Monday, September 18, 2023

disruptive coloration used not to conceal, to advertise

Above An Ambulance Used Effectively in a Wartime Campaign, Decorated Camouflage-Fashion for the Purpose of Attracting Attention. Popular Mechanics (c1919).

CAMOUFLAGE AMBULANCE ADVERTISES “DRIVE” / A striking feature of a wartime “drive” recently conducted in Chicago was an ambulance that had been elaborately decorated camouflage-fashion. Thousands of persons looking down into the city streets saw this truck with its top painted in mottled hues and at once their curiosity was aroused. If the vehicle’s appearance was not strictly in accord with army regulations, it nevertheless served as an excellent advertisement for a good cause.


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

WWI proof / children know the meaning of camouflage

Above and below These are two uncredited photographs that appeared in American publications during World War I (c1918). The top one shows the camouflage-patterned wings of a National Service airplane. The patterning works as well as it does in part because it is a grayscale photograph, so the dark disruptive shapes on the wings and tail blend in all too easily with the shadows and other irregular shapes on the ground. In addition, the symmetrical target-like circles contradict whatever confusion is caused by surface disruption.

The photograph at the bottom is even more suspect, if for different reasons. It claims to show three children holding up a toy model airplane on which they have painted a comparable disruptive scheme. The caption for the photograph reads—

Even youngsters soon learn war terms. These three, for instance, are proud to display their toy aeroplane [airplane], the mottled finish of which shows that they know the meaning of “camouflage.”

Today, in an era in which digital photo retouching is epidemic, we may not be surprised to find that this pre-computer image appears to have been retouched by hand. The contours of the chidren’s figures, as well as the shape of the airplane, have undoubtedly been strengthened, and the facial features of the figure in the center look suspiciously like an adult. 


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

Sunday, September 17, 2023

camouflage application / women's limited capabilities

Above This an oddity, to be sure. I'm uncertain where I found it, but I do know that the original photograph (grayscale only, but misleadingly AI-colorized here) was published in The American Machinest (c1918), with the photo caption of "The finished product—American made gun and tractor—Detroit, Mich." The original image is an elongated horizontal, but, in order to show it in detail here, I have sliced it into three parts and stacked the sections. The article which it illustrates describes the process by which the camouflage design was applied to the tractor, which had been driven into a "camouflage room," where it was initially assumed that only men (not women) would be capable of painting the pattern. The article goes on to say—

Here a process never before used was applied. Paint guns had been used for the two coats of olive drab, but it did not stop at that point. One man marked off the camouflage design with chalk and marked each recess with the numbers 1, 2 or 3, number 1 being green, number 2 buff, and number 3 yellow. Each painter was given a number—1, 2 or 3.  Number 1, using green paint, painted every place on the tractor that was marked 1, while number 2, using buff, filled in every place marked 2, and 3 proceeded in like manner. After the first few tractors had been run through in this manner, it was found that women could do this work as well as men, and women were hired, relieving the men for heavier work. The black striping was done by a man at the end of the paint line. The total time required for assembling armor, tool box and camouflaging was one hour.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

real burlesque, as you like it, without any camouflage

Oliver Herford (c1880). Public Domain.
Edmund Wilson, The Twenties: From Notebooks and Diaries of the Period. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975, p. 234-235—

National Winter Garden. Speaking between the acts—someone had said, apropos of some risqué Broadway comedy, that when he wanted to hear “dubble-entenders,” he would rather go to the National Winter Garden. “Because here’s where you get burlesque as you like it, without any camouflage—sincere dubble-entenders.”

Friday, September 8, 2023

Joakim Derlow camouflage exhibition in Stockholm

Derlow Exhibition (Stockholm)
Joakim Derlow describes himself as an “artist from Sweden with outposts in Amsterdam and Stockholm.” I think he first contacted me very early this year, because of his great interest in camouflage and especially (myself as well) in art and camouflage compared. Since then we have batted emails back and forth, along with images, research references and quotes. During most of the year, he has been preparing for an exhibition on the subject, as well as a publication in which he collects and assesses a medley of historical finds.

I have just last evening received from him an email with photographs of his on-going exhibition. Two of them are included here. They show the installed exhibition in Stockholm. As he states in his message, and as is clearly evident in the photographs—

Central in the space is a camouflage net made together with Ukrainian refugees living in Poland. The net manifests the artistic quality of camouflage in the art space before it is sent to the frontlines by the end of the exhibition. An object that passes between the decorative and the utilitarian depending on what side of the border it finds itself. Other works are uniforms mounted on stretcher frames to once again become paintings like the artists that made these camouflage patterns in the first place.

If you browse around the visible space in the photographs, you can see quite a few art and camouflage icons. Among my favorites is the elongated black rectangular panel on the wall, very nearly ceiling height. It is a cut-out silhouette of a bird (no doubt a pheasant), like those that Abbott H. Thayer proposed (another bird flies over the top).

