Sunday, May 12, 2024

camouflage / his master looks exactly like our egg man

Above W. Heath Robinson, "Camouflage vs. camouflage" from his invention series. Public domain. 


John Lewis (who was himself a WWII camoufleur), Heath Robinson: Artist and Comic Genius (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), p 36—

When working in the garden he [British illustrator W. Heath Robinson] was in the habit of wearing the most dreadful old clothes and because of this was more than once mistaken for the gardener. On one occasion an artist dressed in a pale violet-grey suit, with a black velvet collar, called on the Robinsons. He saw Will digging in the garden and shouted across to him: “Is your master in, my man?” “I’Il go and see,” muttered Will and disappeared indoors, only to appear a moment later in a tidier jacket and with his hair brushed, to make himself known to the other artist. What the outcome of this was, I do not know. In his autobiography he tells this tale and gives the unnamed visitor the soubriquet of Renée de Boudoir.


Max Eastman, Great Companions (New York: Farrar Straus and Cudahy, 1942)—

[In his later life, American philosopher John Dewey] moved out on Long Island, and preserved his contact with reality by raising eggs and vegetables and selling them to the neighbors… [He received an urgent order one day] from a wealthy neighbor for a dozen eggs, and the children being in school, he himself took the eggs over in a basket. Going by force of habit to the front door, he was told brusquely that deliveries were made in the rear. He trotted obediently around to the back door, feeling both amused and happy. Some time later, he was giving a talk to the women's club of the neighborhood, and his wealthy customer, when he got up to speak, exclaimed in a loud whisper: "Why, he looks exactly like our egg man!"  

Monday, May 6, 2024

potpourri of colored angles, lines and geometric forms

Above World War I photograph of a dock in which, as seen in the background, an unknown ship in drydock is being repaired. Note its dazzle camouflage scheme.


FUTURIST ART ON SHIPS in Oakland Tribune (Oakland CA) June 23, 1918—

At last the futurists have found themselves. Rather has the world found them.

Their theories and practice are adopted by the Navy Department to camouflage the ships that go down to the sea, as witness the good ship that rode in the harbor during the week, a potpourri of colored angles, lines and geometric forms that recall visions of that famous room at the Palace of Fine Arts during the [1915 Panama-Pacific International] Exposition—the “My God Room.” You remember it?
Dynamism—movement—is what the perpetrators of the pictures were striving for, movement as opposed to a static state.

And is not that the thing sought for by the Navy—a movement of objects that are disassociated with ships, to the consternation of the gunners who roam the sea?

Objects in movement multiply themselves, becoming deformed in pursuit of each other, like hurried vibrations. Thus does the law work out for the protection of the ships of the Allies, justifying the theories of Balla, Picasso, Picabia and the rest.

The stories of Courbet, and Manet, and Monet and Degas are fresh in mind—the contempt of the people; then their acceptance of the innovators, followed by their standardization, by which the rest of the world of art is measured. Such is the psychology of the mediocre.

Shall the war vindicate the theories of [Giacomo] Balla and his confrerés?


 Dazzle Camouflage: What is it and how did it work?

 Nature, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

 Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage

 Optical science meets visual art

 Disruption versus dazzle

 Chicanery and conspicuousness

 Under the big top at Sims' circus

Friday, May 3, 2024

he only wants the photograph, not the painting itself

The American painter Albert Sterner (1863-1946) was the father of architect Harold Sterner (1895-1976), who, during World War I, was assigned—as were Thomas Hart Benton and Louis Bouché—to make records of all camouflaged ships that entered various harbors (New York harbor in his case). The father was a friend of sculptor William Zorach, who recalled the following story in his autobiography—

William Zorach, Art Is My Life: The autobiography of William Zorach. Cleveland OH: World Publishing, 1967, p 131—

When the man [who had asked about his portraiture] came over to see Sterner, he told him his work was very expensive. That didn't bother the man and Sterner painted the portrait. The man studied it and was satisfied.    

He asked, “Can you tell me where I can get his photographed? I would like camouflageabout two hundred and fifty prints.”

Sterner said, "Peter Juley does all my photography. He'll be glad to do it and you will be well satisfied.”

He said, “Will you arrange to have two hundred and fifty prints made and have them sent to my office?”

Sterner said, "Certainly. And where shall I send the painting?”

“Oh,” he said, “you keep the painting. I don’t want the painting. I just want the photographs.”

So Sterner said, "What's the idea?"

The man said, "You know, I'm a broker and I want to send these photographs around to my clients so they can see I'm a very good looking and upright gentleman and they'll be glad to have me handle their business."

