Saturday, December 17, 2011

Australian Decoy Cow

Papier mache decoy cow (1944)

For more about this decoy papier mache milk cow, devised by World War II Australian camouflage artists, click here

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

San Quentin Prison Camouflage

Inmates in striped prison suits (not at San Quentin)

From Dean Jennings, "Inside San Quentin Prison: Factory for Forgotten Men" in The Rotarian (August 1948), p. 16—

"When [US] Army officers were searching for camouflage artists [during World War II], they came to San Quentin [State Prison in California] on a routine visit. Strolling around the prison hospital, the administration headquarters, and other buildings on the huge reservation, they noticed hundreds of beautiful murals on the walls. There were paintings of all the great railroad trains in history; there were life-size works illustrating Bible stories. There were ships, planes, landscapes, buildings—covering every available inch of bare wall space.

'That's wonderful stuff!' one of the officers exclaimed. 'How big is your staff of artists?'

[Warden Clifton] Duffy grinned. 'I haven't any staff. Every one of those murals was done by one man. He wanted to give this place some beauty, even though he knew he could never take his work off the walls.'

The officer nodded thoughtfully. 'We need men with that kind of guts,' he said. 'We'll take him.'

So Roy Colyar, a great artist behind walls, went over to an Army post on special parole, using his brush for camouflage work—so that other men might live. Colyar is still in the service, and his fine record has earned him a full parole effective this year."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hugh B. Cott | Zoologist and Camoufleur

from Hugh B. Cott, Adaptive Coloration in Animals (1940)

Reproduced above is one of my favorite drawings from what is one of my favorite books. It is a cluster of drawings of the "hind limbs of the Common Frog (Rana temporaria), showing coincident disruptive pattern[s]." They are one of about 150 illustrations of natural camouflage in Hugh B. Cott's well-known classic book about that fascinating subject, titled Adaptive Coloration in Animals (London: Methuen, 1940). What makes these drawings (and the book itself) even more interesting is that Cott (1900-1987) was not just a zoologist—he was a highly skilled scientific illustrator (these are his own pen-and-ink drawings), a wildlife photographer, and a prominent British camoufleur in World War II.

In these drawings, he is trying to show how disruptive patterns in animal forms combine with continuous patterns to produce an effect that Cott referred to as coincident disruption. As he so aptly explained it, disruptive patterns work "by the optical destruction of what is present," while continuous patterns work "by the optical construction of what is not present." He then concludes that "while disruptive patterns appear to break up what is really a continuous surface, coincident patterns seem to unite what are actually discontinuous surfaces" (p. 70).

This same illustration was also recently reproduced in the new book by art historian Ann Elias, Camouflage Australia (Sydney University Press, 2011). Having followed her research in recent years, I was delighted to be asked to write a preface for the book, which is an admirable achievement in interdisciplinary research. In the preface, I could not resist the temptation to compare Elias' own efforts to Cott's drawing of the frogs' hind limbs. The author, I said, "has folded up a lengthy limb of scholarly tradition (made up of sacrosanct disciplines like aesthetics, zoology, anthropology and sociology), in order to reveal new zones that are cross-disciplinary" (p. viii).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Camouflage as Hide and Seek

WWI disguises: one thing looks like something else

From Reginald John Farrer, The Void of War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1918, pp. 67-68—

"In certain aspects the war [World War I] 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 wide waggles of orange and emerald and ochre and umber, in a drunken chaos, until you have produced a perfect futurist masterpiece which one would thin would pierce the very vaults of heaven with its yells. However, as pandemonium produces numbness in the ear, so I suppose a Lost-Dogs'-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 else 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 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 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 guns go, the war is developing into a colossal fancy dress ball, with immunity for the prize: wolves in sheeps' clothing are nothing to these shepherdesses of the countryside. The more important they are, the more meekly do they shrink from under dominoes 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 to make ones gun look like a dog kennel, or a dog kennel conceal a gun. But, of course, the individual camouflage is even more exciting yet."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Building Camouflage

News photo of a British hospital in disruptive camouflage (c1918)
From American Architect and Architecture Vol 17 (1920), p. 704—

"Now that the war is over the camouflage artist may be seeking occupation, and the Architects' Journal of London has facetiously throught of a manner in which his talents might be used for the general good. We are surrounded by many buildings which cause us daily pain, but which serve some utilitarian purpose. Why should not the camouflage artist so decorate the fronts of these buildings as to make them absolutely invisible from the street? It might excite wonder to see some hundreds of people passing into a building which apparently consisted of one floor only, but this would not matter. We should only consider that there were more marvels than had been dreamed of in our philosophy, while local authorities would have to determine what new buildings should be allowed to be visible."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

WWI Camouflaged Pissoir

World War I (August 1917), a camouflaged pissoir

Color photography was invented prior to 1914, but it wasn't widely used during World War I. I don't think I've ever seen a color photograph of a dazzle-camouflaged ship from that era.  There are of course paintings of a some of those ships, hand-painted wooden models, and tinted black and white photographs. There's even colorized film footage. Recently I ran across a website (there are other sites as well) that features color photographs from the war. The one shown here for example shows a French soldier at a camouflaged field pissoir.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Camouflaged Pigeon Roosts

WWI camouflaged pigeon roost

During World War I, one of the fastest, most effective ways to send a message was the use of homing pigeons, who reportedly succeeded at a rate of 95%. More than 100,000 pigeons were used on the battlefield in France. They were housed in camouflaged transport vehicles like the one shown here, vans that had been adapted to serve as pigeon roosts.  Of course, this led to spurious claims that, if the camouflage was too effective, it would prevent the birds from finding the roost.

For example, the following comment appeared in Eva March Tappen, The Little Book of the War (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1918), p. 76—

"Landscape painters were called upon to help in the camouflage, and airmen sailed aloft to see how well they had succeeded. One succeeded altogether too well, if we may trust the story, for he camouflaged so perfectly the van in which homing pigeons had been brought that on their return they did not recognize it."

