Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Horse Carcass Camouflage

Pictured above are US Government photographs showing the same subject from two camera angles. The top photo appears to be the carcass of a dead horse on a World War I battlefield, but the bottom photo shows that it is only a papier mâché simulation of a horse carcass, with a sniper hidden inside.  This kind of camouflage was described in a war memoir by an American soldier named Samuel Benney Benson titled Back From Hell (Chicago: A.C. McClurg, 1918)—

The system of camouflage which the French have worked out in this war [World War I], is something new also. The word has come to mean in America "dodging," "deception," "bunk," or anything that is not out in the open and above board; and that is just what camouflage means in the war in France. It is a method by which things are made to appear to be what they are not, for the purpose of fooling the enemy. It makes an artificial thing seem to be a natural thing so that it will not excite suspicion and draw his fire. When the French place a battery of guns which naturally they do not want put out of commission by the enemy's guns, they have the camouflage artist get busy with his paint and canvas and create a whole lot of little trees or bushes just like the ones which grow in the ground and then under cover of darkness when the enemy can't see them, or when his attention is distracted, they plant the trees, place the guns behind them, and they have a concealed battery.

Snipers are also often hidden in this same kind of a manner. The camoufleur with his magic art of scenery makes a dead horse. He has his head stretched way out on the ground and his legs pointing up in the air, stiff and stark. A great hole or chunk has been torn out of his body, but as it happens, it is never right through the middle part of him because this would not leave protection for the sniper. The horse "conveniently" had the shell strike him on the side. He is placed wherever he will do the most good in the night time and Mr. Sharpshooter, with his noiseless rifle and plenty of ammunition and one day's food, crawls in behind him. There he stays till daybreak. Yes, and a long while after. He must stay there all day long until darkness again draws down a curtain of safety about him, for if he attempted to move out in daylight some sniper or machine-gun artist would instantly pick him off. If he lays low till dark he may fool them and get away all right.

But the camera sometimes discovers things which the human eye would not detect, and the camera is always busy. The air flier might soar above a spot in the enemy's lines and not notice anything wrong or see that there was any object in addition to what was there the day before, but when he snapped the shutter of his camera and the photograph was developed, by comparing it with yesterday's photograph of the same place, he might see that there was an extra horse's carcass lying there. Now he knows there was no cavalry charge through the night, and so he becomes suspicious. Consequently the horse is watched. Perhaps in time, some one sees the man's arm protruding a little, or perhaps a man is picked off without any apparent cause.

 Just for luck the enemy takes a shot at the old dead horse and suddenly a man rises and tries to run back. But he stumbles and falls. He is killed. Perhaps he has accounted for a half dozen Boches during the day and the Frenchman dies happy. That's what he's there for, to sacrifice his life for France in weakening Germany's cruel hold upon his country.

…Very often they camouflage roads with evergreen trees so as to hide the view of the motor lorries and camions which are so essential in taking supplies and ammunition up to the front. An old forlorn and battered gun may camouflage a fine new field piece, and sometimes a weatherbeaten, broken-down piece of farm machinery may be counterfeited in order to hide an observer, a listener, or a sniper. Such a man must be of a stout heart and not afraid to go over the Great Divide for it is full of hazard. If he is discovered it's all over for him.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Camouflage as Hide and Seek

According to what I’ve been able to find, Reginald John Farrer (1880-1921) was an accomplished British gardener, writer and botanist, who wrote a half-dozen books on plants and related subjects, notably My Rock Garden (1907). During World War I, that Reginald Farrer was apparently living in Asia (China, Tibet, Burma), so it seems unlikely that it was the same person who was sent to France by the British Department of Information to write about life in the trenches. The wartime letters of this latter Farrer (is it the same person?) are highly unusual views of the Front and were published as The Void of War: Letters from Three Fronts. London: Constable and Company; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1918. They include this lengthy passage in which he talks about camouflage (pp. 67-68)—

The real thing about the human side of the war is the sheer fun of it. In certain aspects the war is nothing but a glorious, gigantic game of hide and seek—camouflage is nothing else. It is not only the art of making things invisible, but also of making them look like something else. Even the art of inconspicuousness is subtle and exciting. What glory it must be to splash your tents and lorries all over with wild waggles of orange and emerald and ochre and umber, in a drunken chaos, until you have produced a perfect futurist masterpiece which one would think would pierce the very vaults of heaven with its yells. However, as pandemonium produces numbness in the ear, so I suppose a Lost-Dog’s-Home-at-Battersea in chromatics does deaden visibility in a dun-colored ensemble.

But disguise is an even higher branch of the art: you go on to make everything look like something else. Hermit crabs and caddis worms become our masters. Down from the sky peers the microscopic midget of a Boche plane: he sees a tree—but it may be a gun: he sees a gun—but it may be only a tree. And so the game of hide and seek goes on, in a steady acceleration of ingenuity on both sides, till at last the only logical outcome will be to have no camouflage at all. You will simply put out your big guns fair and square in the open, because nobody will ever believe, by that time,  that anything really is what it looks like. As far as the guns go, the war is developing into a colossal fancy dress ball, with immunity for the prize: wolves in sheep’s clothing are nothing to these gentle shepherdesses of the countryside. The more important they are, the more meekly do they shrink from notice under dominos of boughs or sods, or strawberry-netting tagged over with fluffets of green and brown rags. And sometimes they lurk under some undiscoverable knoll in a coppice, and do their barking through a little hole from which you would only expect rabbits, not shells. It must be the most endless joy to go on planning these disguises. One would lie awake at night wondering how to make one's gun look like a dog kennel, or a dog kennel conceal a gun. But, of course, the individual camouflage is even more exciting yet.

…And, of course, this fun sense of his [the individual] has full play in this new warfare. It is all "I spy," on terms of life and death: the other fellow must not spy, or you hear of it instantly, through your skull. Think how it must sharpen up the civilization-sodden intelligence of a man, to have to depend for dear life on noticing every movement in a bush and every opening in a bank. Now we are getting back with one hand what we had lost by giving up the other to machinery. We are growing to make the best of both worlds, the mechanical and the human, without giving up our mental balance by relying exclusively on either. I only wish I could give you an idea of the devices and ingenuities that these grown-up hide-and-seekers have elaborated. All sorts of ludicrously simple things, the more ludicrously simple the better.

Every blank-faced trench rampart of sandbags has its hidden eyes—eyes perfectly wide awake all the time, and winking at you wickedly with a rifle. But for your life you could not spot them, until you had had weeks of training, and learned the real meaning of every tiny unevenness or discoloration or bit of darkness. And even then you have to learn to guess which of these is harmless—so as to blind the others with your own fire. Or there is an innocent, untidy, earthy bank, a dump of old boots and tins and bottles and teapots without spouts. But any one of those forlorn oddments may also be the eyelid of a rifle. Only you do not know which—until you have found out! In the beginning of the war you did not find out. Everything was neat and tidy and civilized and well arranged: so you merely got killed.

