camouflage. 

Felix Del Marle, Self Portrait (1913)

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Stages in WWI Ship Camouflage Application | 1918


USS George Washington (1918)
The SS George Washington was an ocean liner that was actually built by the German government prior to World War I. They named it for the first US President, and it kept that name throughout the war, although in 1917 it was seized by the US and used to transport American troops. It could carry almost 3000 passengers. When it was used by the navy, it was officially known as the USS George Washington. When used to transport army troops, its designation was USAT for US Army Transport.

The ship was initially camouflaged for the first time in 1918, in dazzle style. That formidable task was accomplished, from beginning to end, in less than a couple of weeks. Lieutenant Harold Van Buskirk, who was the executive officer in charge of the two-pronged US Navy Camouflage Section, described how that was undertaken in an article titled “Camouflage,” published in Transactions of the Illuminating Engineering Society (Vol 14 No 5) on July 21, 1919, pp. 225-229. Here is a portion of what he wrote—

On April 21, [1918], I received a request for a design for the USS George Washington, due to arrive at New York, April 27, and due to sail May 2. The blueprints of this vessel were obtained at once and outboard profiles and fore and aft elevations of the main superstructure were drawn at 1/16 inch to the foot. At the same time construction was started on a wooden model of the vessel at a scale of 1/32 inch to the foot. As soon as the drawing was completed it was sent to the US Geological Survey for copies. The model on completion was turned over to the design room. Here a design for this particular vessel was considered, tried and finally developed, with the aid of a submarine periscope looking over a false sea towards changeable sky backgrounds, which were operated from the periscope. On the sea, at a distance representing 2,700 yards or 1 1/2 miles was a turntable that also operated from the periscope. In this way, the model placed on the turntable could be observed from the periscope at various angles with varying sky backgrounds and lighting conditions. In order to obtain a veiling glare such as exists at sea due to fog, mist, smoke, etc., a movable semi-transparent mirror was mounted between the observer and the model to reflect scattered light into the eye of the observer in a way entirely analogous to the condition existing in nature. Generally, the design had been approved by the time the printed forms had been returned from the Geological Survey. The model bearing the approved design was then turned over to the drafting room where it was transferred to the outboard prints. This entire process averaged four to five days so that in this case on the morning of April 26 the design of the George Washington was mailed to the Navy Yard, New York, by special delivery and there awaited her arrival.

In this case, there are surviving photographs of the ship's completed camouflage, as shown (above and below) on this post.


There is also a photograph of the wooden model of it that was used to test the camouflage in an observation theatre.

Van Buskirk (right) and Richardson with USS George Washington model
USS George Washington in harbor at Brest, France (1918)
There is even a wonderful photograph of Lieutenant Van Buskirk and (we think) Ensign Raymond J. Richardson, originally from Reading PA, who, prior to the war, had been an architect and, after it ended, taught architecture at the Carnegie Insitute of Technology in Pittsburgh. At the camouflage facility in Washington DC, Richardson was in charge of the drafting room, where the ship plans were prepared.

A few months after the publication of Van Buskirk's article, Lieutenant Everett L. Warner (who oversaw the artists in the design subsection) published a lengthy account of the steps in the process of ship camouflage. The article, titled “Fooling the Iron Fish: The Inside Story of Marine Camouflage,” appeared in a popular magazine called Everybody’s Magazine, November 1919, pp. 102-109. He mentions the USS George Washington, in describing how wooden ship models were made—

The work began in the model-making room, where about a half dozen skilled men under Ensign Kenneth Maclntire were kept constantly busy in the production of miniature wooden models, which were accurately made to a fixed scale from blueprints of the vessels required. The reader may get a general idea of the size of these models from the dimensions of the President’s ship, the USS George Washington. It was one of the largest of them and measured about twenty-two and a half inches in length.

Warner refers to it as “the President’s ship” because on two occasions (December 1918, and again in the following March) President Woodrow Wilson and his diplomatic entourage traveled to the Paris Peace Conference on this same ship. But for those two trips, the USS George Washington was apparently no longer painted in a dazzle camouflage design.

Percyval Tudor-Hart | Canadian Camouflage Artist

Percyval Tudor-Hart (1934)
I first heard about the camouflage proposals of [Ernest] Percyval Tudor-Hart (1873-1954) years ago. Born and raised in Canada, he was a painter, teacher, and color theorist. Somewhat later, I saw photographs of a ship that he had camouflaged, a tank, and a pair of sniper’s gloves. In each, he had covered the surface with multi-colored, high-density zigzags. More recently, I saw the camouflaged gloves themselves in an exhibition sponsored by the Imperial War Museum (as shown below).