Below is another camouflaged pigeon roost from the same era. It's a non-motorized wagon, and its camouflage is different from the previous example. In this case, the wagon has been painted to match the stone wall, fence and shrubbery in the background.

Non-motorized camouflaged pigeon roost

Friday, November 25, 2011

Camouflage and Masquerade

Regrettably we don't know the source of this photo. I found it several years ago, and have since misplaced the notes. I remember that it was taken in France (c1918), and that the group of people shown are army camoufleurs, either American or French, or (more likely) a mixture of camouflage artists from both. The odd thing of course is how they are dressed. These are "camouflaged camoufleurs," dressed up for a costume party, a masquerade.The face of one person (standing center, middle row) is painted like an American flag, while another (seated, to the left) looks like the Red Cross. The seconded seated person from the right is wearing an unusually disruptive design (not unlike dazzle ship camouflage). Inevitably, there are themes related to race—on the far right is a seated man in blackface (as was typical of minstrel shows), and in the center on the ground is someone in Native American garb.

During WWI among GIs in France (not just the camoufleurs), it was common to organize masquerades and other costumed events and performances for the white Army "doughboys" (the US Army was not yet integrated, so Black soldiers were in separate units). Recently, I found a book on Entertaining the American Army: The American Army by James W. Evans and Garder L. Harding (Association Press, 1921), in which the costumes are described as follows:

"Many of these garments were contributed by actors and actresses back in the States. Winthrop Ames [a Broadway producer who organized an Over There Theatre League] sent over twenty-six trunks of costumes in June 1918. Here were Indian outfits, period robes, Uncle Sam suits, cowboy rigs, hoopskirts—everything a khaki actor might require.

Appeals for supplies were varied. Negro wigs were unknown in France until the doughboy came, and thousands had to be brought over, enough to camouflage an army corps. Letters like this would come in: 'The Machine Gun Company wants six ukuleles, three bass viols, twenty wigs, lots of grease paint, and six pairs of bones, and the Colonel says the "Y" [YMCA] will send them. We've got the greatest [N-word] show on earth!'" (pp. 171-172).

According to The Chronological History of the Negro in America, by the end of WWI, 367,000 Blacks had been drafted, thus representing 11% of the ground forces who fought for American freedoms in France. Back home in 1918, 58 Blacks were lynched that year, up from 38 before.

Camouflage Artist | Kimon Nicolaides

Nicolaides, The Natural Way to Draw

American artist and teacher Kimon Nicolaides (1891-1938) is best-known as the author of a famous drawing textbook, The Natural Way to Draw (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941). But he was also an American Army camoufleur during World War I.

From "Heard and Seen" in the Washington Times, February 17, 1919 (editorial page): "Sergt. Kimon Nicolaides, camoufleur, is here again. He is studying art."

Born in Washington DC, Nicolaides' father was a Greek-born importer of Oriental artifacts, while his mother's ancestors can be traced to the US Colonial period. As a young man, he earned money by framing pictures, writing newspaper articles, and playing the role of an art student as an extra in a film. He studied drawing at the Art Students League with George Bridgman and John Sloan.

When the US entered WWI, Nicolaides volunteered for the American Camouflage Corps. He served in France for over a year, for which he received a citation. One of his wartime duties required the study of geographical contour maps, an experience that may have influenced his use of 'contour drawing' as Exercise One later in his drawing book. He died before the book came out. Its completion and publication were overseen by a devoted former student, Mamie Harmon, whose papers are in the Archives of American Art.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

French Truck Camouflage

Colored lithograph from La Guerre Documentée

To my mind, this is one of the most exquisite illustrations of camouflage, as practiced during World War I. It's one of a series of colored lithographs that appeared initially in La Guerre Documentée (c1920).

It represents three stages in the application of disruptive camouflage. In the top, there is no disruption since the truck is painted in monochrome gray (in a manner not unlike the use of battleship gray in ship camouflage). In the second stage, disruptive shapes have been applied that contradict its physical shape. And then, in the bottom image, the truck has been placed in a setting in which it is not only visually broken apart (high difference) but aspects of its pattern blend (high similarity) with various parts of the background.

The gestalt psychologists' term for this was an embedded figure. In his famous book, Adaptive Coloration in Animals (1940), British zoologist (and military camouflage instructor) Hugh B. Cott talked about the combined use of blending and disruption in the coloration of animals, as when a frog folds up its legs, and connecting patterns link its limbs. Much earlier, American artist Abbott H. Thayer had described the same phenomenon (in Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (1909)), but it was Cott who came up with a suitable name—he called it coincident disruption.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Camouflage Artist | Robert Webb Jr.

John Singer Sargent, The Hermit (detail), oil on canvas, 1908

Of late, we've been trying to find information about a little-known American artist named Robert (Bob) Webb, Jr. (1897-1987), who apparently served as a ship camoufleur during World War I.

He is interesting for other reasons as well: It seems that he assisted John Singer Sargent (by preparing the paints) when, in 1915, that artist was commissioned to paint a mural (The Triumph of Religion) for the Boston Public Library. According to Webb, he learned from that experience but Sargent paid him not a cent. After World War I, he moved to Florida, where he worked with other artist-designers in decorating the elaborate interior of Ca d'Zan (Venetian dialect for "house of John"), the palatial winter home of John and Mable Ringling (of Ringling Brothers Circus fame) in Sarasota. Decades later, in the 1960s, Webb returned to Florida to participate in the restoration of that mansion, now part of the Ringling Museum of Art. He also worked for Colonial Williamsburg for more than twenty years.