It has taken us long experience to reconquer the primitive shifts and cunning of our ancestors. What would have seemed utterly childish to any soldier a few years since, is now his essential wisdom. You are bound to have eyes in every eyelash, and a wireless at the end of every nerve, if you are to come out a prize winner in this game of hide and seek. Even in this, the most mechanical and vast of all wars, it is the individual red Indian who ultimately wins.

They do not go to Napoleon and Wellington nowadays for inspiration, they go to the praying mantis and the leaf butterflies. Look at those trees in that avenue—that third tree in particular, that projecting bough, now botanically and aesthetically accurate. All is motionlessly silent: rural peace pervades the whole world. And, if you meditate on this a tithe of a second too long, out of that bough, most improperly and unexpectedly, there comes a little streak of fire through your heart. You must not put your trust in the tranquility of nature nowadays, any more than in princes or any child of man. Who knows whether that molehill really is a molehill? That corn stook among the others, does it really look quite as a normal corn-stook should? What a scandalously untidy sight that heap of potato peelings and old sacks!—until suddenly it shoots.

I tell you, it is wonderful and fearful, this game, in its fascination—keeping you on razor's edge and razor's edge of vital uncertainty. It is the very apex of sport; it makes big game shooting into a croquet tournament. All the time you are playing for your life with eyes and brains for counters. It must be a potent illumination and stimulant for the human mind—which five years ago would almost have wanted a policeman to help it across the street, or a moving stairway to get it up to the second floor of Harrod's…

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Jean Cocteau on Camouflage

During World War I, the shoulder patch insignia of the French Army's camouflage corps was a chameleon. Related to that, this is a diary entry on July 16, 1919, by Folies Bergères dancer Liane de Pougy in My Blue Notebooks: The Intimate Journal of Paris's Most Beautiful and Notorious Courtesan (Tarcher, 2002)—

One of Jean Cocteau's jokes. Talking of a chameleon, he said: "Its master put it down on a tartan rug and it died of over-exertion."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Puzzle Picture

Above An embedded figure drawing or puzzle picture from a turn-of-the-century issue of The Strand Magazine (c1907). Finding the footman is a matter of shifting attention or emphasis, at which point his figure emerges from what had formerly been the (back)ground.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Embedded Figure Camouflage

Drawings for US Patent No. 2,670,961, by Charles E. Winters (1954)
Shown here are the drawings for a patented game-like invention called "Puzzle," devised by Charles E. Winters of Crawfordsville IN. US Patent No. 2,670,961 (1954). It's essentially about the detection of embedded figures (or camouflaged figures), in which a shape is hard to see because it is subdivided by other shapes (called figure disruption or dazzle) and/or because its context (or background) is distracting and complex. As seen in the lower drawing, in this game, simple drawings of animals become a challenge to detect when a larger complex drawing (printed on a transparent sheet acetate) is superimposed on them.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Camouflage Artist | Clinton Adams

The following are excerpts from an Oral History Interview with American artist and art historian Clinton Adams, who served as a camouflage artist in World War II. The interview was conducted by Paul J. Karlstrom on August 2, 1995, at Adams' home in Albuquerque NM for the Archives of American Art. The entire interview is available online here

Clinton Adams: But filling in the wartime years, I was fortunate in that I did not go overseas, was in this country. If I had just not been given one transfer that happened out of chance, I wouldn't be in this country now or anyplace else, because the Engineer Camouflage Battalion that I was assigned to landed in Normandy on D-Day Plus One, and took about 85 percent casualties. But there were several other artists, as you might imagine, in Engineer Camouflage Battalion, because they recruited artists for utterly irrelevant reasons. They had a notion that camouflage had something to do with the visual arts. It was an interesting unit.…

Paul J. Karlstrom: I want to ask you a couple of questions, if I may. You mentioned other artists in the Engineer Camouflage group. Any that would be of special interest to us?

Clinton Adams: Two of significance. Jesse Reichek, who became my closest friend, and certainly you know Jesse and you know Jesse's work. Jesse was in the unit from early on. Jesse's a very, very willful character, shall we say. Jesse was not willing to put up with regulations quietly, and one of my jobs as assistant adjutant was to keep Jesse from being court martialed at one point. But we've had a close, close friendship over now, what, fifty years. When we get together, we argue about art and the discussion picks up just where it left off the time before. And Marshall Fredericks, who was a member of the National Academy, rather conservative traditional sculpture, was one of the company commanders. There were several fine theater people. George Izenour, the theater designer, a very prominent theater designer who did a lot of the design of Lincoln Center, etc., etc., was in the unit, and there were a number of others. Karl Bruder, who was a professor of theater in Kansas. A great number of people who eventually wound up one place or another in the arts. The only one I've kept up closely with is Jesse Reichek and Henry Klopot, K-L-O-P-O-T, who lives in Hollywood, and was one of the chief lighting designers for the studios over a period of years.

Camouflage Artist | Eric Sloane

Cover of Eric Sloane, Camouflage Simplified (New York: Devin Adair, 1942).

Eric Sloane (1905-1985) was a widely-known American artist and author, who wrote and illustrated (with exquisite pen-and-ink drawings) a 60-page overview of the principles of camouflage, titled Camouflage Simplified (New York: Devin Adair, 1942). It's a challenge to locate a copy to buy (the lowest price I found online a few minutes ago was $300), but it should be available through interlibrary loan, since, according to WorldCat, about 90 US libraries have it in their collections. Here's more about Sloane from a biographical article in Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage (p. 362)—

[Sloane's] name at birth was Everard Jean Hinrichs. In 1919, his family moved to Long Island, where he became friends with his neighbor, the typographer Frederic Goudy, who taught him hand-lettering. He then studied briefly at the Art Students League (where he was influenced by John Sloan, whose name he would adopt c.1934, while adding an e at the end), and at the New York School of Fine and Applied Art, where he was enrolled as a “graphic advertising major.” Due to poor attendance and failure to submit his work, he never completed his courses, yet he decided soon after to enroll at Yale University, where he lasted only several months. In the 1930s, through his interest in flying, he became friends with aviator Wiley Post, in the process of which he decided to paint “cloudscapes.” He studied meteorology at MIT, and later, during World War II, served with the Army Air Force as an instructional interpreter of complex flight-related terms. 

