Monday, February 17, 2020

Cartoonist Cliff Sterrett | Safety in Camouflage

Below This camouflage cartoon by American artist Cliff Sterrett (1883-1964) was featured in a comic strip series called Polly and Her Pals. It was published in the Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake UT) on September 25, 1918. In an earlier post, we featured another Sterrett cartoon.


Sunday, February 16, 2020

Historic examples of camouflage by Mexican forces

Above Pancho Villa (1914).

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The Daily Empire (Juneau AK), October 1, 1918, p. 5—

JUAREZ, Mexico—Camouflage as a war art was known in Mexico long before it was used in Europe although not by that name. Mexican soldiers, since the days of [Porfirio] Diaz, have practiced concealment for military advantage. They have been known to place their high crowned hats on poles stuck in sandhills in such a way as to make the enemy force believe they were defending the hill, then flank the enemy from another direction. [Victoriano] Huerta’s Federal soldiers used camouflage to conceal the portholes in the sides of armored railroad cards. A checkerboard pattern was painted on the sides of these cars, and black and white squares concealed the rifle ports.

The Mexican fighting men have also used the trick of covering their high hats and bodies with brush to advance on enemy positions through thickets. [Pancho] Villa originated the plan of driving a herd of cattle into a besieged town at night in order to draw the fire of the defenders and to explode any mines in the streets.

The most primitive though effective application of camouflage in Mexico was the practice of the Tarahuamara Indian scouts with [Francisco I.] Madero’s revolutionary army. These half-naked scouts would precede the army and by doing a kind of patter dance, raised a cloud of dust that concealed them from the view of the enemy and permitted them to approach enemy positions without being detected in their envelope of dust which resembled a whirl common on Mexican deserts.

Hollywood camoufleur | Shotgun wedding in reverse

Poster for Tummell's award-winning film (1933)
William F. Tummell (1892-1977) was an award-winning Hollywood film director, who served as a camouflage artist during World War I.

Born in Kansas City MO, he grew up there, and in Muskogee OK. He attended Muskogee Central High School, where one of his classmates was Viola Kobler. Around 1913, they eloped and were married without her parents’ consent in Wagoner OK.

When they returned to Muskogee, they were confronted by the bride’s father, who “took the bride home with him and made her stay there and warned the youthful husband away with a shotgun.” Following unsuccessful “attempts at reconciliation,” the parents sent their daughter to Iowa.

In the fall of 1913, unable to locate the bride, Tummell filed a lawsuit in Superior Court for $20,000 in damages against her parents. When he learned her whereabouts, he “went after her and finally brought her home with him.” The following year, Tummell (apparently without his wife) moved to Los Angeles to work as a technical director for film companies. Whatever the circumstances, their marriage ended in divorce in 1917.

Earlier, while living in Missouri, Tummell had been a member of the Missouri National Guard. In 1917, he joined Company F of the 24th Engineers, an army camouflage unit. He passed through Kansas City on November 27, on his way to training at Camp American University in Washington DC. According to an article in the Muskogee Times-Democrat on the following day—

The company will be composed entirely of men recruited from the motion picture industry and its business will be to render [American] batteries, billets and other war instruments invisible to [enemy eyes]. After three months of intensive training in Washington [DC] the movie fighters will embark for the war zone.

Following the war, Tummell returned to his film career in Hollywood. Between 1925 and 1977, he contributed to 59 films. In 1933, he received an Academy Award as Best Assistant Director for his work on Cavalcade. He died in Los Angeles in 1977 at age 85.

While looking for information about William Tummell, we discovered that the US Army photograph that we used on the cover (below) of False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage (2002) is that of a camouflaged soldier from Tummell's unit, Company F of the 24th Engineers, taken at Camp American University in November 1917.


Friday, February 14, 2020

Dust to dust / Dali, skulls, and reminders of death

C. Allen Gilbert, All Is Vanity
Ten years ago, we blogged about an American illustrator named C. Allan Gilbert (1873-1929), who was also an early contributor to animated films. Unfortunately, if and when he is remembered, it is inevitably because of the continuing popularity of one of his illustrations, a memento mori (reminder of mortality) titled All is Vanity (1892). It is a double image or visual pun in which the scene of a woman admiring herself in a mirror appears instead to be a skull when viewed from a greater distance. During World War I, Gilbert was also among a number of US artists who worked for the US Shipping Board (the Emergency Fleet Corporation) in applying dazzle camouflage to US merchant ships.