One of the sources I've found thus far is a 204-page book about Webb's life, titled Tramp Artist: The Life of Robert Webb Jr., compiled by his daughter, Thelma Webb Wright, and published in 2003. It features reproductions of numerous works (paintings, interior crafts and Williamsburg signs) and extended excerpts from his tape-recorded memories. The book is largely a tribute to Webb and his first wife Rosa (the author's mother), who died in 1974. I've also found an online source (dated 1999) that's also credited to Thelma Webb Wright, who was apparently at the time a volunteer at the Ringling Museum. A third source is a recent 312-page alternative biography called Apprentice to Master (Trafford Publishing, 2010), written by Webb's second wife, Katheryn Webb, whom he married in 1976.

Regarding Webb's service as a World War I camouflage artist, the two authors (combined with Webb's transcribed account) provide somewhat different narratives. According to the Wright biography, Webb enlisted in the Navy in 1918. Soon after, he was assigned to camouflage in Norfolk as a result of having been recommended for that by Webb's mentor, Massachusetts artist Frederick Mortimer Lamb (1861-1936) and Sargent (the two had met as students at the Académie Julian in Paris) . His commanding officer was Lieutenant-Commander Nathan Bushnell, who (according to Webb's first-person account) "was in charge of all camouflaging for the Navy" (this is contrary to anything I've ever heard) and was also the Chief of Naval Intelligence.

This is Webb's description of how he designed ship camouflage: "My buddy and I used to take photographs of the ships that were not camouflaged… Using the photos as a guide, we'd cut a silhouette out of masonite… I'd make the designs on the sides of the ships, and these other guys would color them in. …[You couldn't actually hide a ship] So I figured the only thing to do with them buggers is to fool them. So I'd paint a submarine on the side of the ship, and I'd write all kinds of cross lines, circles, everything, so they [the German U-boat commanders] couldn't get a line on it. The front of the ship, I'd paint a bow on it. I'd paint another bow, so when they come up she'd be going the other way" (Wright, pp. 14-15).

Wright's book cites another source, an article in the Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), on April 12, 1986, in which Webb is quoted as follows: "Typical [camouflage] designs were angles and circles. I even painted a submarine on the side of one ship. Colors made no difference as long as they were strong, like dark blue, black or yellow. We made the craziest ships you ever saw in your life." Wright also notes that, years later, when the US entered World War II, Webb attempted to revive his ship camouflage efforts: "[He] had several dozen plywood silhouettes of ships cut and proceeded to paint camouflage designs on them… When he learned about radar and sonar, he said in disgust, 'The Navy used to have iron men and wooden ships, now they have wooden men and iron ships.' His wooden ships became kindling" (p. 18).

In Apprentice to Master, Webb's involvement in ship camouflage is discussed in greater detail. According to that author, Sargent was approached by Rear Admiral William Sims (head of the US Navy), who explained that "a new service was being set up within the Navy that would use art to protect troops, cargo and battleships from enemy torpedoes. It would be called a 'camouflage department.' The secretary asked Sargent's opinion as to what qualifications the men should have who would staff the new department… Sargent, in answering the Secretary of the Navy's request for qualifications of men to fill this roll as camouflage artists, proposed that his young friend Robert James Webb, Jr., be put in charge of the new department! Bob could set the standard for all the other recruits to the new camouflage department. Sargent offered to write Bob Webb a recommendation, which he did, there at the dinner table" (pp. 61-62).

Elsewhere in the same book, it is stated that Webb was "put in charge" of Navy camouflage (p. 83), that he served as  "chief camouflage artist" (p. 93), and that "The camouflage work he did…was unique and copied throughout the Navy" (p. 187). In the online book description at Amazon, an even stronger claim is made that Webb "went on to become the first camouflage artist in the Navy during WWI." Having researched and written about art and camouflage for forty years, I am astonished to learn this now. In all those years, I've never heard of Robert Webb, Jr., and I don't know any other source that claims he played such a prominent role in WWI naval camouflage. Needless to say, the search goes on.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Camouflage & the National Parks

From Linda Flint McClelland, Building the National Parks: Historic Landscape Design and Construction. Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998, pp. 459-460—
With the advent of aviation defense, camouflage emerged as a new field of design in World War II—one that was well suited to the skills and knowledge of landscape architects, many of whom had worked in the woods andhad spent almost a decade designing constructed improvements that blended into the natural scenery of state and national parks… Like the design of natural parks, the success of camouflage relied heavily upon site selection, adherence to principles of design which concealed form and detail, and the selection of appropriate materials often including natural vegetation. Camouflage required that development conform to the general character of the site and fit into the immediate surroundings, thereby following the natural contours of the land and avoiding raw scars of cuts and fills…
Camouflage research and development drew upon the skills and experience of several former park designers. At the offices of the Engineering Board of the Corps of Engineers at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, George L. Nason became the chief of the camouflage design office. His varied staff of designers—architects, landscape architects, illustrators, engineers, model makers, and site designers—included V[ivian] Roswell Ludgate, who had been the regional landscape architect for the National Park Service's Eastern Region, and Merel S. Sager, who had been a resident landscape architect for the Western Region since the late 1920s. Former Massachusetts state park inspector Edward B. Ballard served as an Air Corps for camouflage research at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and regional landscape architect Norman T. Newton served as an intelligence and camouflage officer for the Air Corps at Pendleton Field, Oregon.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Camouflage Artist | Daniel Putnam Brinley

Daniel Putnam Brinley (1879-1963)

Above Daniel Putnam Brinley, Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum (J0001309).


In earlier posts, we've talked about American muralist William Andrew Mackay, who was a major contributor to World War I ship camouflage. Over the years, we've been able to expand the list of those who worked with him as camouflage artists when he oversaw the painting of merchant ships in the New York area for the US Shipping Board. We've also found the names of those who studied with him at a camouflage school he established during the war, among them Harold Everitt Austin, Charles Bittinger, Henry Scott Bluhm, Thomas Casilear Cole, Maurice Lisso Freedman, Eric Gugler, W.S. Gephart, George Edgerly Harris, Kenneth S. Maclntire, Raymond J. Richardson, Frank Julius Spicker, Walter L. Ward, and Charles D. Bosisio. There were others as well.