Camouflage Artist | Perkins Harnly

The following is an excerpt from an Oral History Interview of American artist Perkins Harnly (1901-1986), who served as a Depression-era Works Progress Administration muralist and, during World War II, as a camouflage instructor. The interview, which took place on October 15, 1981, was conducted for the Archives of American Art by Estil Pennington and Lynda Hartigan. The entire interview can be accessed online here

Mr. Harnly: …when the WPA broke up—when the war was declared, you see—we were put on defense projects. I was put in aluminum.
Ms. Hartigan: And you taught camouflage design?
Mr. Harnly: Yes. I was an…instructor of officers. Yes, I certainly was. One of my officers in camouflage was William Pahlmann, who was the famous interior decorator. Gene Davis, who was the art [director] of [Good] Housekeeping Magazine. I had big shots.
Mr. Pennington: Leslie Cheek, did you work with him?
Mr. Harnly: I know the name, I know the name. I know the—I can't place him at the moment. But they gave me the project of the people who had much experience, much background, and all that. And we went to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the place where Homer Saint-Gaudens was, a relative, son of the great sculptor, I think.
Mr. Pennington: Yes.
Mr. Harnly: Well, anyhow, he was the head of this thing, of camouflage, until the air bombing of Cologne. It took 22,000 planes to mow the city down. All but the cathedral, they left the cathedral. And after that, camouflage, as we knew it, was not of any use. They used tactical camouflage after that.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ernie Kovacs and Camouflage

Ernie Kovacs' invisible girl friend

American comedian Ernie Kovacs (1919-1962) was widely known in the late 1950s and early 60s for his off-beat television programs that combined sight gags with unorthodox uses of technology. He often made use of psychology, especially visual perception, including camouflage. The segment shown here begins with a series of three full-screen signs that read: "FELLAS! Lonesome? Like a girl of your own?"; "Someone your wife can't see because she's INVISIBLE?"; and "Then—send for your INVISIBLE GIRL FRIEND!" This was followed by scenes from a living room, in which a transparent woman gradually disappears as she undresses. In the final frames, the only things visible are a hat, a glove, her dress and high-heeled shoes.

Camouflage Styles Among Nations

American expatriate writer Gertrude Stein often made interesting statements about art and camouflage, most of which can be retrieved from her two autobiographies, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) and Everybody's Autobiography (1937). In the latter, she wrote—

[While visiting New York] the taxis looked different and the trucks completely different [from those in France]. It was like the camouflage in the war. They all meant it to be the same but as it was done by different nations it was not the same. During the war I was interested that the camouflage made by each nation was entirely different from the camouflage made by another nation but I had not expected the cabs and trucks to look different in America from those in France after all there are lots of American cars in France but they did.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Vonnegut and Camouflage

From the opening page of Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard: The Autobiography of Rabo Karabekian (1916-1988). New York: Dell, 1987—

…I was deprived of my left eye while commanding a platoon of Army Engineers, curiously enough artists of one sort or another in civilian life, in Luxembourg near the end of World War Two. We were specialists in camouflage, but at that time were fighting for our lives as ordinary infantry. The unit was composed of artists, since it was the theory of someone in the Army that we would be especially good at camouflage.

William Andrew Mackay and Optical Camouflage

Early in World War I, American muralist William Andrew Mackay used a spinning, colored Maxwell disk (Invented by James Clark Maxwell) to produce an optical mixture of gray that he argued would be more effective than battleship gray as "low visibility" ship camouflage paint. His efforts are reported as follows in a chapter on "Marine Camouflage" in Benedict Crowell, How America Went to War: The Road to France. Vol 3. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1921, pp. 496-498—

In the spring of 1917 Mr. William Andrew Mackay, a New York artist, brought to Washington a little machine for spinning various colored discs. At an interested meeting of the Navy Consulting Board he placed on this machine a disc, the sectors of which were colored successively red, violet, and green in fixed proportions. He spun the disc, and it thereupon blurred into a gray as nearly identical with that of a sea horizon as human vision could register. Then, placing on the machine a disc of alternately green and violet sectors, properly proportioned, he spun it, and the result was the blue of sea water. Then he expounded his theory.

He opposed paint designs which brought in white or gray, on the ground that these colors do not actually appear in nature in the traveled latitudes of the Atlantic; they appear only in effect. He ruled out battleship gray on the ground that it gives off a reflected color, and is not an original source of color waves. The horizon background behind it, on the other hand, is kinetic in its effect upon the optic nerve; and therefore the gray ship, even if its paint reproduce the horizon color exactly, will always appear distinct against the horizon. He analyzed the horizon light itself into its primary colors and proposed to mingle those colors in a painted pattern the component colors of which would merge in the distance and become themselves a kinetic source of radiation of the desired shade. He declared that a ship so painted—painted with pigment light, as it were—would tend to merge completely into the marine background.

The Mackay system was applied to many ships. It was the forerunner of numerous similar systems devised by artists who were studying the spectrum composition of light and applying their theories in various stripe and stipple patterns. One of these men was Mr. Louis Herzog, an artist of New York, whose system combined quarter shading and primary colors. Dr. Maximilian Toch, an artist and paint manufacturer of New York, devised another invisibility system based on studies of the spectrum.

As the Mackay system developed, it came to consist mainly of block patterns of primary colors. The color blocks possessed sharp outlines and were arranged in cubist fashion on what the artist called the rupture principle. He usually divided a vessel into large masses of contrasting color tones, in order to cause one or another of the large portions of the vessel to be invisible and to leave other parts visible, but showing a contour quite unlike that of a ship.

Mr. Mackay worked at the Norfolk Navy Yard, where painters under his direction experimentally camouflaged the yacht Legonia II, several fishing steamers, and a motor boat. One of the fishing boats, the M.M. Davis, was sent to sea on September 4, 1917, for observation. The reports made by practical mariners were, as usual, conflicting. One navy officer at Norfolk stated that, day in and day out, the Davis was more visible to him than ships painted the standard gray. On the other hand, the commander of the battleship Ohio observed the Davis and reported that her painting scheme was far superior to the gray of the warships.

About this time Mackay camouflage demonstrated its effectiveness in an unexpected way. One of the ships which the Mackay organization painted was the American liner Philadelphia. In October, 1917, while the Philadelphia was about 400 miles off the American coast proceeding to Europe, she sighted a mysterious freighter and, suspecting a submarine trap, ran up code flags demanding the vessel's identity. The cargo ship did not reply, and the Philadelphia fired a shot across her bows. At once the freighter hoisted the Swedish flag, and her master apologized, saying that he had failed to observe the liner in her camouflage coat. On this same voyage an American destroyer lost the Philadelphia on a bright moonlight night and could not find her until dawn. In November one of our troop transports, the President Grant, observed a cargo ship at sea camouflaged by the Mackay system. The commander of the Grant reported afterwards that his lookout did not see the cargo ship at all until she was only a mile away, and then she looked like a moving bit of horizon in which the masts furnished the clue. The consensus of opinion was that Mackay ships merged with the background at relatively short distances. The Navy therefore ordered a number of government vessels painted accordingly.