Gilbert's skull illusion is skillfully made and undoubtedly deserving of its popularity. But it is somewhat less than original. Throughout history, there have been repeated attempts at designing scenes of daily life that, from a distance, change into icons of death. Below is an example of one made by a German artist in 1866, in which two young people take on the shape of a skull when viewed from a distance. When translated, the label beneath the image reads "blood and decay." The Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali alluded to the same symbolism when he devised a "double image" (in a 1940 painting called Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire) that at first appears to be a bust of the French philosopher Voltaire, and then, at other times, perhaps an image of two nuns.

Anon, Blood and Decay

Set Design: Camouflage is as old as show business

Above Here are the sheep. But what has become of the shepherd? Can you find him?

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Daniel Dillon, STAGE SETTERS IN US FORCE in World War History (New York), August 11, 1917—

Indicative of the thoroughness and extent of preparation the American troops are now undergoing in occupying the trenches, is the fact that a large number of “stage setters” and “scenic painters,” architects, constructive engineers, etc., are now on the French and British fronts, learning the art of camouflage, that is, screening the artillery and concealing the observation points.…

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ART OF CAMOUFLAGE OLD AS SHOW BUSINESS in Cincinnati Commercial Tribune (Cincinnati OH), June 16, 1918, p. 17—

The art of camouflage, which has recently received widespread publicity because of its application to military operations in Europe, is really as old as show business, according to Blanche Evans, one of the pretty girls on the summer vaudeville bill at Keith’s [a major theatre at the current location of Fountain Square on Walnut Street] this week.

According to Miss Evans, theatre folks deserve full credit for developing and nursing this art of deceiving the eye through the ages, and of perfecting it to such a degree that it has become one of the important factors in modern warfare.

“Why, the very spirit of the stage is that of camouflage,” declared Miss Evans recently. “This stage makes believe, makes things appear what they are not, and that is camouflage in spirit and reality. Stage scenic artists are expert camoufleurs. They take a bit of canvas and with brush and paint transform it into a parlor, woods, or palace with ease. A series of costumes can change a single actor into a king, a beggar, a policeman, or a man of society. What is that but camouflage?…

The real relation between stage camouflage and military camouflage is perhaps best emphasized by the fact that hundreds of former theatre scenic artists are now engaged on the European battlefronts in creating illusions to deceive the observations of the enemy. American scenic artists are beginning to serve their country in the same way and before long we will have contributed hundreds to the same cause. Military camouflage is saving the lives of hundreds of soldiers every day and the theatre should be given full military credit for its patient and untiring development of the art.”


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Melvin M. Riddle, CAMOUFLAGE! Concerning one of the Major Arts of Motion Pictures. Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta GA), October 24, 1920—

…camouflage is an art without a knowledge of which, one of the greatest industries of today—the motion picture industry—could hardly exist.

The art of camouflage is a vital factor—in fact, it might be said, almost a prime factor in the production of motion pictures…

It is the general impression, perhaps, that the war first developed the art of camouflage. This impression, however, is erroneous. For long before the war began, the art had been developed to a high degree by the industry of motion picture production, but as developed by the industry, it was an unidentified art because it was an art without a name. The truth of this assertion is proven by the fact that when America entered the war, men from the motion picture studios, who had gained a knowledge of the art of scenic deception, formed an important part of the ranks of special camouflage corps which were sent over there. This was because these men had already a practical knowledge of this great study and had only to adapt this knowledge to the particular requirements of defense in war.

The one great difference between camouflage as practiced in motion pictures and as practiced in war is that war camouflage, although deceiving to the human optics, is readily detected by the camera, while in motion pictures the camouflage is especially arranged and prepared to deceive the eye of the camera, although it sometimes also deceives the human eye, unless a very close-up view is obtained. Primarily, it is the camera lens upon which the deception is practiced, however, for the eye of the camera is ultimately the eyes of the motion picture audience.