Tudor-Hart's camouflaged sniper's gloves

His proposal for WWI British ship camouflage (detail)
At one point, I ran across a reference to a Welsh medical doctor named Julian Tudor-Hart. The oddness of the family name prompted me to email him, asking if he were related to the Canadian camoufleur. As it turned out, it was his grandfather. I’ve since learned that Julian died only recently at age 91. I had intended to follow up with additional questions (he had offered to respond), but regrettably, I dropped the ball.

Cover of DVD package for Tracking Edith
Only a few weeks ago, I was fortunate to find a new documentary titled Tracking Edith. It is a film biography of Edith Tudor-Hart (1908-1973), an accomplished Modern-era photographer who studied at the Bauhaus in Dessau, worked as a Montessori kindergarten teacher, and recruited spies for the infamous Cambridge Marxist group that included Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, and other intellectuals. Her story is at once fascinating and tragic, and the film is well worth watching (although I would not have included its unfortunate animations).

The father of medical doctor Julian Tudor-Hart was Alexander Tudor-Hart, who was the son of artist-camoufleur Percyval Tudor-Hart. Both of Julian’s parents were physicians, and after the couple’s marriage crashed, Julian’s father married Edith Tudor-Hart (née Suschitzky), who then became his stepmother. Julian, who seems to have been both kind and likable, is interviewed in the film.

I have since located what may be the only biography of Tudor-Hart the camoufleur. It’s a 250-page book by Alasdair Alpin MacGregor (who knew the artist), titled Percyval Tudor-Hart: Portrait of an Artist (London: MacMillan, 1961). Because I was searching primarily for information about his involvement in camouflage, the book was less than helpful. There is a short chapter on camouflage, describing the endless frustrations he faced when he submitted his proposals to the British government. “One department after another, having kept him on tenterhooks for varying periods, decided that his camouflage was impracticable and that further experiments were, therefore, inadvisable,” with the result, as MacGregory concludes, “one cannot but deplore that the time and energy he expended on all this had not gone into his painting.”

I think I first became aware of Tudor-Hart's connection with camouflage while reading Guy Hartcup's pivotal book, titled Camouflage: A History of Concealment and Deception in War  (New York: Charles Scribner's, 1980). Hartcup briefly mentions him in a section that reads in part as follows—

Another exponent of camouflage was P. Tudor-Hart, a painter who had made an intensive study of color values in Paris and had expounded his theories to a small coterie of artists in Hampstead before the war. Tudor-Hart was generally critical of current military camouflage and explained that when objects on land were concealed they tended to absorb rather than to reflect light. At sea, the opposite occurred. He proposed to paint a geometrical pattern of alternating stripes of warm and cold colors, graded according to the area they covered. At a distance these colors were supposed to mix optically, assuming a general gray tone. Tudor-Hart believed that because the colors were pure and arranged in a mathematical relationship they would "fluctuate with the increase or decrease in light."

Of related interest may be my recent essay on the camouflage proposals of American artist William Andrew Mackay, which also made use of the optical mixture of colors.

In the end, neither Tudor-Hart's paintings nor his camouflage proposals were likely his greatest achievements. He probably accomplished more as a mentor for younger artists (in Paris and London), a color theorist, and art restorer. His camouflage proposals came from his quasi-scientific view of color, and, more specifically, his beliefs about the ties between color and sound. In March 1918, at the apex of his interest in camouflage, some months before the war would end, he published a technical article in The Cambridge Magazine, titled “The Analogy of Sound and Color.” While obscure at the time (and even more so now) his theories influenced his students, one of whom, a decade earlier in Paris, was the American painter Stanton MacDonald-Wright. Together with Morgan Russell, MacDonald-Wright launched a style of painting based on color and abstraction called Synchromism.

Among Tudor-Hart’s other students were British artists Theodora Synge (cousin of Irish writer J.M. Synge), Donald Wood, W.T.H. Haughton, Margaret Beale, Richard and Stanley Carline, as well as their sister Hilda (who married Stanley Spencer). Among his American students were John Edward Thompson, George Carlock (Elbert Hubbard's nephew), and Richard H. Bassett. It was of particular interest to find that one of his favorite pupils was New Zealand-born painter Owen Merton, father of the admired American writer and Trappist monk, Thomas Merton.