Camouflaged Brands and Old Tattoos

In the American West, it was common among livestock thieves to change the brands on stolen cattle by embedding (or camouflaging) the old brand within a new, more complex mark. The brand 7U, for example, was changed into a three-leaf clover, simply by adding a couple of lines. The brand Y6 was also embedded in a clover shape. Today, given the difficulty of removing tattoos, it is common among tattoo artists to use a comparable method: Instead of removing the old tattoo, they simply create a new design, in which the first one is hidden. More…

Jackson Pollock's Camouflage

In his recent book, called Tom and Jack, about the relationship between American artists Thomas Hart Benton (who was assigned to naval camouflage in WWI) and Jackson Pollock (who had been Benton's student), art historian Henry Adams argues that Pollock camouflaged the printed letters of his name in an early mural that he made for art collector Peggy Guggenheim. Adams writes—

He simply wrote the words "Jackson Pollock" very large across the canvas. By a nice coincidence, both first and last name had the same number of letters, so it wasn't hard to fit them in. So as not to make the effect too obvious, he introduced some dazzle patterns, like those used to camouflage a ship…[he] disguised them according to principles of camouflage that he had absorbed from Benton and other artists in Benton's circle… Scholars have generally traced Pollock's disruptive handling of form to cubism, but in fact his technique relies more on camouflage, a mode of painting that has a very different history [pp. 272-273].

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Artist Stephen Hobbs

Above In recent days we've been fortunate to find online examples of the artwork of Stephen Hobbs, a South African artist from Johannesburg. Since the 1990s, he's been using photography, video and installation media to explore and to comment on various aspects of urban life, including projects that pertain directly to camouflage. The top row of the images here shows two installation photographs from an architectural installation titled Dazzle (2009), in which he dazzle-painted a small building (inside and out), employing spatial distortion techniques that were refined by artists for ship camouflage in World War I, particularly Norman Wilkinson and Everett L. Warner. There is an online link where more photographs of this can be accessed, as well as his preparatory drawings, all of which are fascinating. The remaining images in the above cluster are a sampling of his equally interesting photographs of architectural aspects of the city in which camouflage is found, not constructed. In learning more about his work, I found it especially helpful to read three published articles/interviews, available here as pdfs. One other comment: One of Hobbs' inspirations has been the work of Russian Constructivist Vladimir Tatlin. By entire coincidence, on the same day that I found Hobbs' work online, I also found online sources that claim that Tatlin designed camouflage during World War II.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Arthur Q. Davis | Architect & Camoufleur

Above The cover of the autobiography of New Orleans architect Arthur Q. Davis, It Happened by Design: The Life and Work of Arthur Q. Davis (University Press of Mississippi / Ogden Museum of Southern Art, University of New Orleans, 2009). In collaboration with Nathaniel Curtis, working as Curtis and Davis, he designed some of the landmark modern buildings in New Orleans, including the Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans Rivergate Exhibition Center, New Orleans Public Library, and various other structures, both national and international. Born in New Orleans in 1920, Davis served in the US Naval Reserve during World War II, in connection with which he was sent to Dartmouth College to learn about naval camouflage (I wonder if he knew Adelbert Ames II, who was at Dartmouth at the time, and whose research was related to camouflage). He was then sent to Washington DC, where he worked as a ship camouflage artist in the Bureau of Ships (c. 1943) under the direction of artist Charles Bittinger, who had also been connected with naval camouflage during World War I.

While he doesn't mention them by name, Davis must also have worked with Everett Warner, Bennett Buck, Sheffield Kagy, William Walters, Arthur Conrad, Robert R. Hays, and Eliot O'Hara. He recalls: I developed a very effective ship camouflage design for painting these massive forms [destroyers, cruisers, even New Jersey Class battleships] and was sent down to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to assist with the actual painting of the ship…Using a long stick with chalk on the end, I drew the patterns on the actual hull in accordance with the design I had developed in the studio in Washington. It was he who designed the camouflage for the USS Missouri. He continues: I was very happy working in Washington at the Bureau of Ships' Camouflage Department and would have stayed there indefinitely, but instead he was reassigned to the Pacific war zone.

It was also of interest to learn about Davis' architectural training at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, which was then headed by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, with whom he worked directly. One of his classmates at Harvard was I.M. Pei. After graduating, he worked as an intern for Eero Saarinen in Michigan.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Modernism and Ship Camouflage

Above These three watercolor paintings (with no credit to the artist, and the signature at bottom right is unreadable) were published as the frontispiece in George A. Hoadley, Essentials of Physics. Revised edition. American Book Company, 1921. The caption is headed "A Ship Illustrating the 'Dazzle' System of Camouflage," followed by: The pictures show the same ship, headed in the same direction, but a three different distances. When seen as a great distance, especially through the periscope of a submarine, the ship appears to be headed in a direction quite different from its actual course, because of the false perspective design painted on it. In the remainder of the book, there's only one brief mention of camouflage (p. 481).

During World War I, having recently been introduced, by way of the Armory Show, to Cubism, Futurism and other forms of Modernism , the public was amazed (delighted, shocked, offended) by the use of blatantly colorful shapes for ship camouflage. Publications from that time are filled with outspoken eyewitness reports of what it was like to see a fleet of dazzle-camouflaged ships. For example, this is from American writer Arthur Stanley Riggs' With Three Armies On and Behind the Western Front. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1918, pp. 17-18—

The ship herself was not painted a uniform war gray but with a bluish-gray as a background, she was literally covered, hull, superstructure, funnels, spars, boats, everything with bilious green and red-lead squares, set diamondwise—camouflage at sea [this is probably in reference to the Cunard ocean liner, the RMS Mauretania]. When coming aboard a young airplane engine expert, with the rank of a Lieutenant-Commander of the Royal Naval Reserve, shivered at this hideous pleasantry, and all the way across missed meals and kept away from the bluest part of the smoking room.

Here's another disgruntled report from an American "war essayist," S.J. Duncan-Clark from "The Impressions of a Landlubber" in The Recruit: A Pictorial Naval Magazine. Vol. 5. Great Lakes Athletic Association, 1919—

I traveled across the Atlantic on the Adriatic, one of a fleet of twelve transports carrying 30,000 American soldiers. They were all British ships, but they had an American convoy for the greater part of the voyage. We steamed out of New York harbor with four destroyers acting as our guard, two on either side, and a cruiser leading the way.