A name that should be added is that of another muralist, Daniel Putnam Brinley (1879-1963), who not only worked on ship camouflage with Mackay, but may also have served in the US Army as a camoufleur. The primary documentation for this is in the Daniel Putnam Brinley and Katherine Sanger Brinley papers in the Archives of American Art. In that collection, there is a Brinley typescript that seems to be a chronology of his "camouflage work for navy" in Baltimore in October 1917. He mentions Mackay (referred to as "Mac") and Commander J.O. Fisher, who worked with Mackay on early experiments in ship camouflage. There is another interesting entry (dated October 21) in which he notes that, while visiting Fisher in Washington DC, he also "went over to the Camp [American University] to see what was going on with the [US Army] Camouflage Corps." In the following passage, he mentions three of the original members of that unit, William Twigg-Smith, William Nell and Barry Faulkner (a cousin of Abbott H. Thayer):

They [the Camouflage Corps] are still in rather a hectic state as far as I can see, and the chief interest at present is a vaudeville show [a fund-raising effort] they are getting up. I asked for Twigg but he was not around. I saw Billy Nell and he seemed to be enjoying himself although he said he had had a bad cold…They all wanted to know what had happened to me and when I told them they said they could not understand it especially Barry Faulkner as he said that the surgeon put him down as blind without his glasses! and some of the men said that they never had their eyes looked at, rather amusing is it not.

In a later entry, Brinley mentions another Army camoufleur, an illustrator named F. Earl Christy. Another document in the AAA collection is a letter written by Mackay on September 7 of that same year. Apparently Brinley (who had served in the Army in 1916, prior to the US participation in WWI) was hoping to be able to join the Army Camouflage Corps, and Mackay's letter is a verification of his experience and capabilities. It reads in part:

This is to certify that the bearer, Daniel Putnam Brinley has worked under my directions and is thoroughly familiar with the laws of light and form as applied to the term "Camouflage."

His knowledge of color for concealment is of greatest value and his ability to assist me on important experiments carried on for the United States Navy is of greatest importance.

One other odd connection: Of Brinley's artistic achievements, one of the best-known is a series of maps he created for the Liberty Memorial (the National World War I Museum) in Kansas City MO, which are on exhibit in Memory Hall. As noted in an earlier post, that same museum also has the surviving portion of a huge diorama, the Panthéon de la Guerre, completed in 1918 by French artists who were serving as army camoufleurs.


[Added June 23, 2014]: Brinley was also a member of the American Association of Painters and Sculptors (AAPS), which organized the Armory Show in New York in 1913. Shortly after its opening, they held an uproarious dinner at Healy's Restaurant in honor of "our Friends and Enemies of the Press." Elizabeth Lunday, in The Modern Art Invasion (Guilford CT: Lyons Press, 2013, p. 75), describes what happened as the evening wore on—

Perhaps inspired by the dancing waitresses, artist D. Putnam Brinley, who stood nearly seven feet tall, began a high-kicking contest, which he unsurprisingly won. Then the short, bearded sculptor Jo Davidson joined him on the floor, and he and Brinley danced a tango. A heavy knock was heard at the door and in walked a doddering old man in a long white beard and an old-fashioned stovepipe hat. He introduced himself as The National Academy of Design, then joined Davidson and Brinley in a riotous Turkey Trot.


 [Added January 15, 2016] Abel G. Warshawsky, The Memories of an American Impressionist. Ben L. Bassham, ed. Kent OH: Kent State University Press, 1980, p. 19—

My most difficult opponent in hand-wrestling was Putnam Brindly [sic], a young giant, six feet three in his socks, whom I met many years later decorating army huts on the French front when my brother and I were similarly engaged. He was then so tall that he could do stencils on the ceiling without using a ladder.

additional info

Friday, October 21, 2011

Camouflage Artist | Worden G. Wood

Rear Admiral John Lorimer Worden (1818-1897)

This is a wonderful photograph (detail) of USN Rear Admiral John Lorimer Worden, who commanded the ironclad USS Monitor during the American Civil War in its battle with the Merrimac (the CSS Virginia).

It's of interest here because Admiral Worden was the grandfather of marine painter and illustrator Worden G. Wood (1880-1943), who served as a camoufleur for the US Shipping Board (Emergency Fleet Corporation) during World War I.

Wood was born in Brooklyn, and attended school at Trinity School and Columbia University.  At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, he joined the US Naval Reserve and served aboard the Yankee clipper. Later, he also served under General John J. Pershing in his pursuit of Pancho Villa.

In April 1917, he was assigned to the US Navy, and appears to have contributed to the development of camouflage for American merchant ships. On July 31, 1918, he was assigned to the camouflage branch of the Delaware River District in Philadelphia, but (for reasons that are unclear) was reassigned back to New York just ten days later.

As an illustrator and art director, he worked for various book and newspaper publishers, including the MacMillan Company, the New York World, the New York Herald, and the Boston Herald (for which he wrote about yachting).  As a marine painter, he was frequently commissioned to make paintings of ocean liners and other ships by major shipping firms.

For further information, see "Worden Wood, Marine Artist, Illustrator Had Served on World Staff" in New York Times, November 21, 1943, p. 56. William Bell Clark on "Camouflage Painting on the Delaware" in Philadelphia in the World War 1914-1919. NY: Philadelphia War History Committee 1922 (pp. 318-322).

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Camouflage Artist | Sheldon Pennoyer

American artist A(lbert) Sheldon Pennoyer (1888-1957) was originally from California. In 1913, he was living in Paris, where he was a student in the Architectural Section of the École des Beaux Arts. When his interests turned to art, he enrolled at the Académie Julian. Soon after, World War I broke out, and he returned to California.