Also, among my favorite features is the wall-mounted moulding on the right wall, from which book-like clusters of pages are hung from wooden pegs. I applaud the otherall color scheme. But this moulding with things suspended from pegs reminds me of comparable racks on which the Shakers hung their chairs, to suspend them while they swept the floor.

It is so encouraging to see that Joakim has succeeded in bringing all this together. You may be able to follow his work at <>. It’s my understanding that he plans to take this further, to an even more ambitious stage, and perhaps it will become a book.

By wonderful coincidence, last evening, as I was reading Joakim’s email, my wife Mary came in from the garden to tell me that while she was picking beans, she touched what was not a bean but a beautiful praying mantis—same size, shape and color, of course. Now, this morning, she has taken me out to the garden, and we have been able to find the praying mantis again—it is still hanging about in the beans.

Derlow Exhibition (Stockholm)


Friday, August 18, 2023

Art and Camouflage books / discount and free shipping

Above and below: Limited supply remaining of new, mint condition, signed first edition copies of three books by author and designer Roy R. Behrens: FALSE COLORS: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage (2002); CAMOUPEDIA: A Compedium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage (2009); and SHIP SHAPE: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook (2012). Available now as bundle for $60.00 (save $27.95 off list price of $87.95) with free shipping at <>.

“[False Colors] is the definitive text on, but also the best possible introduction to, the 'social history' of military camouflage and the key role that artists played in its development. Roy Behrens writes beautifully and with complete authority. As a biologist, this is the book that broadened my horizons from an academic interest in animal camouflage to the broader context in which contemporary theories of camouflage evolved.” —Innes Cuthill, Professor of Behavioral Ecology, University of Bristol.

“[Behrens’ False Colors is] simply the best all-around introductory book on camouflage…it is perfect for beginners and a finishing school for veteran camoufleurs.” —Barton Whaley, military deception expert [2013].

“[Behrens’] book False Colors provides a brilliant overview of the subject [of art and camouflage].” —Art Historian Henry Adams, in Art and Antiques [2011].


Tuesday, August 15, 2023

BOOK ART // remembering artist Walter SH Hamady

Shortly after I moved back to Iowa in 1990, I began to correspond with a prominent letterpress book artist, paper-maker, collagist, and assemblagist named Walter Hamady (1940-2019), who was well-known as a teacher at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. 

Having earlier taught in Milwaukee for ten years, I became aware of Hamady's work in the 1970s. Because of his liking for Ballast Quarterly Review (which I had founded in 1985), he and I began to exchange spirited letters (along with a mix of enclosures) once or twice or more a month. This led to collaborations of one kind or another, eventually resulting in exhibitions, published essays, and an archive of his artist’s books. I saved everything, even all the envelopes and mailing containers, in part because they were always addressed to mutilations of my name, such as Corps du Roy, Rhoidamoto, Trompe L’Roi at Labbast, Royatolla, and so on. This continued for more than a decade, no doubt to the postman’s amusement (I hope).

Among my favorite of Walter’s hijinks was the occasion on which, in the process of publishing one of his 131 handmade artist’s books, he turned a copy of my book on Art and Camouflage into confetti, combined that with paper pulp, and "camouflaged" my book in one of his own.

While looking back on what I have, I recently produced a twenty-minute video talk (a brief memoir-like tribute) titled BOOK ART: Walter Hamady’s Books, Collages and Assemblages, which can be accessed free online on my YouTube channel.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Perkins Harnly / artist and cross-dressing camoufleur

Poster, Index of American Design
Few people will have heard of Perkins Harnly (1901-1986), an obscure American artist who grew up in Nebraska, lived in New York for a number of years, and ended up in Hollywood. I first became aware of him while researching a Depression-era art program called the Index of American Design. In a book edited by Francis V. O’Connor, The New Deal Art Projects: An Anthology of Memoirs (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1972), there is an essay by Lincoln Rothschild in which it is mentioned that “a specially gifted artist” named Perkins Harnley [sic] had provided that agency with “amusing views of a Pullman diner and an ornate stable as well as more ordinary interiors” (p. 184).

If people know about the New Deal Art Projects, it is most likely because they’re familiar with the Works Progress Administration or WPA (see poster above), in which the US Government commissioned unemployed American artists to create public murals for permanent installation in post office lobbies throughout the country. A surprising number of these have survived, and some of them remain on view in local post offices throughout the country.

What is less well-known is the Index of American Design (1953-1942), in which other unemployed artists (not studio "fine artists" but men and women who had previously worked as designers and illustrators, commonly disparaged as “commercial artists”) were hired not to make “creative” murals but to document examples of vintage American crafts (including folk art), through precise, detailed renderings. Among the things included in the Index of American Design were historic children’s rocking horses, carved ship figureheads, folk pottery, handmade clothing and fabrics, cast iron toy banks, antique furniture, weather vanes and other architectural ornaments, and so on. 