Every merchant ship was camouflaged. Imagine a lunatic cubist painter turned loose with three brushes and a pot each of black, white and blue paint, and the results would be much like those that were visible to us on the hulls of our sister ships.

And a third report from the same time period, in British clergyman William James Dawson's The Father of a Soldier. John Lane Company, 1918, p. 11—

I have just returned from the Docks, and have seen my son off for his third trip to the trenches.

Beside the landing stage lay a ship strangely camouflaged, as if a company of cubist artists had been at work upon her. She looked like an old lady of sober habits, who had been caught in the madness of carnival, and dressed as a zany. She was adorned—or disfigured—by stripes of color that ran in all directions, splashings of green, splotches of gray, curves of dull red, all mixed in uttermost confusion and with no discernible design. I was told that this extraordinary appearance was designed to give the ship invisibility: thus clothed she would flee like a ghost over the gray perilous waters, a phantom thing of blurred outlines, as if evoked from the waters themselves.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dazzle Ship Cover Design

Above This World War II-era British government publication features a powerful abstracted image of a dazzle-camouflaged ship. The designer is unidentified but the style is undoubtedly similar to earlier Vorticist works by Edward Wadsworth and Edward McKnight Kauffer. Notice the visual connections set up (through recurrent angles, aligned edges and correlated column widths) between the ship's camouflage pattern and its two strands of smoke.

Below is a published eyewitness account from World War I of what it was like to be part of a transatlantic trip aboard a dazzle-camouflaged steamer, accompanied by other camouflaged ships. It is extracted from an article titled "Over the Bounding Main in War Time" by William Charles O'Donnell, Jr., who was the Editor in France for Educational Foundations (Vol 30 No 3 December-January 1918-1919, pp. 133-137)—

I am thinking now of the incidents of the trans-Atlantic trip to Europe in the month of December 1917, and of the return voyage in the month of May 1918. The first queer sensation came as I tried to appreciate the subtle artistry displayed in the splashings of color and contortions of design on the sides of our steamer and on the other vessels similarly decorated. Camouflage, I believe, is a French theatrical expression. When an actor puts on his wig, elongates his nose, paints his cheeks, and accentuates his eyebrows for the purpose of blending his individuality with that of the character he is to represent before the footlights, he is the original camouflager, if the word may be so anglicized. So the great ships are made up for their part in the world's mighty drama of war. The effect is often weird, and startling. This nautical costuming seems often to reflect more of the spirit of comedy than of heavy tragedy. One does not have to wait until he is on the rolling waves to get the sensation for which ocean travel is famous. Concentration for a minute or two on the attempt to discover the elements of art in these grotesque displays, the geometric values in those wild configurations is enough to produce the brain whirl and the other disturbances supposed to be symptomatic of ocean sickness. The only cue is to close the eyes, to disengage the mind from the occupation, and to wait for the earth's returning to its orbit. Yet, we are assured that there is a discoverable scientific principle upon which the whole process is established. I have read somewhere of the French artist whose observation of the birds in their flight led him to a careful study of color combinations that produced the effect of invisibility. At short distance the black-backed bird with white breast, for instance, quickly becomes but a thin black line against the background of the sky. At a little distance the black line itself becomes invisible. A similar effect can be obtained with a ship at sea if a similar contiguity of variation in the colorings of its exterior decorations is effected. Especially as these ships are tumbling amid the waves at sea it is difficult to judge of their size or to know whether they are coming or going. By frequently veering its course the camouflaged ship is a puzzle to the submarine. Especially is this true of the small vessels, such as the torpedo boat destroyers, which have done such valiant work as convoys for transports and ocean steamers. I have watched these little heroes of the deep cutting into the foaming billows when it seemed as though they were entirely submerged and would never appear on the surface again. I have seen them when it was difficult to believe that they were more than half their real size. I remember watching one of our convoys one morning when it was utterly impossible to see the center of the boat at all. Just a small portion of the bow and about an equal portion of the stern was all that could be discerned. At times it seemed as though I must be looking at bits of wreckage being thrown from wave to wave. So fantastic as these decorations seem to be they are the application of an old science newly developed which has contributed largely to the success of the Allies.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Okapi Stripes and Hopkins' Poem

Above The stripes of an okapi from E. Ray Lankester, Monograph of the Okapi (London: British Museum, 1910). Illustrations by Carl Hentschel. The okapi, native to the Ituri Rainforest of the Congo, are giraffe-related mammals with remarkable striped patterns on their forelegs, back legs, and hindquarters, not unlike the stripes of a zebra. It brings to mind the patterns both employed and praised within Gerard Manley Hopkins' masterful poem, "Pied Beauty"—

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change; 
Praise him.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Annie Dillard and Dali

Above An embedded figure drawing from a 1907 issue of The Strand Magazine. Compare that with this observation by Gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Köhler, from his Gestalt Psychology (NY: Liveright, 1947), pp. 92-93—

…sometimes we see from a distance a strange object which later, when we approach it, splits into a well-known thing and parts of other objects… The puzzle-pictures which years ago amused the readers of magazines were examples of this kind of thing. In modern wars it has become a real art to make objects such as guns, cars, boats, etc., disappear by painting upon these things irregular designs, the parts of which are likely to form units with parts of their environment.

Or this from Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (NY: Bantam 1975), p. 18—

Nature is like one of those line drawings of a tree that are puzzles for children. Can you find hidden in the leaves a duck, a house, a boy, a bucket, a zebra, and a boot?

This drawing shown here is reminiscent of a double-image painting by Salvador Dali (two nuns who suggest the shape of Robert Houdin's bust of Voltaire), who remembered his interest in puzzles in his article titled "Total Camouflage for Total War" in Esquire Vol 18 No 2 (August 1942), pp. 64-66, 129-130—

Every Saturday [as a child] I received a juvenile publication to which my father had subscribed for me. Its final page was always devoted to a puzzle picture. This would present, for instance, a forest and a hunter. In the tangled underbrush of the forest the artist had cleverly concealed a rabbit; the problem was to find it. Or, again, a doll must be discovered, lost by a child in an apparently empty room. My father would bring me the puzzle, and what was his astonishment to see me find, not one but two, three or four rabbits, not a single doll but several—and never the one which the artist had meant to conceal.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hirschfeld's Camouflaged Ninas

Above Photograph by Carl Van Vechten (1955) of American caricaturist Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003), widely known for his pen-and-ink comic portraits of Broadway stars and other New York celebrities. Public domain image from the Van Vechten Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Hirschfeld was also noted for embedding or camouflaging the name of his daughter Nina in his drawings, and inviting his readers to find them. Regarding this, the following is an excerpt from his online biographical entry on Wikipedia