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

WWI camoufleur / penniless and nearly dispossessed

Camoufleur Frank H. Schwarz
We’ve blogged about American artist / camoufleur Frank H. Schwarz once before, but no doubt he deserves another round of applause. I wish I could tell you where we found this newspaper headshot of him, with the headline WINS PRIX DE ROME, and the brief notice below. The date is 1921, and his name is incorrectly spelled as Schwartz (which we have corrected below). Here it is—

The story of Frank Schwarz, twenty-six-year-old artist of Greenwich Village, New York City, reads more like a novel or play than a real true account. For Schwarz, who was penniless and about to be dispossessed from his $12-a-month “studio,” is today the most talked of person in the world of art. He has won the most coveted of art awards, the Prix de Rome, which is a three-year fellowship in the American Academy of Art in Rome, carrying with it transportation expenses and an annuity of $1,000 during the three-year course. Schwarz won the award with his painting A Tribute to Heroism. He is a native of Chicago and studied art there, working in cheap restaurants in order to earn his meals and a dollar or two for lodgings. He is a war veteran, having served in France as a member of the [US Army] camouflage section.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

endless dalliance / no need to encourage his talking

Dali Visits Iowa (1952)
Martin Birnbaum, The Last Romantic: The story of more than a half-century in the world of art. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1960—

After his exhibition and just when I began to pride myself on having introduced a salient figure into our art world, Herbert Crowley suddenly disappeared. Only after I retired did I discover that he had enlisted in the camouflage division of the British Army. In 1926 [other sources say 1924] he married Miss Alice Lewisohn who, with her sister Irene, had founded the remarkable Neighborhood Playhouse on Grand Street, New York, an admirable account of which was written by Mrs. Crowley [titled The Neighborhood Playhouse: Leaves from a Theatre Scrapbook].

[Herbert and Alice Lewisohn Crowley lived in Zurich after World War I, where they were closely associated with psychologist Carl Jung.]


Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols. New York: Doubleday, Anchor Press, 1964—

Freud made the simple but penetrating observation that if a dreamer is encouraged to go on talking about his dream images and the thoughts that these prompt in his mind, he will give himself away and reveal the unconscious background of his ailments, in both what he says and what he deliberately omits saying. His ideas may seem irrational and irrelevant, but after a time it becomes relatively easy to see what it is that he is trying to avoid, what unpleasant thought or experience he is suppressing. No matter how he tries to camouflage it, everything he says points to the core of his predicament. A doctor sees so many things from the seamy side of life that he is seldom far from the truth when he interprets the hints that his patient produces as signs of an uneasy conscience. What he eventually discovers, unfortunately, confirms his expectations. Thus far, nobody can say anything against Freud's theory of repression and wish fulfillment as apparent causes of dream symbolism.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

John Wolcott Adams and World War I ship camouflage

Most likely, we have unearthed more information and have written more about the life of American artist William Andrew Mackay (1870-1939) than anyone else [in most online sources, his birth year is mistakenly cited as 1876] . It has been a long extended search, beginning in the 1970s—and it seems as if it never ends. Mackay was a muralist who, at least in that regard, is especially famous for his murals about the life of Theodore Roosevelt, installed beneath the rotunda in the Roosevelt Memorial Hall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. But he also painted numerous other murals in prominent public buildings.

Our initial interest in him began with the contributions he made to the development of ship camouflage before and during World War I. We have talked about his efforts in various earlier blog posts, but we’ve also written a major, detailed essay about his discoveries (acessible free online), and have often featured his work in published books and articles.

Until recently, we were unaware of his connection to John Wolcott Adams (1874-1925), an American illustrator who was a descendant of the famous Adams family of New England, which had produced two US presidents. We learned recently, in an essay by Christine I. Oklander in an exhibition catalog titled John Wolcott Adams: American Life and History (Chadds Ford PA: Brandywine River Museum, 1998) that William Andrew Mackay was “one of [Adams’] closest friends” and that Adams had been “assigned to paint the American liner Philadelphia.” At least one photograph of that camouflaged ship has survived (reproduced above), taken on June 27, 1917.   

In Mackay’s approach to ship camouflage, the goal is low visibility, not confusion or surface disruption (as is the function of dazzle). As shown in the photograph of the ship, Mackay used an optical mixture of red, violet and green, applied in splotch-like patterns (not unlike Pointilism) on the surface of the ship.

Aldis Lamps, Bolo Bananas, and Some Dog's Body

Caption for an illustration (shown above; artist’s signature unclear) from The Aeroplane: The International Air Transport Journal. London, c1919—

THE AIR POLICE—It has been officially stated that we are to have an Air Police Force. Probably it will be International and Local at the same time. As the designing of new uniforms is one of the most important duties of the Air Authorities, a few suggestions are offered—for which no charge will be made. Reading from left to right they are as follows—(A) Provincial Police. Armament as shown. (B) Metropolitan Police. Fitted with Aldis Lamps, Bolo Bananas and Pockets. (C) Our French Bobbies would no doubt prefer “camouflage” as a distinction from the ordinary gendarmes. (D) The Irish Constabulary would, of course, want something different from anyone else. (E) The City Police would, no doubt, go in for something quite “Posh.” (F) And “over there” the Air Force Sheriff would be “Some dog’s body.”

Friday, March 29, 2024

unheralded accomplishments of Walter Tandy Murch

Monograph on Walter Tandy Murch (2021)
Recently I became aware of the paintings of an extraordinary Canadian-born artist named Walter Tandy Murch (1907-1967). I am amazed to think that I had never heard of him before. I am drawn to his work in part because it has so much to do with styles and “ways of seeing” that I myself feel compatible with.

