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?

Prohibition Camouflage

Prohibition Camouflage

This is a wonderful photograph from a pictorial page in The New York Tribune on April 2, 1922. The title is "A Bit of Prohibition Camouflage," and the caption reads—

"Have a smoke, er, that is, I should say, a drink?" The latest stunt to fool the dry agents is this innocent looking cigar case filled with glass cigars, each corked and containing a real he-drink. Another device, this one for the fair sex, to be put on the market recently is a pair of alcoholic opera glasses, each half of which hold a cocktail of pre-Volstead proportions. Have you seen 'em?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Camouflage Artist | Ben Kutcher

Ben Kutcher, book illustration

There was a note published in The Bookman, a New York-based literary journal, in 1919 about a Russian-Jewish book illustrator named Ben Kutcher (1895-1967) who served as a camouflage artist in the US Army during World War I (Vol 48 (1919), p. 381)—

Ben Kutcher, a young Russian artist whose illustrated edition of “A House of Pomegranates” has just been published, is now with the camouflage corps at Washington [DC]. 

The full title of the book referred to is Ben Kutcher’s Illustrated Edition of A House of Pomegranates: And the Story of the Nightingale and the Rose (Moffat, Yard and Company, 1918). It consists of earlier writings by Oscar Wilde, with a wonderful introduction by H.L. Mencken, who says of Wilde—

What he did with words was a rare and lovely thing. Himself well nigh tone-deaf, he got into them a sonorous and majestic music. Himself hideous, he fashioned them into complex and brilliant arabesques of beauty. Himself essentially shallow and even bogus, he gave them thunderous eloquence, an austere dignity almost Biblical, the appearance of high sincerity that goes with all satisfying art. In these stories, I believe, he is at his best. 

The full book, including Kutcher’s illustrations (reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley), is available online here.

A painter, designer and illustrator, Kutcher was born in Kiev c1895 and emigrated to the US in 1902. His papers, which date from 1926 through 1967, are in the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. According to an online summary, “The collection contains an autobiographical manuscript describing Kutcher's arrival in the US, the early years of his career, his experiences in the US Army, and his associations with artists and designers.” He designed books, bookplates and stage sets.

Other books illustrated by Kutcher include editions of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and The Aztec Treasure House for Boys, in which appeared the illustration on this page. A retrospective of his book illustrations, drawings and paintings was held in the year of his death, April 5 through May 18, 1967, at the Judah L. Magnes Memorial Museum in Berkeley.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

French Camoufleurs in Huge Diorama

Panthéon de la Guerre (1918), detail

From Roy R. Behrens, Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage (2009), p. 279—

In 1916, seventeen French artists collaborated on a huge circular diorama, as a tribute to the heroes on the Allied side of World War I. Called the Panthéon de la Guerre, it contained about five thousand full-length figures, with a circular expanse of four hundred feet. It was completed in 1918, and displayed in a custom-made building until 1927. As documented in Mark Levitch, Panthéon de la Guerre (2006), of relevance to camouflage is the fact that among those depicted on its “staircase of heroes” are a handful of identifiable World War I French camoufleurs. In 1927, the panorama was sold to US businessmen and shipped in a ten-ton crate to New York, where it was displayed at Madison Square Garden and at subsequent expositions. In 1956, it was donated to the Liberty Memorial [now the National WWI Museum] in Kansas City MO, where, two years later, selected sections were cut up and reassembled [by Missouri artist and camoufleur, (Leroy) Daniel MacMorris] to make a smaller mural, only sixty-nine feet wide.

WWI Umbrella Camouflage

Disruptive shadows in a Spanish street festival (c1909)

For whatever reason, there was increased interest in the disruptive effects of shadows among photographers, painters and other artists near the close of the 19th century. This is especially evident in the paintings of certain European and American painters. See for example, John Singer Sargent's Breakfast on the Loggia or The Hermit. In some cases, no doubt it was inspired by patterns of disruption in the protective coloration of animals, as confirmed by demonstrations by Abbott H. Thayer and others. During World War I, comparable techniques were adopted for concealing from aerial observation personnel and equipment on the ground.