These were all beautifully documented in watercolor renderings, in exacting detail and in color. Miraculously, 18,257 of these have been preserved, and are housed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. These images are in public domain, and can be accessed online here. To commemorate that archive (as well as the graphic designers who made them), earlier this year, I designed and posted online a series of posters about  a few of the items it features. 

Among the artists commissioned to make Index of American Design renderings was Perkins Harnly. In addition, he also served briefly as a wartime camouflage instructor. While working for the Index of American Design, Harnly’s supervisor had been a Harvard-trained art museum administrator named Lloyd LaPage Rollins (1890-1970), who had also been director of the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. According to Harnley, Rollins was gay and was an avid collector of outlandish Victorian-era artifacts, which today would be regarded as “camp.” His housemate and associate was, as Harnly described him, “an attractive pet Scotsman.”

Interestingly, as revealed by Harnly’s biographer Sarah Burns, Harnly himself was gay and would later become notorious for cross-dressing and related misbehavior. Rollins was (in Harnly’s words) “my WPA Projects boss.” It was apparently through Rollins that Harnly was commissioned to make illustrations for the Index of American Design, some of which were rather large, measuring twenty-two by thirty-one inches. Harnly greatly enjoyed this assignment, in which he apparently had few restrictions. In an interview many years later, the artist recalled the freedom he had in completing this project that continued for years:

On the WPA I had all the time in the world. Every plate took four weeks at fourteen hours a day seven days a week to paint…just one took four hundred hours to render so meticulously and none took less than two hundred hours.

These fact-based yet fanciful renderings of Victorian interiors were well-received by government administrators, and that success was underscored when they were later exhibited publicly (twice at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and reproduced and written about in magazines. Two examples are posted here.

Perkins Harnly, Index of American Design

Perkins Harnly, Index of American Design

From the little that is known about Harnly’s involvement in camouflage, it appears to have been minor in comparison to the work he did for the Index of American Design. When America entered World War II, as Harnly later remembered in a Smithsonian interview, “we were put on defense projects…” He was assigned to camouflage as a civilian instructor, and sent to Fort Belvoir VA. There, he taught camouflage to officers, among them William Pahlmann, a well-known interior designer, and Gene Davis, the art director at Good Housekeeping magazine. The person in charge of camouflage at Fort Belvoir was Homer Saint-Gaudens, the son of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the famous American sculptor. 

When that assignment ended, Harnly was sent back to California, where his supervisor was once again Lloyd Rollins, his former “WPA boss,” but this time he “taught a class on camouflage in the attic of a midtown fire station.” Soon however, that class abruptly crashed and burned when Harnly had a falling out with Rollins’ associate (his so-called “pet Scotsman”), who stormed out in the middle of a work session, whereupon the course was cancelled.

Harnly lived for 85 years. He was colorful, to say the least. Sarah Burns’ recent book about his life is titled The Emphatically Queer Career of Artist Perkins Harnly and His Bohemian Friends (Port Townsend WA: Process Media, 2021). Be prepared for some scandalous content. It is a highly detailed account of the life of a person who grew up in a setting of what he himself described as “trashy Tobacco Road types” in the dregs of rural Nebraska. When interviewed at age 80, he claimed that his birth was premature, by seven months, when he was born in a “pauper’s farmhouse.” With no access to medical care, much less an incubator, he was wrapped in cotton, placed in a shoe box, and kept warm inside an oven.

When he was four or five years old, the family moved to Lincoln NE, where they lived adjacent to the Lyric Theatre. Over the years, his proximity to that stage led to his fascination with linear perspective, painting, and set design. His interest in art had begun as a child, but he did not pursue it intently until he was hired by the WPA for their New Deal art program. It was that opportunity, Harnly recalled, that gave him “the reason, the encouragement, the research, the material, and I really went to town.” In the end, he completed a total of eighty-one renderings of Victorian interiors for the Index of American Design.

There is much more to this story of course, far too much to include in a blog post. But two other aspects of Harnly’s life are of particular interest. First, his paternal grandfather, a Nebraska farmer named Benjamin Harnly, enjoyed considerable success in building elaborate Queen Anne residences in Lincoln. He constructed at least sixteen, the most famous of which was the Bryan House, which he built for William Jennings Bryan

Second, Harnly worked temporarily for MGM in Hollywood. This resulted from a showing in New York of twenty-two of his Victorian interior renderings for the Index of American Design. In an exhibition titled “I Remember That,” they were displayed on the mezzanine at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from October 1942 to April 1943. Among the people who viewed them there was an MGM film director named Albert Lewin. He was just then preparing to produce a film version of Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. In that story, circumstances are such that a painted portrait of its youthful, handsome protagonist, Dorian Gray, is reduced to putrefaction—as if by otherworldly means—as the physical man himself decays.

Based on his reaction to Harnly’s renderings of Victorian room interiors, Lewin persuaded him to relocate to Hollywood and to contribute to the film as a set design consultant. At the same time, Lewin also contracted two painters, who were brothers from Chicago, named Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, and his identical twin Malvin Marr Albright. They too were brought to Hollywood to work on site on the film. 