In 1954 he wrote, “World War I found me in the 40th Engineers Camouflage Corps that was forming at Camp American University, Washington DC.” He recalls that one of the major events in the winter of 1917 was “the famous Camoufleurs’ Ball at the New Willard Hotel,”  for which Pennoyer was assigned by his commanding officer, Captain Aymar Embury II, “to build a model of a railroad field gun [shown here] which he wished to use as a centerpiece for his dinner table when he entertained a number of his officers and men before the opening of the ball… Sash pulleys for wheels, heavy cardboard mailing tubes for the gun barrel, plenty of quick-drying camouflage paint and moss representing the grass along the roadbed, tied in fairly closely with all we could see in a photograph we had of a railway gun in France. It had a fake realism quite in keeping with all the deception we, as camoufleurs, were attempting at the time.”•

That same winter, Pennoyer’s unit sailed to France, then traveled by train to Dijon. There, he and several others (with Sherry Edmundson Fry in the lead) were assigned by Embury to function as a liaison to the French camouflage section. In that capacity, one of his most challenging requests was to camouflage a massive fourteen-inch naval railway gun, with a firing range of up to thirty miles.

A lifelong railroad enthusiast, Pennoyer was especially known for his depictions of subjects related to railroads.

• Pennoyer, Sheldon (1954), Locomotives in Our Lives: Railroad Experiences of Three Brothers For More Than Sixty Years, 1890-1951. New York: Hastings House, pp. 26-34.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Camouflage Artist | Charles H. Ebert

Charles H. Ebert (1873-1959)

Of late I have been trying to find information about an American impressionist painter named Charles H. Ebert (1873-1959). Born to affluent parents in Milwaukee, he grew up in Kansas City. His artistic training was at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, and the Art Students League in New York. In 1894, he went to Paris to study, along with Charles Allan Gilbert (who contributed to ship camouflage in WWI), Ernest Kaiser, Oscar Lentz, and Ernest L. Blumenschein (who had earlier been his roommate). When he returned to the US in 1896, he became the chief political cartoonist for Life magazine. He resigned that position after four years, and moved to Greenwich CT to paint full-time and to study with John Henry Twachtman. While studying with Twachtman, he became acquainted with Mary Roberts, who was also an artist, as well as the inheritor of a family fortune that had come from her father's invention of a device for oil drilling. They married in 1908.

Mary Roberts Ebert had graduated in 1895 from Wellesley College. In that school's alumni notes for 1917, she is described as "living this winter in New York. Her husband, Carl [sic] Ebert, an artist noted for his landscape painting, is doing experimental work for the camouflage of ships at sea" (p. 119). Presumably, Ebert was working in New York, where he was probably among the team of civilian camouflage artists headed by William Andrew Mackay.

Photo credit: Charles H. Ebert, Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum J0106662.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Who Invented Dazzle Camouflage?

Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske (1854-1942)

So who was the first to make use of disruptive patterns in ship camouflage, a practice that was widely known in World War I as dazzle camouflage? The easiest answer—and the one that's most often repeated—is British artist Norman Wilkinson, who proposed the use of dazzle painting in 1917, and who presumably gave it its name. Yet, from the very beginning, others have claimed to have thought of it first, notably the Scottish zoologist and Member of Parliament John Graham Kerr (1869-1957). A well-documented discussion, concluding on the side of Kerr, was published two years ago, in Hugh Murphy and Martin Bellamy's "The Dazzling Zoologist: John Graham Kerr and the Early Development of Ship Camouflage" in The Northern Mariner XIX No 2 (April 2009), pp. 171-192. Kerr called for the adoption of which he called "parti-coloring" as early as 1914.

Kerr was the teacher of zoologist and camoufleur Hugh B. Cott, who would later write Adaptive Coloration in Animals (1940). But he was also acquainted with (and largely approved of his theories) American artist and naturalist Abbott H. Thayer. In 1923, in "Camouflage in Nature and War" in the Brooklyn Museum Quarterly (Vol 10, p. 161), Thayer's son and collaborator Gerald suggested that his father and he could also have been credited with early accounts of dazzle camouflage. He writes, "The moving object [such as a ship] cannot, as a rule, be hidden, but it can be made less definite, more puzzling, a more 'tricky' and difficult target, by certain arrangements of color and pattern. This my father and I pointed out in 1909 in our book Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom; and we there used the terms 'dazzle' and 'dazzling' very much as they have since been used in connection with the camouflage ships."

There are other complications too. The photo above is a portrait of American Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske who states in his autobiography (From Midshipman to Rear-Admiral. NY: Century Company 1919) that, as early as 1902, he had employed a dazzle-like method, to interfere with range-finding. He writes: "This scheme of preventing range-finding by an enemy was a scheme that I had devised when I was executive officer of the battleship Massachusetts in 1902. I had told possibly half a dozen officers about it under the pledge of secrecy, because I thought it would be a very valuable thing to use in case we ever got into war, but I wanted the idea kept secret. The scheme was simply to break up the smooth lines on a ship, such as the sides of masts, funnels, etc., by putting irregular strips of wood on them, or pieces of canvas that would flutter. To use the ordinary one-observer range-finder, a smooth vertical line is necessary; and I found by some experiments which I carried on on board the Massachusetts that accurate range-finding could be prevented by that simple means. One day I sent out a whale boat to a distance of about half a mile from the ship, with her two masts stepped. One mast had the irregular pieces of wood nailed on it, and the other was in its ordinary condition. I tried using the range-finder myself, and I found I could measure the ranges of the smooth mast very accurately, but of the other one only inaccurately. I did not tell anybody what I was trying to do, and I fancied from some of the fragments of comment that I heard that some people thought I had gone crazy" (pp. 620-621).