His work has the seemingly effortless charm of collages and assemblages, in which familiar components are recognizable—up to a point—yet disarmingly strange and beclouded. His paintings are not collages of course. They are unforced yet purposeful patterns of paint. The mystery that they induce comes partly from the struggle between the clarity of the thing portrayed—a bowler hat, gears and scientific tools, the backside of a manikin—and a half-rhyming, impending surrounding that threatens to merge. But it doesn’t.

Murch’s very finest works traverse a tight rope on the cusp of genuinely excellent gallery art (not easily found at the moment) and the best magazine illustration. Somehow he excelled at both, and we should not be surprised to find that his work remains formidable whether mounted on a gallery wall, or printed in full color on a magazine cover. Among his most powerful paintings are works that were commissioned as illustrations for the covers of Fortune Magazine and Scientific American.

Walter Tandy Murch / Cover Illustration
In researching Murch’s origins, I was more than pleased to find that he was student of Arthur Lismer (of the Canadian Group of Seven), one of my favorite painters, and one whose well-known works include a masterful depiction of the RMS Olympic, dressed in dazzle camouflage. As in Murch’s own paintings, Lismer is good at inviting us to participate in hide-and-seek. Murch moved from Canada in 1927 to New York, where he later studied with Arshile Gorky, another favorite artist of mine, who taught civilian camouflage during World War II. He was also greatly interested in the dream-like box collages of Joseph Cornell, of whom he painted a portrait in 1941.

While he was always prolific, Murch was never widely known, perhaps in part because he dared to be a “fine artist” when exhibiting at the Betty Parsons Gallery, and yet to apply the very same skills in illustration, advertising, graphic design, restaurant murals, the design of department store windows, and teaching. He lived for only sixty years. In the year before he died, his work was exhibited in a major retrospective at the Rhode Island School of Design. In 2021, Rizzoli USA published a full-color book about his life and work, titled Walter Tandy Murch: Paintings and Drawings, 1925-1967. At the top of this post is the cover.

Walter Tandy Murch / painting
Those who are immersed in vision and art—whether fine art or design—are nearly always prone to be devotees of cinema. I certainly fall within that group. Among the films that I admire are The Conversation, The English Patient, Julia, The Godfather series, and many more. That said, as I was basking in the pleasure of having found the artist Walter Tandy Murch, imagine my further exhuberance when I also learned that Murch’s son is the celebrated filmmaker and sound designer Walter Scott Murch. Among his many remarkable films are the few that I have listed above, but there are many more of equal or greater distinction.


Dazzle Camouflage: What is it and how did it work?

 Nature, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

 Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage

 Optical science meets visual art

 Disruption versus dazzle

 Chicanery and conspicuousness

 Under the big top at Sims' circus

did Frank Lloyd Wright design home for Hilton twins

Mark Sloan. Hoaxes, Humbugs and Spectacles. NY: Villard Books, 1990, p. 41—

Born in England in 1908, Violet and Daisy Hilton were perhaps the most successful of all Siamese twins [conjoined twins]…At the height of their extraordinary career the lived in a house in San Antonio, Texas, designed for them by Frank Lloyd Wright.


Bexar County Historical Commission Oral History Program. James Moore, as interviewed by Esther MacMillan on June 30, 1978, in San Antonio TX—

JM (James Moore): …from the time they [the Hilton sisters] were very young…they built a home out on Vance Jackson Road [in San Antonio].…it was a very expensive house and a very ornate, elborate house, but a very cold house. It was built on a sort of a Japanese or Chinese style, with the curved-up corner, pagoda type. It was built out of blond, light colored brick.

M (Esther MacMillan): …in one reference, it said that the plans came from Frank Lloyd Wright, not that he built the house, but that they got plans…

JM: I don’t know about that.

M: And somebody said that it just didn’t look like Frank Lloyd Wright. …I never saw the house.

JM: I think that was a little bit of…

M: Fluff?

JM: …they didn’t exactly tell a fib, but they sort of glamorized it.


Sideshow World website at <>—

When Mary Hilton died, she willed the twins [Violet and Daisy Hilton] to Edith and Myer [Myers]. The Myers relocated to the United States and used part of the twins' fortune to build a luxurious, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home in San Antonio, Texas. Daisy and Violet spent the majority of the 1920s touring the United States on vaudeville circuits, playing clarinet and saxophone, and singing and dancing. The sisters were a national sensation, counting among their friends a young Bob Hope and Harry Houdini, who allegedly taught them the trick of mentally separating from one another.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Frederick Pawla / an unknown artist and camoufleur

Pawla, the surname of British-born American artist Frederick Alexander Pawla (1876-1964), rhymes with Paula. Not surprisingly, it is often incorrectly spelled. That is probably one of the reasons why his contributions to ship camouflage during World War I are largely unacknowledged, although they were considerable.

As one source claims, Pawla was a “highly important” ship camoufleur for the US during World War I, but his name is now “largely forgotten.” There are US government documents in which Pawla is credited with having produced the “dazzle camouflage” designs for various ships, but the credit is all but deflected because he is mistakenly listed as Paula, not Pawla. More>>>


Dazzle Camouflage: What is it and how did it work?