The original agreement was that Malvin would complete a portrait of Dorian Gray (looking both handsome and youthful), to be used at the film’s beginning, while Ivan would provide a comparable portrait of the same anti-hero, in a disturbing state of decay, at the end of the film. Ivan Albright’s (now-famous) painting (reproduced below) was used in the finished film, but the painting by his brother was eventually omitted, and replaced by an alternate portrait by a Portuguese artist, Henrique Medina. The paintings by the Albright twins upstaged Harnly’s achievements as a "sketch artist" and set designer. Ivan Albright’s painting was widely publicized, while Harnly is not even mentioned in the film credits.

Ivan Albright, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1943)

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

now you see ‘em, now you don’t / Alexander Sprunt Jr

Above Title page from "Masterpieces of Navy Camouflage" by Lloyd Seaman. Popular Mechanics, 1919, pp. 217-219.


Alexander Sprunt Jr, Now You See ‘Em, Now You Don’t. American Legion Monthly, June 1932, pp. 14ff—

During the World War much attention was directed to what was commonly called “camouflage.” Guns, munition dumps, airdromes, roads and ships were decked out in astounding color schemes of broken lines, circles and angles. It was not always the aim to render the camouflaged object inconspicuous, but rather to break up its actual shape and outline as to thoroughly confuse the observer. This was particularly true of marine camouflage. It was not possible to make such a huge vessel as the Leviathan inconspicuous at sea, but it was possible to render it so confusing an object in a combination of angles and tangents that a submarine observer could not be certain of its direction and vital parts. It might appear shorter or longer than it actually way; it might appear to be taking a course varying from the real one followed. At any rate, camouflaged ships so frequently misled the enemy that the firing of a torpedo could very well result in a miss and often did, whereas, without the weird color combinations employed, a hit would have been the case.


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

dazzle-camouflaged corporate interior in West London

The headquarters of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is located in White City, West London, in a cluster of buildings commonly known as the BBC Media Village. Near the inside entrance of the Broadcast Center is an “art wall” that, in part, is a reminder of World War I-era dazzle-camouflaged ships. Designed by British artist Simon Patterson, its disruptive black and white stripes (as shown here) also includes the names of various people who have worked “behind the scenes” at that corporation.  For more information, see Karen Dale and Gibson Burrell, The spaces of organization and the organization of space. London: Bloomsbury, 2008.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

to conceal and reveal / tandem aspects of camouflage

In 1917, when the US entered World War I, it was decided that artists, architects, set designers, and others would be recruited as camouflage practitioners. As a result, various civilian US schools began to offer courses in camouflage design. In this government photograph from 1918, a camouflage instructor at Columbia University is shown at work on a demonstration of “high difference” or “disruptive” ship camouflage, also known as “dazzle.” The same policy was continued during WWII.


Donald Oenslager, The Theatre of Donald Oenslager. Middleton CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1978, p. 12—

Then came those barren years of World War II. My abrupt transfer from my private world of stage design to the defensive world of camouflage was dramatic. I discovered that the temporary characteristics of stage design and camouflage are synonymous. With the same tricks one conceals what exists and by the corollary reveals what does not exist.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Russian Constructivism, ballet and dazzle camouflage

Ballets Russes performers
During the years 1909 through 1929, there flourished a popular European ballet company, known as the Ballets Russes or the Russian Ballet. Beginning in Paris, it performed throughout Europe, and toured in North and South America. Despite its name, the company did not perform in Russia, where the Russian Revolution was ongoing. It was wildly popular and much talked about because of the highly unusual manner in which it made use of choreography, costumes, music, as well as strangely stylized poses in dance.

Coincident to some extent with the Ballets Russes was the rise of Russian Constructivism, a branch of Modernist abstract art, of which the leading practioners were El Lizzitsky, Alexandr Rodchenko, Vladimir Tatlin, and others, both men and women.

They saw themselves not as “artists” but as something more akin to architect-designers, or what might be called “constructors.” It was not their intention to imitate or “make images of” existing phenomena, but to invent or “construct” new configurations, that tended to resemble abstract diagrams. When one compares iconic examples of Russian Constructivism—such as El Lizzitsky’s famous self-portrait with a compass, or his photograph of a hand with a compass (shown here)—with the all but abstract poses of performers in the Ballets Russes, their resemblance is undeniable.

El Lizzitsky, self-portrait photomontage


At the time, others saw a connection between the stylized movements of dancers in the Ballets Russes and the colorful, geometric designs that were applied to merchant ships as camouflage during World War I (called “dazzle camouflage”). In a 1918 news story about ship camouflage, it was said that some of the camouflaged ships in the war zone were “made up like [the] Russian ballet.” Another journalist described dazzle painting as “a Russian toy shop gone mad.”