Auto Camouflage

Reconstructed Stolen Car (1921)

A post-World War I issue of Popular Science (January 1921, p. 36) reported the use of camouflage among car thieves:

"'Stolen—a seven-passenger touring car,' is not an uncommon message at Police Headquarters. When the police get a report like this, they watch out, naturally, for a large touring car. But the thieves may have changed its shape in the meantime.

Take, for example, the automobile shown above. As you see, it is a roadster having two seats. Originally it was a seven-passenger car. The men who stole it removed the entire rear end of the body and substituted for it boards and canvas. Disk wheels added to the disguise. It was through a mere chance that the police found the car."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Camouflage Artist | Howard V. Brown

We've talked about American muralist William Andrew Mackay in two earlier posts, one an overview of his life, the other a description of his initial approach to ship camouflage, in which he juxtaposed small patches of pure colors to produce at a distance an optical gray. During World War I, he was in charge of a unit of civilian camouflage artists, who were part of the US Shipping Board (aka the Emergency Fleet Corporation). Headquartered in Manhattan at 345 East 33rd Street, they were not responsible for designing dazzle camouflage (that was done by US Navy camoufleurs in Washington DC), but for adapting for various ships the sets of plans passed on to them. All this was discussed at length in an article by Raymond Francis Yates, titled "The Science of Camouflage Explained," in Everyday Engineering Magazine Vol 6 No 6 (March 1919), pp. 253-256. Of added significance is the cover of that issue (shown here), which features a painting of one of the artists in Mackay's unit, studying a dazzle-painted ship model through a periscope-like instrument that simulates viewing conditions at sea, from the view of a U-boat commander. It is even more interesting to find that the cover illustrator was Howard V. Brown (1878-1945), who was well known at the time for his engineering and science fiction magazine illustrations—alas, he was also a camoufleur in the unit headed by Mackay.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ann Elias: Camouflage Australia

Newly published Ann Elias, Camouflage Australia. Sydney AU: Sydney University Press, 2011. "Camouflage Australia tells a once secret and little known story of how the Australian government accepted the advice of zoologist William John Dakin and seconded the country's leading artists and designers, including Max Dupain and Frank Hinder, to deploy optical tricks and visual illusions for civilian and military protection. Their work was an array of ingenious constructions for the purpose of disguise and subterfuge. Drawing on previously unpublished photographs and documents, Camouflage Australia exposes the story of fraught collaborations between civilian and military personnel who disagreed over camouflage's value to wartime operations and the usefulness of artists to warfare." More

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Two Sides of a Camouflaged Ship

During World War I, it was standard practice in Allied ship camouflage to apply markedly different camouflage schemes to the two sides of any ship. Shown here for example are the port (top) and starboard (bottom) sides of an American freighter, the SS West Galoc, as photographed in 1918.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dazzle Camouflaged Duo

These are two British dazzle-camouflaged ships from World War I. At first glance they may appear to be two photographs of the same ship, partly because of position of course, or even two prints of one photo. On closer look, it becomes apparent that not only are these two distinctly different photographs, the two ships and their camouflage schemes are also different. The one at the top is the SS Empress Russia, while shown below that is the SS Osterley. An original print of the top photograph is in the collection of the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool, England. The printed source for the other image is uncertain, but it seems a safe assumption that both were made in 1918 by a Liverpool photography firm called Stewart Bale Ltd. The Merseyside Maritime Archives and Library houses a Stewart Bale Collection. It is also a safe assumption that the camouflage for both ships was designed by British naval camoufleurs, headed by marine painter Norman Wilkinson. Below is a later photo of the starboard side of the SS Osterley, taken on November 11, 1918 in New York Habor, when the ship was wearing victory flags.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ghost Army Film Screenings

Click here to see film trailer

For more than six years, documentary filmmaker Rick Beyer has been working on a film about a World War II secret US Army unit that specialized in deceiving the enemy on the battlefield, using inflatable decoys (tanks, trucks, jeeps and so on—including the phony tank shown here), sound effects,  misinformation, and other tricks. Officially known as the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, they referred to themselves as the Ghost Army. Among its members were a number of people who later became well-known designers and artists, including Ellsworth Kelly, Bill Blass and Art Kane.

The film is nearly finished now. It's being screened at various locations around the country, and a trailer has been posted online. Click above to access that, and to learn about the screenings.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Camouflaged Olympic

Jerry Vondeling's drawing of the starboard side of the Olympic

One of the sheets of modeling parts

A card model-maker named Jerry Vondeling has produced printable pages (available online) of all the parts of a 1:1200 scale model of the HMT Olympic (sister ship of the Titanic), as it appeared during World War I, adorned in dazzle camouflage. The tiny (9-inch) model is pretty astonishing; and just the uncut cards themselves are wonderfully elegant layouts. Through the courtesy of Currell Graphics, you can download this and other free card models (of all sorts of things) as printable full-color pdfs at this webpage.

Cubism Meets Camouflage

John French Sloan, Cubist Cartoon (1913)

It is usually claimed that cubism began around 1907 in Paris, but it was not widely introduced to the American public until 1913, when an International Exhibition of Modern Art (known as the Armory Show) premiered in New York from February 15 to March 15, then traveled on to Boston and Chicago. On the day after its opening, a headline in the Magazine Section of the New York Times read “Cubists and Futurists Are Making Insanity Pay.” Cartoons and jokes about cubism became epidemic, as in this example by American artist John French Sloan (1871-1951), first published in 1913. Throughout World War I, cubism, futurism, vorticism and camouflage  (dazzle ship camouflage in particular) were said to be related, and were all commonly compared to crazy quilt patterns, harlequin outfits, aerial views of cultivated land forms, and the hallucinations of absinthe drinkers.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Camouflage and Patrick Hughes

Patrick Hughes, Vanishing Venice (2007)

For many years, I've been interested in the paintings (as well as the writings) of British artist Patrick Hughes (1939-). As early as the mid-1960s, he began to paint perspective scenes (such as the one shown above, titled Vanishing Venice), not on flat canvases, but on odd-shaped board constructions, as shown in the line drawing above. In the process, he developed a method of painting he calls “reverspective.” In these mesmerizing paintings, features that appear to recede (visually) in space are in fact physically nearer. As a result, as you walk past one of them, it appears to move in astonishing ways (much as did the rotating trapezoid window that Adelbert Ames II invented in the 1950s). You have to experience this to believe it. Fortunately, there are online film clips as well as other notes about these bewildering images.