Hirschfeld is known for hiding the name of his daughter, Nina, is most of the drawings he produced since her birth in 1945. The name would appear in a sleeve, in a hairdo, or somewhere in the background. Sometimes "Nina" would show up more than once and Hirschfeld would helpfully add a number next to his signature, to let people know how many times her name would appear. Hirschfeld originally intended the Nina gag to be a one-time gimmick but it soon spiraled out of control. Though Nina was a popular feature in his illustrations, with many enjoying the game of searching for them, on more than one occasion Hirschfeld would lament that the gimmick had overshadowed his art. On occasion he did try to discontinue the practice, but such attempts always generated harsh criticism. Nina herself was reportedly somewhat ambivalent about all the attention. In the previously mentioned interview with The Comics Journal Hirschfeld confirmed the urban legend that the US Army had used his cartoons to train bomber pilots with the soldiers trying to spot the NINAs much as they would spot their targets. Hirschfeld told the magazine he found the idea repulsive, saying that he felt his cartoons were being used to help kill people. In his 1966 anthology The World of Hirschfeld he included a drawing of Nina which he titled "Nina's Revenge." That drawing contained no Ninas. There were, however, two Als and two Dollys ("The names of her wayward parents").

…In 1991 the United States Postal Service commissioned Hirschfeld to draw a series of postage stamps commemorating famous American comedians. The collection included drawings of Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Edgar Bergen (with Charlie McCarthy), Jack Benny, Fanny Brice, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. He followed that with a collection of silent film stars including Rudolph Valentino, ZaSu Pitts and Buster Keaton. The Postal Service allowed him to include Nina's name in his drawings, waiving their own rule forbidding hidden messages in United States stamp designs.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Futurist Shipping

Above World War I-era photograph of a dazzle-painted ship. Public domain photo. The name of the ship is uncertain, but, based on other dazzle plans, it is most likely an American ship, wearing camouflage developed by a team of US Navy artists in Washington DC, headed by Everett L. Warner. At around the same time, the following short article, titled "Our Futurist Shipping," was published in The Independent (February 23, 1918), pp. 305-306—

If some ancient mariner were to return to one of our eastern ports these days he would think the shipping world had gone mad. The submarine has called forth the camouflage artist, and the camouflage artist has painted our transatlantic vessels with bizarre designs in all colors of the rainbow. Imaginative writers used to dwell on the kaleidoscope of shipping in great harbors like New York. The term is thereby applicable today, for our harbors are as colorful as operatic pageants. Half of some great ship will be painted a delicate baby blue and the other half will be an arrangement in great circles and stripes and bands in black, green, yellow and pink. Another vessel will appear dressed in a succession of waving colors ranging from pink to purple. A steamship no longer resembles a steamship. It looks like a futurist nightmare.

Thee are two rival schools of marine camouflage. One works on the theory of low visibility and the other one strives for what is called the dazzle effect. The low visibility camoufleurs painted the ships in waving lines with the basic light-ray tones—reds and greens and violets—with the idea of having the vessels merge with the atmosphere and disappear. The dazzle school goes in for a system of marvelous designs and colors calculated to confuse the aim of enemy gunners. Even our battleships have succumbed to the lure of strange pigmentation. The sober "fighting gray" battleship color is a thing of the past. Our fighting craft go to their grim business in the war zone made up like a Russian ballet.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Camouflage in Lolita

Believe it or not, there are references to two World War I camouflage artists in Vladimir Nabokov's famous novel, Lolita (New York: Knopf 1992), which was later made into a Hollywood film by Stanley Kubrick (reproduced here is  the film poster from 1997). On page 199, in a lament about Lolita's pictorial taste, the character Humbert Humbert mentions Iowa painter Grant Wood (an US Army camoufleur in WWI) and New England seascape painter Frederick Waugh (who was most likely the finest of the US naval camoufleurs). Here is what Humbert concludes about them—

For her birthday I bought her [Lolita] a bicycle, the doe-like and altogether charming machine already mentioned—and added to this a History of Modern American Painting…but my attempt to refine her pictorial taste was a failure; she wanted to know if the guy noon-napping on Doris Lee's hay was the father of the pseudo-voluptuous hoyden in the foreground, and could not understand why I said Grant Wood or Peter Hurd was good, and Reginald Marsh or Frederick Waugh awful.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Praise for Camoupedia Book

From a review by Georgina Lewis of Roy R. Behrens, CAMOUPEDIA: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage, as published on the website of the Art Libraries Society of North America

The visually arresting and culturally pertinent nature of camouflage make it an apt focus of contemporary art-making and research, with a lineage stretching back to the twisted forms and temporal language of cubism and the post-Darwinian fascination with animals and their markings. Into this arena emerges Camoupedia, containing a vast number of concise, well-researched, and engaging entries on subjects pertaining to camouflage. Many are a paragraph long which makes the work highly readable and permits the inclusion of a wide range of topics.…It will appeal to art and cultural historians as well as to artists who will find within it many points of inspiration. More

Camouflaged Horse

Above A cartoon spoof of World War I camouflage from Life magazine (1918). The caption reads: "The Camouflaged Steed: I've often heard of the horrors of war, but I never expected to be one." Artist unknown. Compare it with this passage from Jane Toombs, Nightingale Man. Amherst Junction WI: Hard Shell Word Factory, 2002, p. 40—

"Would you take a gander at that, Alfie," Sid said. "She's painted all in stripes like a brown and green zebra."

"Camouflage, Sid. I read about it. The U-boats can't see her good when a ship's been camouflaged. It's supposed to make them look like clouds or something."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Canadian War Museum

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We were recently in Ottawa to speak at the Canadian War Museum, in connection with the current exhibition called Camouflage: From Battlefield to Catwalk. It continues through September 6, 2010, and is undoubtedly well worth the visit. Among the things exhibited is the August 3, 1918 issue of a magazine called The Sphere, which includes a full-color reproduction (pp. 86-87) of a World War I painting (by an artist named S. Ugo) of British soldiers applying disruptive camouflage to the surface of a cannon.

On the same day, we toured the other, permanent exhibits in the War Museum, including a basement section in which scores of tanks, trucks, cannon and so on are housed. Among the various artifacts there was a WWI camouflaged wagon (shown below), which, we were told, was the bottom half of a mobile observation post.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Elephants Wear Taupe

Above Red-eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas), photographed by Carey James Balboa near Playa Jaco, Costa Rica (2007). Public domain. It reminds us of references to camouflage and clothing design in a now quaint high school play that originated in the Home Economics Division at Iowa State College (now Iowa State University, Ames). Titled The High School Clothes Line, the script was initially published in the Journal of Home Economics. Vol 13 (April 1921), pp. 169ff—

Ada. I feel differently about made-over clothes since I have a budget. How do you like my dress? (Ada stands and turns.)