One of the funniest portrayals of the Russian Ballet was a cartoon (shown here) by British artist W.K. Haselden that appeared in the Daily Mirror on November 24, 1924. Titled “Twentieth century ballet for everyday use,” it illustrates how peculiar daily life might be if everyone moved about in the manner of Ballets Russes performers. It is poking fun at the famous performers of course, but it is clear that the cartoonist admires them. The caption at the bottom reads: “The return of the delightful Russian Ballet suggests a new form of amusement for country-based parties. The advantage would be that the costumes would be [at hand and ready to use].”

There is available online a two-hour film documentary on the Ballets Russes. Of late, I have been building a series of digital montage artworks that commemorate the Ballets Russes, as in the example below. But I also talk about Russian Constructivism (and El Lizzitsky) in my own video on the Bauhaus and problem-solving

Ballet Russes digital montage © Roy R. Behrens 2023


Saturday, July 8, 2023

dazzle camouflaged troop ship arrives from europe

Above Cover illustration for the sheet music for Will D. Cobb and Gus Edwards, “Welcome Home, Laddie Boy, Welcome Home” published by M. Witmark and Sons, 1918. Notice the dazzle-camouflaged troop ship in the background (labeled L'Marne).


Optical science meets visual art

Disruption versus dazzle

Chicanery and conspicuousness

Under the big top at Sims' circus

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

WWI / camouflage events and The Graphic magazine

Cover / Louis J. Treviso (1917)
Above Cover illustration for The Graphic (Los Angeles), December 20, 1917, as designed by Louis J. Treviso (also signed by sometime collaborator Ray Winters). Born in Phoenix AZ in 1888, it is believed that Treviso's Mexican parents were enroute from Mexico to Phoenix when he was born in a covered wagon. It is said that he grew up among Native Americans, then moved to Los Angeles as a teenager. As a young illustrator, he achieved national attention for his posters for the Santa Fe Railway, which may have led to his cover illustrations (this may be the finest) for the much admired (if little-known) Los Angeles arts and culture magazine, The Graphic (1884-1918). The history of that magazine is discussed in detail online here.


There is an additional curious aspect of this same issue of The Graphic, a periodical that typically reported on the activities and achievements of notable citizens in Southern California society. There is in this issue a column titled “This Week in Society,” which includes a detailed account of an elborate “camouflage-themed” wedding celebration for a prominent couple in San Diego, in which Lapham Loomis Brundred married Jean Miller

In December 1917, the US had only just entered World War I, and had only begun to recruit artists, designers and architects to serve as camouflage artists, also known as camoufleurs. Among civilian society groups, it soon became common to encourage support of the war, increase enlistments, and engage in fundraising through "camouflage-themed" costume balls, rallies, and other public and private events. The article excerpted here provides a description of an early example of those events in 1917 at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego—

Among the many artistic affairs given at the famous watering place [Hotel del Coronado] was the unique dinner Friday evening with which Mr. John J. Hernan entertained, honoring Miss Jean Miller and her fiance Captain Lapham Loomis Brundred, whose wedding in St Paul’s Church, San Diego, was one of the brilliant military and social events in the seaside city. The settings for the affair were all “camouflage,” from the entrance into the communicating trench, where boughs of trees lined the walls. An immense airplane of crimson roses and foliage was suspended overhead, and great baskets and vases of pink rosebuds and foliage added a touch. The first line trench, marked by an immense sign, led into the fortifications (in the green banquet room). Here the entire room was transformed into a wooded valley, the immense fort “camouflaged” with canvas, and strewn with leaves and branches of eucalyptus, tiny electric lights glowing through the foliage. As the party emerged through the connecting door, the “immense guns” boomed forth a welcome, followed by tiny machine guns, and the orchestra, also camouflaged behind banks of trees, played “Over There.” When the immense white “camouflaged canvas” was removed, the table represented a miniature scene of the valley, hills, mountains and desert, at one end Balboa Park camp and at the other “Brundredville,” the sign posts reading “Some City Somewhere in America.” In the center of the plain rose the Rocky Mountains with cactus and rocks, the desert stretch of country reaching to “Brundredville.” On the other side was sunny California, with its wealth of roses and flowers, while around the whole ran the bridal train of its steel tracks bearing the bridal couple to their destination in “Brundredville.” Pink rosebuds and foliage ordered the tracks, and telegraph poles with their slender lines carried messages of congratulation, while tiny electric globes on tall posts lighted the way to happiness. The menu was especially camouflage, from the soup hidden beneath tin cans, butter pats under immense green bell peppers; crab Ravigotti, in Hearts of Lettuce; salted almonds in walnuts; olives in tomatoes; tenderloin of beef under crab shells; sherbet in rosy apples; Mallard duck beneath cabbage leaves; celery salad in carrot shells; creams in oranges, cakes in bread rolls and the demi-tasse in cocoanut shells. The hand-painted sketches of Coronado scenes marked covers for thirty guests. The whole affair was one of the most artistic ever given at the famous watering place. In the child’s vernacular “Everything was what it wasn’t,” being a clever explanation of the menu and entire effect. 