What does this have to do with camouflage? It has everything to do with a certain variety of disruptive camouflage, called dazzle painting, which was widely used in World War I for ship camouflage. Much as in Hughes' paintings, in dazzle-painted ships, certain surfaces appeared more distant when in fact they were physically closer. The intention was to interfere with the targeting calculations of the German U-boat gunners in their efforts to torpedo ships.

Hughes' paintings are visual paradoxes, a subject that has interested him since childhood. In fact, my first introduction to him was through his writing, not his art. I recall that the first of his books that I bought was Vicious, Circles and Infinity: A Panoply of Paradoxes (co-authored with George Brecht in 1975). In subsequent years, I also found Upon the Pun: Dual Meaning (1978), and More on Oxymoron (1984). Now, he has come out with a new, more comprehensive look at the same subject (a book I highly recommend) called Paradoxymoron: Foolish Wisdom in Words and Pictures (London: Reverspective Ltd, 2011).

Animal Camouflage

In recent years, Martin Stevens, Sami Merilaita, Roger Hanlon and dozens of other biologists have turned to empirical investigations of the appearance of animals, and especially what is commonly called "adaptive coloration" or natural camouflage.

Hanlon (at the Marine Biology Laboratory at Woods Hole MA) and his associates have focused on the extraordinary capabilities of cephalopods (octopus, squid and cuttlefish), which can rapidly change their appearance in complex, amazing ways—producing disguises beyond belief. There's a wonderful NOVA program about this research called Kings of Camouflage.

In the meantime, Stevens and Merilaita (biologists at the University of Cambridge and Abo Akademi University, respectively) have edited an anthology of recent studies related to this, titled Animal Camouflage: Mechanisms and Function (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011). ISBN 978-0-521-15257-0. In the volume, there are seventeen papers on the widest range of aspects of adaptive coloration. It amounts to a fascinating survey of a rapidly expanding research area. As the only non-scientist to be represented, I was delighted to see the inclusion of my essay on "Nature's Artistry: Abbott H. Thayer's assertions about camouflage in art, war and nature."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook

SHIP SHAPE: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook (2012)

"To most people, the word 'camouflage' is synonymous with low visibility, mostly through background matching. But in World War I, when the primary threat to the Allies was the hugely successful torpedo attacks by German submarines (called U-boats), it was decided that low visibility was insufficient, and other approaches to ship camouflage were introduced.

Foremost among these was 'high difference' or 'disruptive' camouflage, a counter-intuitive method in which ships were painted in brightly-colored abstract shapes, which made them conspicuous but difficult to aim at. This is because the torpedo was slow, and the ship was a moving target. To fire a torpedo, the U-boat commander had to 'lead the target'; he had to aim not at the ship, but at the location the ship would reach by a given time. Accordingly, Allied camouflage artists made use of misleading shapes and vivid hues that made it difficult to determine the speed and direction of a distant ship.

This practice (which captured the imagination of the public) became known by various names, including 'dazzle camouflage,' 'baffle painting' and 'jazz painting.' This book is a collection of little-known writings about this and other approaches to ship camouflage during World War I.

Did dazzle camouflage actually work? It is often assumed that it did not because, if for no other reason, there is supposedly no scientific evidence from that era to prove it was effective. But among the documents in this book is confirmation that there were postwar 'laboratory experiments' at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that suggest that it almost certainly worked."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dazzle Camouflage at Rockwell Center

Joyce K. Shiller's article on dazzle ship camouflage on the Rockwell Center website

At the website for the Norman Rockwell Museum, and the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies, Curator Joyce K. Schiller has posted a wonderful article on World War I dazzle ship camouflage, called The Dazzling Ideas of Science. Included as visual examples are two magazine covers (Popular Science Monthly and Everybody's Magazine) and a US Government poster from that era, each featuring dazzle-painted ships. The identities of only two of the artists are known, Leon Alaric Shafer (1866-1940) and Rockwell Kent (1882-1971). Kent's cover painting for Popular Science Monthly is especially amazing, and is of additional interest because he was a student of Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921), who was among the first to claim that visual art and camouflage were derived from the same principles of vision. While Kent was Thayer's student, he contributed a painting of a copperhead snake, which was used as an illustration in Thayer's now-famous  book, Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (1909, 1918). The book's author of record was Thayer's artist-naturalist son, Gerald Handerson Thayer. more>>>

Monday, May 9, 2011

Architectural Camouflage in WW2

Cover of Architecture in Uniform. Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2011.

From Jean-Louis Cohen, Architecture in Uniform: Designing and Building for the Second World War. Book and exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (Montreal 2011) from April 13 through September 18, 2011—

During the Second World War, architects almost completely supplanted painters in the field of camouflage. Studies into the technique had continued uninterrupted since 1918, and camouflage departments now occupied an important place in all the armed forces. more>>>

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Edward Wadsworth | Camouflage

Wadsworth in process of painting (1919)
What a glorious find! In an old issue of the New York Herald on April 20, 1919 (p. 13), we've located a news photo of British Vorticist painter Edward Wadsworth (1889-1949), poised on a stepladder, in process of painting his famous large-scale painting of camouflaged ships, called Dazzle-ship in Drydock at Liverpool (1919), now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. The news caption reads as follows—

Mr. Ernest Wadsworth [sic], a British artist, paints a portrait of a camouflaged ship which is a study in Cubism. Mr. Wadsworth, during the war, was in charge of ship camouflaging at Bristol and Liverpool, where he designed the futurist coat in which disguise the Aquitania eluded U-boats.