 Nature, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

 Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage

 Optical science meets visual art

 Disruption versus dazzle

 Chicanery and conspicuousness

 Under the big top at Sims' circus

Juan Gris / World War One has been kind to the cubist

Above I have long believed that the truly great practitioner of Cubism was neither Pablo Picasso nor Georges Braque, but rather the all-but-neglected Juan Gris (1887-1927). Above is his remarkable Portrait of Pablo Picasso (oil on canvas, 1912, Art Institute of Chicago). In this painting, the liquidity of the background pretends to threaten the figure, but it always backs off without doing serious damage. Gris must have been prolific because he seems to have produced so much artwork of such heightened quality, and yet he died at forty.


THE CUBISTS’ CHANCE in Ardmore Daily Ardmoreite (Ardmore OK). August 31, 1918, p. 4—

The war has been kind to the cubist artist. He has his day at last. Timid souls who dared neither to scorn nor praise the sylvan views and staircase scenes of the cubist can now burst forth in unstinted praise of these same designs when painted upon gun timbers, freight car doors and ships, to hide them from the enemy.

Camouflage would seem by divine right to be the cubist’s field. As he once successfully disguised the scenes he claimed to depict, he may now conceal the very surface on which he lays his paint. And the entrancing thing is that the layman can appreciate and enjoy the work quite as much as the artist, which he could not do in the glorious days of cubism recently passed.


Dazzle Camouflage: What is it and how did it work?

 Nature, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

 Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage

 Optical science meets visual art

 Disruption versus dazzle

 Chicanery and conspicuousness

 Under the big top at Sims' circus

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

canoe in which there is no there / Gertrude Stein adrift

Above This is a strange snapshot of a WWI-era canoe to which someone has applied an amateur camouflage pattern. I would have sworn that the figure on the left was Gertrude Stein, sitting quietly in the back, enjoying a cigarette. Who then is the person on the right? Is that Hemingway? The caption on the original newspaper article source (long lost) suggests otherwise. It reads: "Wearing the camouflage of a war canoe on the peaceful water of Delanco NJ [home of Joe Burk, who twice won the Henley Regatta]. Note how successfully the war paint blends with the shimmering water."

Monday, March 4, 2024

camouflaged ship jokingly said to be the work of scabs

Above This is a wonderfully elegant postcard from World War I. It was presumably published near the war's end or shortly after, c1919. The dazzle-painted American ship is unidentified, but the caption states that it was built in Lorain OH, which is on Lake Erie. Public domain.


CAMOUFLAGE: A Strange Device in The Bega Southern Star (Bega, New South Wales, AU), February 16, 1918, p. 4—

Many people visiting Sydney have no doubt noticed the peculiar manner in which some of the overseas vessels are painted, their appearance much resembling the results of the labors of a one-year-old baby to paint a summer sunset in 12 colors. The entire vessel resembles a kaleidoscope, as if a giant had thrown handfuls of various colored mud on the ship, and they had been darkened the sun, blotches of different color being painted all over the ship. The object of this strange method of painting is to deceive submarines, it being claimed that the ships adopting it are able to considerably lessen their chances of being observed by prowling U-boats. As one of the boats came up the Harbor recently, looking at it sideways on, it appeared like two rocks with a passage of water between them. The vessel has naturally created a good deal of controversy and interest, and has afforded many openings for cartoonists in a well-known Sydney satirical weekly, such as a cartoon showing a unionist and his sweetheart observing such a ship, and the girl inquiring the purpose of what she termed the “funny painting.” “Huh!” grunted the unionist, “that ship was painted by ‘scabs!’ They didn’t know how to mix the colors properly.”


Dazzle Camouflage: What is it and how did it work?

 Nature, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

 Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage

 Optical science meets visual art

 Disruption versus dazzle

 Chicanery and conspicuousness

 Under the big top at Sims' circus

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Wiard Boppo Ihnen / so why a duck why-ah no chicken

In 1933, the art director for the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup was a man named Wiard Boppo Ihnen (1897-1979). His German given name was pronounced as “weird,” and throughout his life he was usually known as William or Bill Ihnen. 

Wiard Boppo Ihnen

He was born in Jersey City NJ, where his father was an architect and artist. He too practiced architecture, but he also studied painting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, as well as in Mexico City. On two occasions, he won an Academy Award for art direction, but he is also remembered for other well-known productions, including two of Mae West’s films (Go West, Young Man and Every Day’s a Holiday), and John Ford’s Stagecoach.

In 1940, he married Edith Head, the acclaimed costume designer (he was 5’6”, she was 4’11”). Years earlier, in October 1918 (at the close of World War I), he had enlisted in the US Army, for which he served in camouflage until his discharge in February 1919. According to an obituary in the Los Angeles Times (June 26, 1979, p. 30) he served “in the army” during both World Wars, “as a camouflage expert.”

Friday, March 1, 2024

YMCA canteener recalls french camouflage factory

Above Photograph by Mole and Thomas (Chicago) of 8,000 camp personnel at Camp Wheeler, Macon GA, arranged to form the symbol of the YMCA. The actual dimensions of the assembled group was 385 feet wide x 315 feet high.