Tuesday, July 4, 2023

was Cleopatra's Barge first case of ship camouflage

Above Cover of Paul F. Johnston, Shipwrecked in Paradise: Cleopatra's Barge in Hawai’i. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2015.  

Cleopatra’s Barge was the name of a lavish Egyptian-themed popular lounge (now permanently closed) at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. 

But long in advance of that, it was also the name of an oceangoing yacht, a “pleasure yacht,” built in Massachusetts in 1816 for George Crowninshield Jr. Six years later, it was sold to the King of Hawaii, Kamehameha II. A detailed account can be found online. It was known for its extravagant furnishings, indoor plumbing, and other features, including (as shown above in the cover of a book about it) surface patterns that (some have said) might have functioned like the confusing zigzag patterns applied to World War I ships for camouflage (called dazzle painting). Colorful horizontal stripes were painted on the starboard side, with a herringbone pattern on the port side (as shown in the painting). 

An article discussing this—Ernest S. Dodge, “Cleopatra’s Barge: America’s First Deep-Water Yacht”—was published in Motor Boating, December 1954, of which the following is excerpted (p. 104)—

In the early nineteenth century ships were brightly painted. Monotonous black topsides and painted ports were not yet generally fashionable. But Cleopatra’s Barge exceeded her contemporaries in the gaiety of her paint job as in most other things. Her starboard side, decorated with many horizontal stripes, in a variety of colors, was the more conventional. But to port she reflected her owner’s fancy and unorthodox taste with an unusual herringbone design. When seen from opposite sides she resembled two different vessels—the first case of ship camouflage on record. It is doubtful, however, if the camouflage was deliberate as has been claimed by those who believe that George [Crowninshield Jr] actually built the yacht to attempt a rescue of Napoleon from St. Helena. Rather was it one more example of his taste for the startling and unusual. 

Anon, portrait drawing of Kamehameha II


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

artist Alan Collier / whose training was on civvy street

Above Alan Caswell Collier (1911-1990), All Is Green and Gold, 1974, oil on canvas. Collier was a Canadian landscape artist. Born in Toronto, he studied at the Ontario College of Art and the Art Students League, New York. During the final years of World War II, he served in the Canadian Army. The statement below is from an interview of Collier by Paul Bennett, conducted in an exhibition catalog, Retrospective. Oshawa, Ontario CA: Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 1971, pp. 14-15—

When I was drafted into the army they asked me, when they saw my background if I wanted to go into camouflage. I decided that if I wasn't going to be a war artist, with a commission and so on, to hell with it; my training was on Civvy Street and I wasn't going to go in and be a private in the army and do art work as a private. I felt that I wanted something better than that, so I just said no, I did not want to go in the camouflage; I don't regret that I went into artillery survey. 

Monday, July 3, 2023

ship camouflage artist remembers Norman Wilkinson

Rogers' ship camouflage proposal
Good news!  A long-lost camoufleur has now been rediscovered. I have only now unearthed a British-American writer and illustrator, named Stanley R.H. Rogers (1887-1961), who wrote about thirty books (a differing source says fifty), many of which are his illustrated accounts of maritime history and exploration. 

Of further interest is the fact that he contributed to ship camouflage, American and British, in both world wars. I discovered this in one of his books, Freak Ships (New York: Greenberg Publishers, 1936), a book about odd aspects of maritime history. In that book, he includes three of his drawings of WWI-era ship camouflage, as reproduced in this blog post.

In the first drawing, he shows a plan for ship camouflage (above) that he himself submitted to the US Navy Department, early in the war (c1917-18). His proposal was turned down—he says thankfully—as being ineffective.

I was not sorry my designs were rejected [he states, because] they were based on the general rule that vessels show dark against the skyline, and by painting them in wavy horizontal dazzle bands of pale hues, the bands near the water being darker than those on the superstructure which tried to effect a compromise with the tone of the sky. Obviously a compromise, since the changing light of the sky makes it impossible for a ship to meet every condition. Thus a pearl-gray ship against a hazy bright sky would be practically invisible, but with a dark cloud behind her she would stand out a clear white silhouette. Likewise a dark gray hull against a black storm cloud is practically invisible, but against the skyline of a normal day her presence would be advertised for twenty miles. Youthfully, and erroneously, I thought a working compromise could be reached. The initial mistake was to imagine that a vessel could be made invisible or nearly so under most conditions.

Wilkinson's ship camouflage proposal (approximate)
Instead, the American Navy adopted an approach to ship camouflage that had earlier been proposed by a British artist, Lieutenant Commander Norman Wikinson, called “dazzle-painting,” as portrayed (if not exactly) in Rogers’ second and third illustrations. The second is the profile of the starboard side of a Wilkinson dazzle-style design; while the third is a very rough rendering of the camouflaged ship’s appearance through a U-boat periscope. Wilkinson saw how futile it was, Rogers notes, to stress low visibility, 

and concerned himself with perfecting a camouflage that, while making no claim to rendering a ship invisible, did however so break up its familiar shape that a distant observer, especially at the eye-piece of a submarine’s periscope, could not accurately estimate its course or speed. 