Not only is the artist misnamed, the facts are probably also skewed. Wadsworth had been handpicked by British head camoufleur Norman Wilkinson to supervise not the design of ship camouflage but the painting of the ships. For the most part, he followed prepared diagrams that were designed, tested and distributed by a small team of artists under Wilkinson's supervision. For further information, see the "Edward Wadsworth" entry in Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage (2009).

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Camouflage Artist | McClelland Barclay

From the McClelland Barclay entry in CAMOUPEDIA: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage, pp. 40-41—

American illustrator McClelland Barclay (1891-July 18, 1943) [see top right photo above] was originally from St. Louis MO. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, then with George Bridgman and Thomas Fogarty at the Art Students League in New York. As early as 1912, his work was often featured in major US magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Saturday Evening Post and Ladies’ Home Journal.

During World War I, he produced recruiting posters for the US government, and worked with William Andrew MacKay in designing ship camouflage for the US Shipping Board.

In the 1920s and 30s, Barclay was widely known as an advertising illustrator, designing posters for the film industry, painting “pin-up girl” illustrations, and developing marketing images for leading manufacturers, the most popular of which were his paintings of sexy models for General Motors’ Body by Fisher sales campaign.

In 1938, he was appointed an Assistant Naval Constructor with the US Naval Reserve. He again worked on camouflage, and in 1940 he obtained a patent titled “Camouflaging” (US Patent No. 2190691) [top left above] for dazzle-like aircraft camouflage. In that year, an article in the New York Times reported that his patent was “for the camouflaging of airplanes by painting the wings with designs that were said to conceal the shape and make it difficult to judge the position of an airplane.” Some of his designs were applied to prototypes and tested [photos of three prototypes are pictured here], but were never actually implemented. During World War II, Barclay continued to experiment with camouflage and to design recruiting posters. Appointed a Lieutenant Commander, he was a passenger on a US Navy vessel that was struck by a torpedo near the Solomon Islands on July 18, 1943.

Also pictured above (in the bottom photo) is an earlier example of dazzle-like airplane camouflage (unrelated to Barclay's work), as published in the New York Herald in 1919, in which it was described as "an upside down flyer" and "a weirdly camouflaged airplane that was a feature in the recent aerial pageant at Hendon, England. Note the dummy landing carriage atop the upper plane and silhouetted pilot's head beneath the fuselage designed to puzzle the spectators as to whether or not the plane is flying rightside up."

additional sources

Friday, April 29, 2011

Alon Bement | Georgia O'Keeffe's Teacher

Camouflage Article by Alon Bement in Washington Times, June 15, 1919

Alon Bement was born in Ashfield MA on August 15, 1876, and died in 1954. He studied in Paris with Leon Bonnat and Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, then went on to teach drawing, painting and design at Columbia University, the Maryland Institute of the Arts, and the University of Virginia. His interest was not just in the practice of art, but in art theory and education as well. In 1921, he wrote an influential book titled Figure Construction, editions of which are still available.

He was especially interested in the design theories of Arthur Wesley Dow, whose book on Composition (1899) was widely used in art schools in the early 20th century. Bement is mostly remembered today as a pivotal influence on Georgia O’Keeffe. She met him in 1912, took courses from him at Columbia University (where Dow was Art Department Head), and was even his teaching assistant. It was Bement who introduced her to Dow’s Japanese-influenced approach to design, which O’Keeffe made use of in her work. As documented by Robinson (1989), “the encounter with Bement, and with Dow’s theories, altered Georgia’s life.”

It is less commonly known that Bement was an active participant in ship camouflage during World War I. He served as a camoufleur for the US Shipping Board, and was probably part of a New York-based camouflage team that was headed by William Andrew Mackay. In addition, in 1917-1919, he published four substantial articles on the artistic underpinnings of camouflage. His involvement in the subject is noted in the biographical entry in Behrens (2009). There is a file of newspaper clippings and other ephemera about him in the Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Writings by Bement include—
Bement, Alon (1921). Figure Construction: a brief treatise on drawing the human figure for art students, the costume designer, and teachers. NY: Gregg Publishing Company.
___(1917). “Camouflage,” in Teachers College Record 18 No 5, pp. 458-462.
___(1919a). “The Report of the U-16,” in St Nicholas XLVI (November 1918-April 1919), pp. 495-498.
___(1919b). “Tricks by Which You Can Camouflage,” in American Magazine 87 (May), pp. 44-46.
 ___(1919c), “’Camouflage’ for Fat Figures and Faulty Faces,” in Washington Times. American Weekly Section, June 15.

Other sources—
Roy R. Behrens (2009). Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage. Dysart IA: Bobolink Books.
Roxana Robinson (1989). Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life. Lebanon NH: University Press of New England.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

O Blazing Tiger of William Blake

Cover illustration of a dazzle-painted ship (1918)

On the cover of the October 12, 1918, issue of The Independent (Vol 56 No 3645) was featured a painting of a dazzle-camouflaged ship (the image shown here is a detail), with no mention of the artist's name. Inside, on the contents page, an equally uncredited subscriber contributed this poetic lament—

O blend of emerald wild and drunken amethyst, 
O wild, hysteric nightmare of psychoanalyst, 
O purple cow of Burgess, O blazing tiger of Blake, 
O neo-impressionist lily, O super-Barnumcular fake, 
What madman out of Potsdam, what loon from Blagovetschenskgeorgsrknlintvoff. 
What Bolshevik or sideshow freak or Greenwich village toff 
Told you that the way to hide was with vivid gobs of blue 
Cutting athwart green triangles and gray gridirons askew 
All done on a painted background of most unearthly hue 
Like a sunrise up at midnight dabbled with evening dew?