Elizabeth Hart, YMCA Canteener on Active Duty with AEF in France, in a letter to her mother on December 14, 1918, as published in MISS HART CHAPARONES 12 SOLDIERS AT DINNER DANCE: St Louis Girl Canteening in France, Writes She Like Mother of a Large Family, and Her Sister, Clara, Said She Felt Like ‘Mrs. Ruggles.’ in the St Louis Star and Times, January 21, 1919, p. 11—

We first met Monsieur Chazat at Madame Gluntz’s dinner. He is the artist from the camouflage factory…

…Monsieur Chazat made three sketches in all. The men, three who happened to come into the kitchen, were delighted with them and he is coming back next Tuesday to do more. Clara and I made the cocoa as usual but did not serve it out to the Hut—however, I washed cups, opened cakes, mixed new cocoa in the studio-kitchen all afternoon, falling over the camouflage artist at intervals.

Monsieur Chazat went over to the mess with us. He seemed to enjoy it. When he makes our portraits, or rather does them, we shall send them to you. We are going down to the camouflage factory to see him some day soon. Of course, since November 11th the demand for camouflage is low, so the artist has plenty of times for guests. He seems to adore to come to camp—drank cocoa and smoked cigarettes as if he had never seen either before.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

walking man camouflaged by the omission of clothes

Above John Walker Harrington, humorous incomplete drawing (n.d.)


John Walker Harrington, HART, THE RELENTLESS SCRUTINIZER OF AMERICAN PORTRAITS. He Destroyed Some Illusions, but He Helped to Increase The Fame of Our Early Artists, in the New York Sun, 8 August 1918—

…As one who knew him [Charles Henry Hart], I am venturing to write these lines about him because nobody misunderstood him, and therefore, taken all in all, he was a most unpopular man. There is danger, owing to his decided personality, and also because in these days art has given way to dazzle and camouflage, that the great service which this man did for American art will be forgotten for a time.…

Saturday, February 17, 2024

hidden pidgin / the camouflage of messenger pigeons

I should think that there are few things more amazing than the variety of birds known as “homing pigeons” or “messenger pigeons.” They were widely used during both World Wars I and II to deliver messages from the field to various behind-the-lines command posts, which they had been trained to consider as “home.” They have been known to be able to return to home destinations as distant as 1000 miles. In addition to their battlefield role, they were also used as mail carriers (called “pigeon post”) by postal services, and by newspaper reporters to deliver stories from the field to the home office.

To send a message, the information would be recorded on a lightweight paper, which was then rolled up and secured within a tube-like capsule (along with a small pencil) attached to the pigeon’s leg [see photo below]. 

Shown above is a page from the January 1919 issue of The Popular Science Monthly, which features a grocery wagon that has been converted into a “home” for a “pigeon flying corps,” consisting of seventy-two messenger pigeons. 

At the bottom is a dog which apparently has been trained to carry a pigeon (in a special container attached to its back) to the dog’s “master,” a soldier somewhere in the field. That person could then remove the pigeon, write a note, and send it “home” to the landlord of the pigeon hotel. 

A wonderfully curious aspect of this is the coloration of the wagon. Looking closely at the large photograph, it becomes apparent that the wagon has been “camouflaged” with paint so as to continue the pattern of the rock wall and the foilage above and behind it. It was of course essential to prevent ones pigeons from being killed or wounded.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

first get stewed then come aboard and paint the ship

Above Anon, illustration of a World War I dazzle-camouflaged ship, from The Illustrated War News (AI colorized).


Frank Ward O’Malley, The Widow’s Mite and the Liberty Loan, in The New York Sun, April 21, 1918, p. 12—

Astern of the gray transport steams another ship, the second vessel crazily camouflaged—as if the skipper had said to a boss painter, “Mike, you and your whole crew go ashore and get stewed to the eyes and then come aboard again and paint this ship as you see fit.”

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

ambiguous perspective disguises ship's course in wwi

Above is a wonderful page spread from the February 1919 issue of International Marine Engineering. The article, titled "Principles Underlying Ship Camouflage: Complementary Colors Produce Low Visibility—Dazzle System of Ambiguous Perspective Disguises Ship's Course—Special Color Effects," was written and illustrated by Alon Bement, whom we've blogged about before. He taught art education at Columbia University, was a wartime camouflage advisor, and, interestingly, had a pivotal influence on his student, the painter Georgia O'Keeffe (as claimed by her). His ship camouflage diagrams are exceptionally helpful (there are more in the full article), as is the text. I think it would be fair to say that this is one of the best WWI-era articles on marine camouflage. I have reprinted the article, in its entirety (text and images), in my anthology of ship camouflage documents, titled SHIP SHAPE: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

WWI horse striped like a zebra to hoodwink the enemy

Above Photograph from The Illustrated News (London), April 7, 1915, p. 48, with the following caption: STRIPED TO ELUDE THE ENEMY: A PONY DISGUISED AS A ZEBRA, ON THE GERMAN EAST AFRICAN BORDER. This photograph of an officer on active service in East Africa, mounted on a pony which has been dyed with permanganate of potash to resemble a zebra, must surely be the last word in war coloration and the mimicry of natural surroundings, for purposes of invisibility. The tawny tinge of khaki—very much the tint of a lion’s skin, by the way—sufficiently serves for the rider’s concealment amidst the forest shadows. The dying of light-colored and piebald and white horses has become a regulation practice among the cavalry in Europe in particular, as it has been stated, some of the German regiments at the front. In much the same way, heavy artillery guns and wagons are sometimes painted over with broad patches and daubs of the primary colors.