He goes on to say quite a bit more about the development of ship camouflage, especially during WWI, when the dazzle system was first adapted—

Naval camouflage was not new in 1914…In 1917 when the German submarine menace made it imperative to find more efficient protection to British shipping, both naval and mercantile, Norman Wilkinson, the famous marine painter, with temporary quarter-deck rank in the RNVR, put forward a set of designs for ship camouflage that was later adopted by all the Allied navies. I have already indicated the nature of this plan. The scheme was something entirely new and became known to the public as camouflage and to the Admiralty as dazzle painting. The inventor’s sole claim was to distort the shape of a vessel sufficiently to confuse the enemy as to her course, though it also disguised her type and size to a great extent. A submarine commander, peering through the watery lens of a periscope, found it almost impossible to judge the victim’s course accurately enough to justify his risking a costly torpedo on her. The illustration is handicapped by the limitations of black and white, but may convey an idea of how this deception was achieved. It will be noticed that the violently contrasting patterns and colors immediately break up the lines of the vessel, making it difficult, even in a drawing, to decide exactly the ship’s orientation. The laws of perspective are set at naught. As soon as the virtues of the artist’s scheme were thoroughly grasped by some of its more conservative objectors in the Admiralty an emergency act was passed making it obligatory for all British ships to be so painted.

Rogers' drawing of periscope view
There was nothing haphazard about the plan or the method of carrying out the dazzle-painting. For purposes of camouflage, merchant ships were divided into thirty-seven different types, and a model of each type was studied through a periscope set up in a prepared workshop. Each model was set up on a turntable and revolved again painted sky backgrounds, while the artist studied them to decide on the maximum design for distortion. The Admiralty, from lukewarm indifference, came to regard dazzle-painting sufficiently important to send representatives to all the principal ports to instruct the American, French, Belgian, Italian and Japanese admiralities on this new art of dazzle-painting, to so disguise 4,000 merchant steamers and nearly 400 warships and spend over two and a half million pounds carrying it out.

A dazzle-painted ship looked like nothing on sea or land. The distortion, a better word than disguise, was almost perfect. To a new arrival from another world the sight of a dazzle-painted ship would give him reason to think terrestrial folk were crazy. For the essence of dazzle-painting is to follow no logical lines of pattern. Dazzle-painting, while being profoundly logical, owed its value to its apparently senseless chaos of lines. The art is to conceal the art. The adage might have been written especially for dazzle-painting.

title page of Rogers' book (1936)

Stanley R.H. Rogers was born in Nottingham, England, but his family moved to Olympia WA, when he was still an infant. He returned to England in advance of WWI, and studied art in London at Goldsmith’s College. At school he met his future wife, also an illustrator, named Franke (née Woodhouse) Rogers, who illustrated about 50 children’s books in her lifetime. The couple resided in England from 1920-1945, and during WWII, Stanley Rogers served as a Royal Navy camoufleur, as a civilian. After the war, the couple lived in the vicinity of New York, where Rogers died in 1916.

Also see this earlier post, in which Norman Wilkinson's granddaughter, British architect Camilla Wilkinson, is interviewed about ship camouflage.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

elegant patterns / allied with deplorable wartime death

Above A sequence of magazine photographs (black-and-white originally, but cleaned-up and AI colorized here) from an issue of Popular Mechanics, Vol 31 Issue 2 (1919), published with the title Some of America’s Big Artillery Batteries on Mobile Mountings Seen at Close Range. The destruction caused by high tech guns and other killing machines will always be deplorable (as happened earlier this week in Ukraine, when a Russian rocket hit a pizzeria, killing ten civilians, including children). It is a cruel irony that these retouched World War I photographs, enlivened with camouflage patterns, are nonetheless strikingly beautiful as images.


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

iowa trickster makes photographic camouflage / 1919

Antonius J. Viken, Waterloo IA / 1919
Above These three photographs were a reader’s contribution to Popular Mechanics, where they were published in Vol 31 Issue 2 (1919) of that magazine. The photographs were taken by A.J. Viken of Waterloo, Iowa, as examples of makeshift camouflage. Here is the text he submitted—

Practical examples of “camouflage” are shown in these three photographs. In the upper left-hand corner the man has adopted an effective, if somewhat strenuous means of making his appearance blend with his surroundings [by standing on his head, his belt line coincides with the horizon]. To the right, the small rider on the horse’s back is almost indistinguishable against the background of sky and trees, while the lower picture shows how difficult it may be to distinguish such a striking object as a goat.