Genevieve. Is that a made-over?

Ada. Yes, and I'm proud of it. Mother is an old peach at fixing things up. She is a regular camouflage artist. (Describes dress and gives cost of new material.)…

Genevieve. A large girl went to a dressmaker to get a red dress made. The dressmaker said she would make her a pretty brown dress and trim it with henna, but the girls insisted on the red dress. Finally the dressmaker told her that nature dressed the larger animals in neutral colors, but the small dainty creatures have color to make up for their lack of size. The elephant always wears taupe, while the hummingbird wears brilliant colors.

Katherine. Emma's new eton dress is real camouflage. It covers up her round shoulders. The loose jacket and wide belt fill in the hollow back…

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hollywood Camouflage Artists

This pair of photographs dates from World War I, when they were most likely distributed by the US Government to newspapers and magazines for publicity. For example, they were published in the April 1918 issue of Popular Science magazine (p. 588), along with an article claiming that "Moving picture men are going into the 'camouflage' business." These photos are examples of how theatrical "special effects" could be used for battlefield purposes. The cannon on the left is a "sham gun," or what was then referred to as a "Quaker gun," a means of making the enemy think that the opposition was greater than it really was. On the right is a photo in which all the various props (buildings, cannon, smoke) are not at all what they appear. The photos were made on a movie lot in Hollywood, as explained in the text that continues—

Some of the recruits of a newly organized United States Army [camouflage] corps are experienced motion picture men. A full company has been raised in the Los Angeles studios alone. Another company stands ready to be enrolled. The men are eager to used their skill to "make up" imitation cannons, tanks, machine guns and other grim actors for their parts at the Front.

A recent demonstration, held in one of the great Los Angeles studios, revealed the possibilities of "camouflage." The wizards of illusion raised a village in the twinkling of an eye; tore it down with equal dexterity, and in an incredibly short time substituted a startlingly perfect "camouflage" forest. The fairy-tales of  our youth, in which genii and fairies raised and removed castles by magic, seem to bid fair to come true in these days of seeming miracles.

During World War II, theatrical set designers, animators and special effects artists contributed to both civilian and military camouflage in even larger numbers. Much of this is documented in Ronald Naversen, The Scenographer as Camoufleur. PhD dissertation. Carbondale IL: Southern Illinois University, 1989.

Camouflage Joke | Camelflag

And now for a rather lame camouflage joke from World War I, as published in Cartoons Magazine, vol 13 (1918), p. 716—

Son Will Have to Get a Hump on Now

Mother (reading aloud from letter from son Bill, in France): "'I have been transferred to the camouflage department."' Pa, what is camelflag?"

Father: "That is—why ,er, that is a kind of feller who flags the-er-camel trains."

Colors Used in Dazzle Camouflage

There are full-color paintings of dazzle-camouflaged ships from World War I, showing the range of the colors employed, but there are no color photographs of them, only black and white or sepia. In 1922, the Encyclopedia Britannica published a large entry on camouflage, a portion of which, titled "Navy Camouflage," was written by Norman Wilkinson, the British artist who had initiated dazzle-painting a few years earlier. To illustrate that article, Wilkinson included (among others) two small circular watercolors, showing the after-and-before stages of a camouflaged ship, along with a chart of the colors that was "issued to painting contractors showing the principal colors used in dazzle-painting." There were eighteen colors, as shown in the reconstruction above.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dazzle Camouflage Costume Ball

On March 12, 1919, the Chelsea Arts Club held a costume party, called a Dazzle Ball, at Royal Albert Hall in London. It was inspired by the abstract geometric shapes on camouflaged ships in World War I , a method that was first employed by the British, who called it "dazzle painting" or dazzle camouflage. When the Americans adopted a comparable method, they referred to it by other names, among them "baffle painting," "jazz painting," and (rarely) "razzle dazzle." Reproduced above is a spread from the March 22 issue that year of the Illustrated London News, which featured illustrations of the riotous goings-on at the Dazzle Ball (pp. 414-415). A few weeks later, there was a brief news article in The Independent (May 3, 1919, p. 160) that also told about the ball—

Four British naval officers, distinguished for their success at camouflage, had charge of designing the dresses, and the ballroom looked like the Grant Fleet with all its warpaint on, ready for action. The jazz bands produced sounds that have the same effect upon the ear as this "disruptive coloration" has upon the eye.

Who could have thought a dozen years ago, when the Secessionists began to secede and the Cubists began to cube, that soon all governments would be subsidizing this new form of art to the extent of millions a year? People laughed at them in those days, said they were crazy and were wasting their time, but as soon as the submarines got into action, the country called for the man who could make a dreadnaught look like "A Nude Descending a Staircase"…The submerged Hun with his eye glued to the periscope could not tell whether it was a battleship or a Post-Impressionist picture bearing down upon him…

…in its new and dazzling guise it may cause collisions in the ballroom as it did on the sea. In these days when dancers do the one-step, two-step, three-step and on up to eight-step simultaneously to the same tune, it is becoming difficult to keep the necessary leeway and seaway. When a ship or a woman is disguised by dazzle decoration one is likely to be more than fifteen points off in judging her course.

additional sources

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Vaterland | Leviathan

Above are matching photos of a German ship initially called the SS Vaterland, until it was captured by the US and converted to a giant troopship called the SS Leviathan. Depending on the source, the design of its dazzle camouflage is sometimes attributed to British camoufleur Norman Wilkinson (who originated dazzle-painting) or to American artist Frederick J. Waugh (under the direction of Everett L. Warner). It may be that both statements are accurate, since it's likely that Waugh was among a team of artists who worked with Wilkinson when he was "loaned" by the British to the US Navy for the purpose of helping the US set up its own dazzle-painting unit. Whatever, the Leviathan was among the most famous examples of World War I ship camouflage. There is a reference to it at the end of this lengthy excerpt from Frederick Augustus Sherwood, Glimpses of South America. New York: The Century Company, 1920, pp. 18-19—

[During World War I, the steamers of the United Fruit Company, which were usually painted white and referred to in advertising as "the great white fleet," had instead been painted] gray, or impressionistic mixtures of black, blue, green, and yellow. Wonderful geometric patterns shot clear up their masts and funnels, and completely erased all such things as portholes.

Speaking of camouflage reminds me of a number of unusual effects we saw during the course of our travels. One of these was a house and garden painted on the side of the vessel, with a broad gravel walk leading down to the waterline. This was very striking. Evidently the idea was to lead the undersea pirates [German U-boats] to believe they were nearing home, so that they would come up and be captured. The scenic artist who was responsible had done well—but I am still rather skeptical.