According to James E. Edmonds (in History of the Great War, Vol 1, London: Macmillan, 1932, pp. 83-84), “Concealment from the air was first attempted by the use of canvas sheets painted to represent the ground as seen from an airplane. Experience proved these to be heavy to erect and difficult to maintain in position. On the suggestion of Mr. [Solomon J.] Solomon, they were replaced by a lighter and more manageable article [called “umbrella camouflage” or "garnished nets"], in the form of old fish nets or wire netting, garnished with tufts of painted or dyed raffia (gardener’s bast). For the Somme thousands of rolls of wire netting were supplied to the divisional engineers who, when raffia was lacking, wove grass into it. In the course of time all batteries were equipped with these overhead covers. As the demand increased and the supply of raffia became inadequate, canvas strips were substituted for it, and were found to be less flammable.”

But apparently long before the war, there was a civilian tradition of doing more or less the same, as shown here by this photograph from a 1909 issue of The Strand Magazine (p. 719) of a Spanish street festival. Submitted by Edmund Pöhler of Barcelona, the article states: "This strange effect, produced by sunshine and shade, is a common scene in Spanish towns, where, once every year, about eight days are set apart as the Fiesta Major (Grand Holidays). During this period each district vies with its neighbor in adorning the streets. Dancing at night to the music of hired musicians, under the fantastic canopy overhead, illuminated by the many lights of every open window and door, invites one and all to participate in the gaiety and animation of the scene."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

WWI Ship Camouflage Teams

Location of WWI Ship Camouflage Teams © Roy R. Behrens
When the US entered World War I, the design of all ship camouflage, including that of civilian commercial (merchant) vessels was taken over by the US Navy. The Navy's camouflage section, consisting of two subsections, was administrated by architect Harold Van Buskirk. Physicist Loyd A. Jones was put in charge of a science-based Research Subsection at Eastman Laboratories in Rochester NY, while artist Everett Longley Warner was in charge of a team of artists at a Design Subsection in Washington DC. In addition, ten groups of civilian camoufleurs were set up at various US ports, as shown by this map. Using lithographic painting plans that were prepared by Warner's team, it was the responsibility of these civilian artists to apply dazzle camouflage schemes to the actual ships. There is a post-war description of this in Everett L. Warner, "Fooling the Iron Fish" in Everybody's Magazine. Vol 41. November 1919, pp. 102-109—
[Early in the war] An arrangement was reached with the United States Shipping Board whereby all existing types of camouflage were to be discontinued. The Navy undertook to supply dazzle designs for all American vessels and the Shipping Board agreed to organize and maintain at the ports a force of camoufleurs whose duty it should be to supervise the application of these designs to the vessels.

The Navy worked so quietly and under such close censorship that few people were aware of the leading part that it was playing in the work. There exists even today a very widespread impression that the designs which the Shipping Board camoufleurs applied to the ships originated with them. This belief is entirely without foundation. All designs were supplied by the Navy, and while it is true that at several of the ports the camoufleurs built small testing theatres copied after ours and did a certain amount of experimental model painting, this was wholly for their own education or relaxation, and none of the dazzle designs so made was ever authorized for application to any ship.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

WWI Camouflaged Machine Guns

Anon. WWI-era magazine photo.

What a wonderfully clear, sharp image this is of a WWI transport wagon for two machine guns, covered with a disruptively-colored camouflage tarp. At the time, high contrast disruptive patterns (intended to interrupt the continuity of a shape) were applied to land vehicles as well as to ships. See dazzle camouflage.

Metamorphosis and Camouflage | Visual Pun

Anon, a 19th-century visual metamorphosis

In the Victorian era, there was considerable emphasis on and appreciation of wit, including visual metamorphosis (as in this example), consisting of sequential drawings in which one thing evolves into another. Here, in a series of seemingly logical steps, a musician is transformed into a stringed instrument. This process has everything to do with what is commonly known today as creativity or metaphorical thinking (cf. Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation), but it also pertains to camouflage, which frequently works by disguising a thing so that it resembles another, called mimicry. Perhaps the best book on natural mimicry is Wolfgang Wickler, Mimicry in Plants and Animals. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1968.