Roe Fulkerson, “An Old Man in His Dotage” in Crescent Magazine: Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. Vol 12 No 3 (May 1921), p. 22—

[A Shriner] came into our village the other day…There was no place to take him so I took him to a lunch club I belong to and there we heard a navy man tell the story of what the Navy did in the war. The man was a good talker and he laid particular stress on the wonderful science of camouflgae and how marvelous it was that they had discovered that by painting a war ship in alternating black and white stripes it completely destroyed the form of it and made it invisible at a comparatively short distance. He expatiated at great length on this. Keep that point in mind.

Then as I had no other addresses worthwhile I took my visiting Noble for a ride out to the zoo so he could look at the camels and sympathize with their lack of grace and explain to them how he, too, in other days had established records for going without water.

While we were looking at the camels we looked in the next yard and there were a lot of zebras with those same black and white stripes that the Navy man was just telling us about and we recalled that a zebra lives out on the vast plains of Africa and that the Almighty had for ages been camouflaging him with black and white stripes to break up his form so his enemies could not see him at a distance! Then we went for a ride in the country and passed over a bridge and were stopped by a gate and a bridge at a grade crossing and how do you suppose they had painted that railroad gate and that bridge so I would be sure to see from a distance and not run into them?

They had striped them in black and white like a zebra!


Below WWI photograph of British soldiers in France. At the right is a captured German sentry box, marked by alternating stripes. 

Monday, December 25, 2023

John Brown fifty years ago / remembering a colleague

Painting by John Brown 1972
While sorting through our art collection, I’ve been looking at an acrylic painting dated 1972, purchased from the artist that year or shortly after. His name was John C. Brown (1934-2019), who for a few years in the 1970s was a faculty colleague at the University of Northern Iowa.

I don’t know the title of the painting, if it had one. But no doubt one reason I bought it is because it so strongly pertains to figure-ground blending or background matching, as is so commonly observed in camouflage, both natural and military.

John was originally from Cedar Falls. He majored in landscape architecture at Iowa State University (Ames), but dropped out in favor of studying art. He completed his BA in Art in 1956 at UNI, then worked for a number of years as a graphic designer and illustrator. He made "studio art" on the side, and was awarded various prizes for his innovative paintings.

At some point he joined the faculty as an instructor of painting. I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design at the end of 1971, and was invited to teach at UNI in the following spring semester, and I think he was on the faculty then. In the years that followed, he and I (and others) were among the teachers in a highly unusual, untested approach to art foundations, called the Visual World Program.

That program had been launched in the fall semester of 1971 by a newly-hired department head from San Francisco, a man named Kenneth Lash, who had been the Head of Humanities at the San Francisco Art Institute. A rather odd aspect of this was that Lash was not a visual artist but a writer—a poet and an essayist, whom I had initially met in the summer of 1968 at the Aspen School of Contemporary Art in Colorado.

Given that the Visual World curriculum was a quasi-subversive departure from standard foundations courses, as detailed in textbooks at the time, it was controversial from the start. Some of the departmental faculty welcomed it, while others were wary, hesitant or confused. The latter complained they were clueless: What was the program all about? What was it supposed to accomplish? How could it be defined? As I recall, when Lash was approached with questions like that, he would typically reply that the program would eventually shape itself, over a year or two, in the process of trying to teach it.

Some of us reached out to other disciplines. We devised activities that stressed creativity (innovation, humor and problem-solving), perceptual psychology, and the interplay of usually disparate fields. We brought in a stage magician to demonstrate sleight of hand; worked with the physics faculty in making holograms; learned from biologists about the use by ethologists of behavioral dummies; explored stereoscopic vision (including random dot stereograms); constructed airborne works of art; recreated some of the Ames Demonstrations, while learning about their historical link to linear perspective; and so on.

There were deliberate efforts to teach as much through physical engagement as through attending lectures. On occasion, oddball contests were arranged, two of which I still remember vididly: the infamous Rube Goldberg Drawing Machine Contest, and the Groucho Marx Look-Alike Contest.

There were also eccentric exhibits, one of which was originated by John Brown. He partitioned off a section of the floor space in the gallery, then set free within that space an impressive selection of battery-powered motion toys, of the sort that, if collided with, they would adjust their course and continue to move. The full effect consisted of random collisions of various things, like non-stop vehicle mishaps—which continued for a couple of days, until at last the batteries died.

In 1975, Ken Lash and I co-authored an article that was published in Leonardo: Journal of the International Society of Arts, Sciences and Technology (published then by Pergamon Press, it was soon after acquired by MIT Press, and continues now as Leonardo). In that article, titled “The ‘Visual World’ Program at the University of Northern Iowa, USA,” we cited one of John Brown’s most memorable classroom assignments. Known as “the Lemon Experiment,” we described it in the article more or less as follows (although with substantial revison):

A class of twenty students is presented with a shopping bag containing fresh lemons. Each student then selects, randomly, any lemon from the bag. They are told: “Take your lemon with you. Look at it, feel it, smell it. Carry it with you wherever you go, even when you go to sleep. Get to know as much as you can about your lemon without marking, cutting or biting it. Then bring it to class with you when we meet again in two days.”

