Sunday, June 23, 2019

WWI Ship Camouflage Artist | Arthur Turnbull Hill

USS West Zula (1918)
In 1918, The East Hampton Star (East Hampton, Long Island NY) announced its plan to publish a list of residents who were serving in World War I. Among those who replied was an artist named Arthur Trumbull Hill (1868-1929), who had already been employed as a civilian “camofleur” [sic] for several months. He welcomed the opportunity, he said—

to give you some idea—no detailed description is allowable—of the unique and important work the Navy and Shipping Board have done in Marine Camouflage since the United States entered the war.

This was published as a Letter to the Editor on the front page on October 18, 1918. He went on to say—

Everyone, of course, has by this time, seen some of the camouflage ships, but few know that these remarkable, and frequently very handsome, cubistic looking productions in line and color, are the result of a carefully defined system adopted by our navy and only after the most exhaustive tests, and that the designs, far from being a hit or miss proposition, are most carefully worked out and elaborated [in] almost infinite variety under the immediate direction of artists employed solely for this purpose by the Federal Government. In fact, the personnel of the Navy and Marine Camouflage Departments include some of the most talented artists in America.

In signing his letter, Hill listed his affiliation as USSB, EFC—for US Shipping Board, Emergency Fleet Corporation. In other words, he was working for the civilian branch of wartime camouflage, which itself was overseen by the US Navy. In December 1918, four of his paintings were included in an exhibition in New York of war-related art, titled the Allied War Salon. His exhibited works were titled “Camouflage at Robins Dry Dock,” “Camouflaged Ships at Erie Basin,” “Camouflage on the Mystic River,” and “Leaving for Providence.”

These works and those of fourteen others were included in a section in which the artists were described as “Marine Camoufleurs of the US Shipping Board, Second District.” This is the same district (based in New York) for which William Andrew Mackay was the Chief Civilian Camoufleur. The other camoufleurs were Spencer B. Nichols, Hobart Nichols, Alonzo Kimball, Alfred Huty, George E. Harris, Hubert R. Chapin, Henry Davenport, Harry Farlow, Thomas D. Benrimo, Ralph T. Willis, Carol M. Sax, M. McGregor Jamieson, Alon Bement, and George Wright.

Arthur Trumbull Hill died in Brooklyn NY in 1929. Five years later, there was a memorial exhibition of his artwork at the South Gallery, Guild Hall in East Hampton. The majority of the exhibited works were from his wife’s collection. She also wrote the catalog introduction, which included the following statement—

In this collection, as a matter now of historical interest are several pictures of camouflaged ships which my husband painted when he served as a camoufleur in the marine camouflage in the World War.

USS Major Wheeler (1918)
USS Major Wheeler (1918) second view



A.E. Gallatin, Allied War Salon. Exhibition catalog. New York: American Art Galleries, 1918.

Arthur Turnbull Hill, in National Cyclopedia of American Biography.

Hill, Arthur T. A.T. HILL, CAMOFLEUR. Letter to the Editor. The East Hampton Star (East Hampton NY). October 18, 1918, p. 1.

Local News: MEMORIAL SHOWING OF WORK OF A.T. HILL AT GUILD HALL. The East Hampton Star (East Hampton NY). July 19, 1934, p. 5.

Note The ship photographs on this post are intended merely as examples of WWI dazzle ship camouflage. They may not have any connection with Arthur T. Hill.