Reversed vessels, that is ships made up to appear as though they were going in the opposite direction to their real course, were common. Some of them were remarkably well done. It requires considerable ingenuity to secure this effect, necessitating as it did the versing of the angle of the funnel and other parts of the superstructure that usually slope slightly towards the real stern. We passed one such ship in the Panama Canal that was so well done that it could hardly be detected, even at that close range.
We also passed a ship in the Canal that looked from a little distance as though it was being convoyed by a torpedo boat. The smaller boat painted on the side of the larger one was perfect in every detail, even to the bone that it carried in its teeth.

The more general kaleidoscopic effects, great splotches of brilliant colors, seemed at first glance to attract attention instead of concealing. It was surprising how quickly such ships lost their identity after passing. You can't actually hide a vessel on the high seas very well, but apparently you can easily change it into a haystack, a mountain, or an intermediate mass of nothing at all. This, of course, is the main purpose of all such camouflage.

One of the most remarkable specimens of this type that we collected appeared at a little distance to be two separate masses of wreckage, with considerable clear water between. It was not until we were directly abreast of it, and only a few hundred yards away, that it turned out to be one of the new standardized freighters on its way to Chile for nitrate. There were only three colors used on this vessel, black, pearl gray, and a sort of dirty pink. Apparently there was no method whatever in the mass of triangles, parallelograms and stripes of these colors, but they had certainly been most scientifically designed to secure the effect sought for. How they divided the boat into two seemingly unattached sections was most remarkable.

Camouflage has served its purpose—and has served other purposes also. It has made prosaic steamships picturesque, and they have enjoyed a favor among artists that has always previously been denied them. Innumerable sketches and paintings of ships in phantasmagorical designs and every color of the rainbow have resulted. Some of these are works of art. All are excellent records of a monstrous period. But camouflage, while increasing picturesqueness and artistic value, takes away much of the sense of power and strength that we have always been accustomed to associate with steamships in their normal dress.

The Leviathan in black, blue, and white checkers, and with long diagonal streaks of yellow, looks puerile in comparison.

Camouflage Light and Not So Lite

Above: A World War I-era comic drawing by American artist Ralph Briggs Fuller (1890-1963) from an issue of Cartoons Magazine. The caption reads "Tommy Tries Camouflage with Great Success," and beneath that is a further note: "The man will do better work on the firing line if he is skilled at the waist line, says Fuller."

Also this from American psychologist (and student of William James) G. Stanley Hall, Morale: The Supreme Standard of Life and Conduct. New York: Appleton, 1920, p. 70—

Humor is perhaps the best camouflage for fear. In looking over the files of the [WWI] trench journals of the Allies nothing has struck me more forcibly than the desperate and pathetic attempts to jest, even about death itself in its more horrid aspects. This often seems most shocking to civilian readers, while some of the attempts to joke are so abortive as to be simply pathetic. [Novelist] Coningsby Dawson writes, "Pretty well every man I have met out there has the amazing guts to wear his crown of thorns as though it were a cap and bells."

Canadian Camouflage Exhibition

During a span of eight months in 2007, the Imperial War Museum in London premiered an exhibition about the cultural history of camouflage, particularly "its development by the military and later adoption by popular culture." The exhibition, now titled Camouflage: From Battlefield to Catwalk, has been reinstalled at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, where it continues to be on display through September 6, 2010. Here's a descriptive excerpt from the museum's publicity:

[The exhibition] traces the colorful history of military camouflage over the last century, from the simple concealment of soldiers and objects to the use of camouflage-inspired designs in a wide range of commercial and artistic products. It includes everything from hand-painted dummy heads, designed to draw sniper fire during the First World War, to vast designs for phantom armies and invasion fleets during the Second World War, to sophisticated computer-generated patterns used by today's militaries. This extensive exhibition shows how the art of military concealment and deception is a product of human imagination, artistic skill and scientific ingenuity, and how designs, applications and effectiveness have varied greatly over time. …more

Other events have been scheduled to supplement the exhibition. Later this week, for example, on Thursday, March 25, 2010, at 7:00 pm, Dr. Alison Matthews David, Assistant Professor in the School of Fashion at Ryerson University, will lecture on Dazzling Shoes and Deceptive Hats: Fashion and Camouflage during the First World War. A few weeks later, on Thursday, April 8, at 7:00 pm, I [Roy R. Behrens, Professor of Art and Distinguished Scholar at the University of Northern Iowa] will lecture on Seagoing Easter Eggs: Artists' Contributions to Ship Camouflage. Both presentations will be held in the museum's Barney Danson Theatre, and are free and open to the public.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Barnyard Camouflage

The artists who were World War I camoufleurs didn't always know what they were doing. As one of them, Henry Berry, said later in a memoir titled Make the Kaiser Dance (Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1978), "None of us, including the captain, knew a goddamn thing about camouflage, but it got us out of all the drilling and what have you" (p. 206). Shown here are two examples of American camouflage in France: In the top photo, a small shed has been "camouflaged" by covering it with a spurious barnyard mural of sorts, including a very large chicken. The bottom photo shows an actual cow tied up to graze on what looks like the ground, but is actually the roof of the concealed quarters beneath it. Public domain news photos from The Art World (January 1918).

Women Camouflage Artists

Pictured above is a construction view of a World War I non-ship called the USS Recruit, built in Union Square in New York for use as a landlocked recruiting station. After completion, it was painted battleship gray, but later, at the suggestion of camouflage artist Everett L. Warner, it was repainted in brightly-colored dazzle camouflage. Recently, we found Warner's recommendation of this in an article he wrote titled "Marine Camouflage: Various Methods of Protective Coloration Used to Reduce Insurance Risks" in The Bush Magazine of Factory and Shipping Economy (January 15, 1918. pp. 12-14). He writes—

Its [the Recruit's] coat of Navy gray is well calculated to make it inconspicuous in these particular surroundings. But is this good strategy? Decidedly not. If we follow the proper practice of studying each vessel as a separate problem we immediately realize that the prime purpose of this vessel is to attract attention, and if camouflaged in the bright colors and strong contrast of the dazzle style it would be a nine days wonder in New York, and would be visited and discussed by countless thousands. In all seriousness I present this suggestion to the recruiting arm of the service as well worthy of their consideration.

Soon after (as documented in Isabel L. Smith, "Camouflage in the United States Navy" in Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine Vol LV No 8, August 1921), members of the Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps were given the task of camouflaging the ship. According to Smith—

This was a night's work for the women and was done at the request of the Navy to further recruiting. The camouflage design was worked out in the classrooms of the Corps. One day at sundown New Yorkers saw the ship a tame, neutral gray. The next morning it wore a wild, fantastic design of many colors.