At the next class meeting, all the lemons are returned to the grocery bag, then spread out on a table top. The students are instructed to retrieve their particular lemons. They are inevitably amazed to find that, with little difficulty, they can indeed identify them. They mostly do this using sight. But some of them, even when blindfolded, can find their lemons by touch and smell. They are left with a new understanding of the rich range of attributes that can be observed and recognized in things that may initially look as if they were indistinguishable.

In a subsequent phase, the students are asked to draw maps of their lemons, which might enable someone else to identify their lemon. Or, in a “lemon substitution” phase, they are asked to create visual puns by purposely misplacing lemons in usually mistaken contexts, such as a “lemon dirigible” or a “lemon pencil sharpener.” They are also assigned to produce a “counterfeit lemon” from any mix of materials (sponges, stuffed socks, or whatever) to explore the possible links between vastly different types of things.

Around 1976, I moved on to another university. John Brown stayed on at UNI, but he too eventually left. Looking through old issues of the student newspaper, there is a story from 1975 which reports that his students had constructed a large “floating painting” which they launched on Prexy’s Pond, a pond near the center of campus. Another one, two years later, shows him with one of his classes. They had been asked to design a package in which a raw egg would survive undamaged when the package was dropped from a building.

John Brown with students
John died in 2019. According to his obituary, he had been living in the Florida Keys for forty years. Following his experience with the Visual World, he had married (to Pam Quegg) and moved to Colorado, had toured the West in a Volkswagen van, and had sailed down the Mississippi. Having finally settled in Florida, he made a living—or so I heard—by selling handmade teddy bears on the beach. “He lived mindfully,” the obituary says, “and savored each moment with passion.” And, consistent with my own memory, he will be “fondly remembered for his big smile and booming cheerful voice.”

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Milwaukee illustrator William J. Aylward during WWI

Captain William J. Aylward
Until recently, I don't think I had heard of American artist William J. Aylward (1875-1956). I should have, since he was born and raised in Milwaukee, where I lived and taught for a decade. On the other hand, he left Milwaukee for the East as early as 1903, and his prominence was diminished because, throughout his career, he was dismissed as an illustrator (a commercial or advertising artist) not as a privileged fine artist.

It was interesting to find that Aylward was the son of a Milwaukee Great Lakes ship captain, which explains in part his lifelong fascination with ships and related nautical themes. He served in World War I, not as a camouflage artist, but (as shown in the photograph above) as an official government war artist, which means that he was assigned to complete onsite drawings and paintings of wartime settings and events.

Back in Milwaukee, long before WWI broke out, he had been associated with illustrator Arthur Becher, with whom he was one of the founders of the Milwaukee Art Students League. Later known as the Milwaukee Art Society, among its well-known members were Edward Steichen, Carl Sandburg (Steichen’s brother-in-law), and the painter and sculptor Louis Mayer. Together, Becher and Aylward decided to study illustration with Howard Pyle’s school in Wilmington NJ. Soon after, their lifelong careers began as two of the country’s finest magazine illustrators.

William J. Aylward
Throughout his life, Aylward produced illustrations for such famous books as Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jack London’s The Sea Wolf, and various others. His wartime work was especially accomplished. Reproduced above is his painting of American troops on the move in France during WWI, with a camouflaged truck in the foreground. Below are three full-color paintings (watercolor and charcoal) of wartime harbor settings, completed in France in 1919. Included in each are portions of a camouflaged ship. 

William J. Aylward

William J. Aylward

William J. Aylward

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

no camouflage wig / as bald as the dome of St. Paul's

Above Anon, World War I dazzle-camouflaged steamship at wharf in Richmond CA, c1918. Digitally colorized.


E.V. Lucas in The Sphere, reprinted as COINAGE OF WAR WORDS in Vinton Review (Vinton IA), November 14, 1918, p. 3—

[As for camouflage] I cannot remember any instance of a foreign word, so peculiarly un-English as this, not only being so rapidly and universally adopted but also being so rarely mispronounced. I still often overhear knots of men who in their talk about the war refer to the Kay-ser, and the utter anglicization of French battle names by public house military experts is perhaps the most charmIng feature of their discussions; but camouflage remains as French in sound in this country as in its own, and every one uses it. Here, however, it has become so elastic as to be the recognized form for any kind of pretence whatsoever.…

I have been astonished recently by examples of the hold of camouflage on all types of mind. Journeying the other day from a Sussex station to London, under war conditions—fifty of us standing all the way in the guard's van—I had some talk with the guard, who, on removing his cap to wipe a heated brow, revealed himself as bald as the dome of St. Paul’s. It caused him no distress: some men, he remarked, would camouflage it with a wig, but not he. Earlier In the day, my host, a vigilant and suspicious reader of the press, had dismissed an optimistic article on current events as "mere camouflage.” The next day a schoolboy back for the holidays two weeks in advance of the proper time said that a scare of measles had brought about that desired result; at least, that is what the schoolmaster said, but personally he thought it was just camouflage to cover the fact that grub was getting so jolly expensive. And a little Iater a facetious gentleman near me in a restaurant asked the wine waiter to bring him some claret instead of the camouflaged water which he called whisky. Probably the word is in the nursery by this time.