A.J. Viken (Antonius Johnson Viken) [Skinderviken] was a Norwegian-American photographer. Born in Norway on October 4, 1885, he came to the US in April 1911, and became a naturalized citizen (in Chicago) in 1924. He registered for the draft on September 12, 1918, at Waterloo, where he and his wife Johanna (nee Hansen) Viken lived at 1123 Mulberry Street. As a photographer, he was employed by Louis A. Wangler at 227 East 4th Street in that city. In 1919, when his humorous camouflage photographs were published, his residence was listed as Waterloo, but in later years he also lived in Sioux City IA, Chicago, Jackson Heights NY, and on Long Island, New York. He died in Nassau NY on September 26, 1959.

Among Viken’s associates was photographer and inventor Donald Cameron Biedler (1885-1943). In 1924, both men listed their residence as 864 Buckingham Place, Chicago, in the vicinity of Wrigley Field. 

Beidler was a well-known photographer of wealthy, socially prominent clients (and their children) in Chicago, and later in Manhasset, Long Island NY. Originally from Mt. Pulaski IL, Beidler was a grandson of Jabez Capps, the town's founder. In collaboration with A.J. Viken, he was also invented a special motor-driven children's portrait twin camera, called the Beidler-Viken camera (see below), which they patented in 1925. Although it consisted of two cameras, side-by-side, it was not designed to make stereoscopic images. Instead, it was operated by two photographers, one of whom maintained exact focus on the (squirming) child being photographed, while the other tripped the shutter at the opportune moment. Beidler's Chicago studio was in the Lyon and Healy Building at 64 East Jackson Boulevard, circa 1920. In 1929, he and Viken established the  Beidler-Viken Studios in Manhasset on Long Island. Fourteen years later, Beidler died of a sudden heart attack, while Viken lived until 1959. In Biedler’s obituary, his partner Viken was described as “a man highly skilled in the mechanical end of photography.”

Between the years 1925 through 1936, Antonius J. Viken and Donald C. Beider worked together on a number of technical devices related to photography, including various camera stands (1925, 1930), a camera tiltback adjustment (1931), and their Beidler-Viken camera (1931). But Viken obtained patents independently for other inventions, such as a film hanger (1926), a hood for camera finders (1929), a tripod head (1931), and a film holder and hanger (1936). In 1931, Viken also worked with a bacteriologist, acetone expert, and Chicago physician named Dr. Nathaniel Frutkow (described in a research document as “a somewhat quackish physician specializing in pneumonia”) in patenting a diagnostic table and therapeutic lamp. 

The following is a list, arranged by date, of some (probably not all) of the patented inventions that are attributed to Viken, Beider and Viken, or Viken and Frutkow. Full pdf patent documents can be found online by searching Google Patents.

Stand for camera and the like, 25Aug1925, w/Donald C. Beidler. Film hanger, 4May1926, 1,583,708. Hood for camera finders and the like, 26Nov1929, 1,737,038. Camera and camera stand, 14Jan1930, w/Donald C. Beidler, 1.743,184. Tripod, 10Mar1931, 1,795,747. Tiltback for cameras and the like, 17Mar1931, w/Donald C. Beidler, 1,796,315. Tripod head for portrait camera, 30Jun1931, 1,812,614. Diagnostic table, 15Sep1931, w/Nathaniel Frutkow, 1,823,534. Therapeutic Lamp, 15Sep1931, w/Nathaniel Frutkow, 1,823,535. Camera and the like, 24Nov1931, w/Donald C. Beidler, 1,833,668. Film holder and hanger, 21Jan1936, 2,028,262.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

camouflage / everyone's doing it, including hollywood

Above A page from Photo-Play Journal, December 1917, p. 25, featuring an article called CAMOUFLAGE: Everyone’s Doing It, Including the Moving Pictures. In an earlier blog post, we reproduced the article’s text, but not this image of the page.


Nature, Art, and Camouflage (35 min. video talk)

Art, Women’s Rights, and Camouflage (29 min. video talk)

Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage (26 min. video talk)

Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage (28 min. video talk)

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Ellsworth Kelly in relation to overhead garnished nets

Above Cover of Art News magazine (restored), November 1942, with a photograph of personnel and artillery broken up by the shadows of an overhanging net, in which canvas strips (or other materials) have been interwoven. This was widely practiced during both World Wars, and was sometimes known as "umbrella camouflage." For more information on this technique, see "Kelly and Camouflage" (p. 115) in E.C. Goossen, Ellsworth Kelly. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1973 (as shown below). Kelly was a US Army camoufleur during WWII.


Nature, Art, and Camouflage (35 min. video talk)

Art, Women’s Rights, and Camouflage (29 min. video talk)

Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage (26 min. video talk)

Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage (28 min. video talk)

intentional duality for concealment and differentation

Deyan Sudjic, The Language of Things. London: Allen Lane, 2008, pp. 152 and 154—

Camouflage is ostensibly a functional, practical phenomenon, adopted by the armed forces of every country for the purposes of concealment. But over the years it has in fact been transformed into a pattern for differentation. Every national army has its own camouflage pattern, and uses it to tell friend from foe. At the same time that camouflage tries to make its wearers invisible, it is also generating a highly visible signal, intended to identify them to their own side.