Motion pictures, before the beginning of the war, did more and are doing more to develop the art of camouflage on a large scale than any other industry or even possibly could do. Camouflage is the very life of a motion picture—a vital necessity. Of course, the art has been employed from time immemorial in the theatrical profession—in the dressing of stage settings for legitimate productions, but camouflage, as used on a stage, is very limited in its scope, and is admittedly camouflage, and for this reason loses its very effectiveness. It is when camouflage is mistaken for the genuine and the delusion is unquestioned, that it really serves the purpose for which it is intended.…


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See also theatre designer

Camouflage used to conceal moonshine stills

Above Someone has fallen asleep in church (probably drinking the night before) and is snoring loudly. Can you find the culprit?

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CAMOUFLAGE USED TO COVER STILLS in Centralia Evening Sentinel (Centralia IL), November 12, 1923, p. 2—

Helena MT—Montana prohibition officers are searching for a war veteran who saw service overseas with a camouflage outfit. According to George Costello, dry agent of Glasgow MT, bootleggers are believed to be employing the returned veteran to conceal their moonshine stills on Montana farms.

Costello said a still was recently discovered in a tent near Bozeman MT after many weeks search. The moonshine-making outfit had been hidden in a tent, painted green, and pitched in a clump of willows. Several times the dry officers came within a few feet of the hidden still but were unable to locate it because of the successful camouflage. A large number of barrels, hidden in the willows nearby, were painted green.

Three hundred gallons of whiskey, 1,200 pounds of sugar, 1,000 pounds of corn, and 18 barrels of mash, ready for distilling were found in the cache.

Evidence of the work of the veteran has been uncovered in other parts of the state, it was said. In a northern Montana grain field, a still was discovered hidden under a tent, which was covered with bunches of grain, tied together, and ready for harvesting. For some days dry agents thought the disguised tent was a mound of grain.

Near Havre MT, a still was found on a mountain. The still was made of canvas and was located on the edge of a cliff. Painted to resemble rocks, it was many weeks before the moonshiners’ outfit was discovered.

At Great Falls a still was recently found on the banks of the Missouri River. Here the still was located in a cave. Painted canvas trees were used to disguise a door, which formed the entrance to the cave.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Quaker guns and non-functioning decoy cannons

Wooden artillery used for training purposes
During World War I, non-functioning imitation cannons served two purposes. If they were more or less accurate models of actual battlefield artillery (above), they could be used to train soldiers to become accustomed to their use.

At the same time, there was also a need for non-functioning dummy cannons, traditionally known as “Quaker guns,” to throw off the enemy’s estimates of the size and location of forces. These were often crudely built from scrap lumber, since they would only be seen from a distance. Others (like the one below, probably made from papier maché) were more convincingly modeled. Once assembled and put into position, it was important to camouflage them as if they were genuine functioning guns.

Non-functioning decoy cannon, not yet camouflaged

bark- and leaf-like camouflage suit on tree stump

Above World War I photograph of an American soldier, dressed in a bark- and leaf-like camouflage suit, positioned on a tree stump (c1918). Public domain. Digital coloring.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

WWI German version of a dummy trench observer

This is one example of the use of the same camouflage trick by the two opposing sides during World War I. Snipers stationed at the front were poised and ready to shoot at anyone in the enemy’s trench who was foolish enough to look over the edge. As a result, both sides made dummy imitation soldiers’ heads (made of papier-mache or plaster), which were mounted on sticks and held up above the top of the trench.

If the dummy was shot at, it might enable the targeted side to determine the sniper’s location. This public domain photograph, which was initially published in Le Miroir on January 28, 1917, shows a French Army corpsman examining a captured German version of a dummy trench observer (complete with a German helmet and duplicitous field glasses), mounted on a wooden stick.

Camouflage costume results in a periscope neck

Above Just found this. It's a hopelessly grainy news photograph from the Des Moines Daily News (Des Moines IA), April 29, 1919, p. 5. The caption reads as follows—

Despite this successful "camouflage costume," we rather suspect this is a girl and not a steamer: Miss Lurline de Marals, artist, wore it at a recent Mardi Gras festival in Oakland CA. Every man in the place had a periscope neck.

See also scandalous bathing attire.