Note As some people will remember, British humorist E.V. Lucas teamed up with George Morrow in 1911 to produce a delightful book of mismatched text and pictures, titled What A Life!, a subject I have talked about in a recent essay on digital montages, but also in a video talk about the logic of comic invention.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Camouflage? Nope, just spots on a performing dog

News article from the Quincy Evening News (Quincy MA), July 31, 1935, p. 2, titled CAMOUFLAGE? NO, JUST DOG SPOTS

Like a weird dream of a camouflage artist, Chang-Lee appears here, standing on his hind legs in one of the tricks of his extensive repertoire. But those spots were’not painted on Chang-Lee. They just grew on this novelty hairless canine from far-off Indo-China, making a friendly call in this country.

Diary of British camouflage artist Solomon J. Solomon

Solomon tank camouflage scheme
There is an article from the Boston Sunday Post, dated December 24, 1922 (p. B3), titled WAR ‘CAMOUFLAGE ARTIST’ COMPLETES PORTRAIT OF BRITISH ROYAL FAMILY. It tells the story of the delayed completion of a painting of  the Coronation Luncheon at Guildhall, an event that had taken place in 1911. Its culmination was put off by World War I. The artist assigned to complete it was Solomon J. Solomon, who is described in the article as “the most famous portrait painter in Europe today.”

When the war began, Solomon assumed that it would not greatly interfere with his artistic career, but it “interrupted him absolutely” because the government soon discovered [by way of his own prompting] that he was the one man in England familiar with the art of camouflage.” He was sent to France, to learn about that country’s section de camouflage, which was under the command of Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scevola. For a time, Solomon was the head of British Army camouflage, during which he oversaw the construction of imitation dead tree observation posts, advocated the use of overhead garnished nets (the shadows of which broke up the shapes of things below), aka "umbrella camouflage," and proposed designs for tank camouflage.

Solomon was the author of one of the first books on wartime deception, titled Strategic Camouflage (London: John Murray, 1920). Earlier, he had also published The Practice of Oil Painting and Drawing (London: Seeley, 1910).

Until recently, I had not realized that there is another book about him which contains extensive excerpts from his wartime diaries. That source is Olga Somech Phillips, Solomon J. Solomon: A Memoir of Peace and War (London: Herbert Joseph, 1933). Quoted below are a few passages (pertaining to camouflage mostly) from Solomon’s diary.

[p. 127] The French observation post trees were round; I made mine oval, so that that part of them facing the Germans should appear too small for a man to ascend; this was later adopted by the French.…

It was proposed in my report that I should need the assistance of three painters. I had made up my mind about these—two scene painters about whom I would consult Mr. Joseph Harker—and a theatrical property maker…

Harker had recommended to me Oliver Bernard—a small man, very deaf, who staged the operas at Covent Garden—a good organizer. He, on his return from New York, was on the Lusitania when she was torpedoed. He was rescued from the sea. He couldn’t swim a stroke and attributed his luck to a mascot he always wore, and which—in his opinion—would safeguard him throughout the war.

[p. 134] B—— spoke of his admiration for Giron[sic] de Scevola, the head of the French camouflage, who had, after much difficulty from the French Army people, to accept the idea of camouflage…

Scevola would only accept the rank of lieutenant, but stipulated that no one should be above him. He was—and is—a fashionable Parisian portrait painter, dressed very smartly, and invariably wore white kid gloves…

[p. 143] Who says the painter can’t organize? This seemed to be a military prejudice. When an artist is composing an imaginative picture his organizing faculties are at full stretch.

[p. 149] 11th March—…Major Alexander wanted some dummy heads—these dummies were made to attract fire, so that German snipers could be located—the line of fire would be indicated by putting a small stick through the back and front holes made by the sniper’s bullet.

Hitherto, adopting the French plan, we had mounted these heads on round sticks, and Major Alexander told me that often these would tend to turn in the hand, so that the exact direction was lost. In future I mounted the heads on square sticks fitted with a square sheath with cross feet; ths could be kept firmly in place. I had modeled several heads from our men who sat for them and I became quite a decent sculptor. The clay model was cast in plaster from which moulds were taken, and the pressing of successive sheets of paper saturated with flour paste into the moulds produced a sort of Guy Fawkes mask. We turned out quite large numbers of these papier mache “Tommies” which I colored from life.

…the Secretary of the French Camouflage Corps, asked me to model him, which I did, he wanted to send a paper mache reproduction of himself to his wife at Bordeaux. This added to our stock of types.

[p. 155] Wednesday, 22nd March—Giron[sic] de Scevola invited us all to dine with him at our little hotel at Wimereux, and an excellent meal it was for so small an inn. The Frenchmen sang and made witty speeches and kept it up till quite late. I was looking forward to returning the compliment when next de Scevola came our way, but that was not to be. We artists got on well with our French confreres.