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.