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.