Front right: Lieutenant Wilford S. Conrow, WWI camoufleur


As for camouflage, I was also pleased to find that another of his students was Wilford S. Conrow, an American portrait painter who served during WWI as a commissioned officer in the American army’s first camouflage corps, officially established on September 6, 1917, at Camp American University, near Washington DC. Lieutenant Conrow, according to a news article at the time, “helped to organize the company” and “is in charge of all the paints and materials used at the camp.”

According to MacGregor (who claims incorrectly that Conrow was “director of American Camouflage during the Second World War”), when Conrow was asked by a fellow student who to recommend as an expert on color, he replied, “What a stupid thing to ask!… Why not consult our own teacher—the Darwin of Color?”

As for biological roots, it seems that Tudor-Hart came from the intermingling of two families, the Tudors of Boston and the Harts of Montreal. The Tudors were the wealthy half, thanks largely to the fortune of Percyval Tudor-Hart’s grandfather, entrepreneur Frederic Tudor, more commonly known as the Ice King. He amassed that fortune by harvesting ice from New England (including Walden Pond), then shipping it to the American South and the tropics. A key enabler in this ambitious enterprise was Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth, who harnessed horses to a plow-adapted blade to more efficiently cut the ice. It was interesting to learn that this Wyeth was an ancestor of the artist Andrew Wyeth.

The father of the Ice King was a wealthy Boston lawyer named William Tudor. During the American Revolution, he was the legal advisor for George Washington, and, in 1775, was appointed Judge Advocate for the Continental Army. His son the Ice King was his third son, but his first son, also named William Tudor, was equally interesting and certainly just as successful, but not in business nor in law. After graduating from Harvard, he became a leading Boston citizen and a prominent literary figure. He was a co-founder and the first editor of The North American Review.

One of the pleasures of research is to unearth unexpected links—so-called degrees of connection. In this case, it was fun to dig up two. First, for almost two decades, I was the art director for The North American Review, which had awakened from its dormancy in 1969, when it was revived at the University of Northern Iowa. Through the efforts of its editor then, Robley Wilson, it soon gained recognition as one of the top literary newsstand periodicals, and a persistent competitor with The New Yorker, Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, and other famous, well-staffed and amply-funded magazines. By the time Wilson retired in 2000, it had won the National Magazine Award for Fiction twice and was a finalist for that award five times; placed stories in the annual O. Henry anthologies four times, in the Pushcart Prize annuals nine times, in Best American Short Stories eight times, in Best American Sports Writing and Best American Travel Writing.

The second connection is that, when I was in graduate school in the early 1970s at the Rhode Island School of Design, my finest teacher at the time was a literary scholar named C[harles] Fenno Hoffman. He didn’t use his given name, and I believe we called him Fenno. It was he who introduced us to Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians. He died in 1996, but over the years I concluded that he was descended from (and named after) a famous ancestor, Charles Fenno Hoffman, a prominent American writer. The link to Percyval Tudor-Hart is that the wife of the elder William Tudor (Washington’s legal advisor) was Euphemia Fenno, and together they started a line that branched out from the Fenno (Hoffman) bloodline.

•••

Postscript (added May 4, 2019): D. J. Enright, Interplay: A kind of Commonplace Book (Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 6—

One good thing about not going to a public school was that you didn't get recruited to spy for the Soviet Union. I was at Cambridge, but nobody approached me. Scholarship boys didn't have a guilty conscience (or not the right sort).

•••

Postscript (added May 6, 2019): This gets a tad confusing, but it may be worth the effort. Among Percyval Tudor-Hart's uncles was Frederic Tudor (1845-1902), who had an artist-daughter named Rosamond Tudor (1878-1949). She was the granddaughter of the Ice King.  In 1904, she married an aviation pioneer and naval architect named William Starling Burgess (1878-1947). He later worked with Buckminster Fuller on the Dymaxion Car. One of their children, née Starling Burgess, changed her name to Tasha Tudor and became well-known as a children's book author and illustrator. There is a brief item in the November 1918 issue of Flying (p. 908), which reads as follows—

Mrs. W. Starling Burgess, the wife of Lieutenant Commander Burgess, the noted aeronautic engineer, and naval constructor, has joined the Navy, having been given a civilian appointment to the Camouflage Section of the Navy—the first of its kind.

Mrs. Burgess is well known as "Rosamond Tudor." Her paintings have been exhibited under that name. She has just completed a portrait of Father Zahm, the famous explorer who was with Colonel Roosevelt in the latter's exploration trip in the interior of Brazil.