Friday, March 30, 2012

Camouflage Artist | Paul F. Brown

USS O'Brien in dazzle camouflage (1918)

In an earlier post today, we mentioned our recent discovery that (during World War I) an artist named Follette Isaacson was the chief camoufleur for the Gulf District, including various seaports in Louisiana and Texas. However, a different artist was assigned to oversee the painting of camouflage patterns on ships in the harbor at New Orleans. That person was an American illustrator named Paul F. Brown (1871-1944). Born in Concord NH, he spent most of his adult life working for Boston-area newspapers, including the Boston Record and the Boston Herald-Traveler. His wartime service is confirmed by an obituary in the New York Times (Saturday, December 9, 1944, p. 15), in which it states that "Mr. Brown during the first World War was in charge of the Navy's camouflage division at New Orleans, where he directed the camouflaging of ships." To our knowledge, Brown and his crew of painters did not apply camouflage to the USS O'Brien (pictured above), but it does show the style of the camouflage plans.

The Venus of Camouflage

WWI-era 42-cm howitzer, called Big Bertha. Creative Commons.

Anon, illustration of deceptive outfits (Syracuse Herald, 1917)

During World War I, the term "Big Bertha" (Dicke Bertha in German) referred to a massive German cannon, supposedly named "in honor" of Bertha Krupp, the heiress and owner of Krupp, the weapons manufacturer. All this coincided with the campaign for Women's Suffrage in the US, and in news stories throughout the war, it was commonly claimed that camouflage had been the invention of women.

Using cosmetics and illusionistic styles of dress, women were said to be hiding their true attributes, for the purpose of snaring rich husbands. There were dozens of news stories about this, one of which was written by Nixola Greeley-Smith (the granddaughter of Horace Greeley) and appeared in the Syracuse Herald, Tuesday, October 30, 1917, p. 10, in (get this) a section called "A Page for Women and the Home." The article's headline and sub-head read as follows: "CAMOUFLAGE MAKES THE BIG BERTHAS THIN AND ALL OUR GIRLS SOON WILL ADOPT IT: Transforming Fat Girls Into Thin Girls and Thin Girls Into Fascinatingly Plump Girls Only a Small Part of the Sartorial Deception That Will Be Practiced Here When the Latest London Fashion Tricks Reach Us—Even Girl With Ingrowing Chin Will Be Able to Hide Her Defects."
This was followed by an account of how the author, as a young woman, had come to realize the necessity of being a willing practitioner of the art of camouflage. She writes—

I shall never forget my own first initiation into the mysteries of camouflage.

An old lady took me in hand when I was fifteen and decided she must help me to be a siren. She told me the time had come for me to dress like a young woman and bought for me a complete camouflage outfit, including a large "rat" which I was supposed to wear in my hair. Never in my life have I experienced the sense of spiritual nausea that came to me then.

"I'll never wear any of those things," I said to her. "They are disgusting."

"You'll never get married unless you do," replied my matrimonial mentor. But even with this dire threat in my ears I would not submit myself to the arts of the camoufleur.…

I suppose if the art of camouflage reaches a high state of perfection, the thin woman will not have to agonize over milk and eggs and other uninteresting foods, and the fat woman can have all the cream and butter and olive oil she likes. Then if the fashions change or she becomes dissatisfied with her dimensions, she need only send for an expert camoufleur and have him paint a few lines on her clothes to become a dazzling Venus of Camouflage.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Camouflage Artist | Follette Isaacson

Bedazzled  /  RISD Camouflage Blog

About a year ago, in a post called WWI Ship Camouflage Teams, we listed ten locations around the country where there were teams of ship camouflage artists, who had the responsibility (during World War I) of applying camouflage patterns to ships. The seaports we cited were Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Norfolk, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Tampa, New Orleans and San Francisco. In addition, we embarked on an ongoing project of compiling the names of the artists who served in those districts.

The motivation for this came partly from having seen some of the 450 colored lithographic camouflage plans (the diagrams used by the artists in painting the ships in the harbors) that are housed in the  Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design. The school was given this rare set of plans in 1919 by artist Maurice L. Freedman (a student at RISD after the war), who had been the chief camoufleur of the district centered in Jacksonville FL. Above is a link to Bedazzled, the RISD dazzle camouflage blog, where some of the plans have been posted online. Also available are high quality full-color prints of the plans, at actual size.

We’ve since learned that there were eleven districts during WWI, not ten. The eleventh was called the Gulf District, and included the Louisiana seaports of Beaumont, Orange and Morgan City, and the Texas cities of Houston and Port Arthur. The chief camoufleur of that district was an artist named Follette Isaacson, whose wartime work was featured in a news article titled “Texans at Ports on Gulf Baffled Enemy Subs by Camouflage: At Port Arthur, Beaumont, Houston and Orange They Made Ships Look Like Something Else,” in the San Antonio Evening News, January 31, 1919, pp. 1-3. The article was based on an interview with Isaacson at the end of the war, when the censorship ban had been lifted.

Camouflage Artist | George W. Weisenburg

Papier mâché dead horse and wagon (c1918). Author's collection.

In an earlier post called Horse Carcass Camouflage, we published two WWI-era photographs, along with a written eyewitness account, of a sniper's observation post in the spurious form of a dead horse—it was actually made of papier mâché. Reproduced here is another image from the same period, showing what appears to be another horse carcass and a wagon, but again the carcass is papier mâché. This is one of a dozen or more news photographs that were apparently sent out by the US government to promote amusing stories about the cleverness of camoufleurs. There is no way to know for sure when and how these techniques originated, or to what extent a trick like this was actually used on the battlefield.

Related to this, we recently found a news article from 1919, which claims that a Chicago artist named George W. Weisenburg (1886-1962) made the first papier mâché horse carcass (we have our doubts). The article, titled "Oak Park Man Created Camouflage, and His Art Horse Causes Health Department Complaint," appeared in Oak Leaves (Oak Park IL), Saturday, July 29, 1919, p. 30. Here's part of the text—
One day last year at Camp Grant [Rockford IL] the health inspector of the camp was making his rounds when, lying out in a field, he espied what was apparently a dead horse. Into the office of the commander of the camp stormed the health inspector.

"Your men," said he, "allow dead horses to lie about the place. This is a high crime."

The commander of the camp merely smiled. "That's a camouflage horse," he explained patiently. "It is made of papier mâché and inside its stomach a man can lie concealed." The horse was an example of the work of Sergeant Weisenburg.

Which is merely by way of prelude to the statement that Sergeant George Weisenburg of 1024 Wenonah [Oak Park IL] returned home on Friday of last week after eleven months' service in France as a camouflage artist for the 311th Engineers. Sergeant Weisenburg went to Camp Grant with a trench mortar battery. A few months later he was transferred to the camouflage corps. He was a graduate of the Chicago Art Institute and his ability as an artist was soon discovered. He was given charge of a company of artists who designed screens to camouflage the approach of troops or ammunition transports. The idea of the camouflage horse was his own creation and attracted wide attention.

At the Art Guild in Rockford [IL] he was requested to exhibit a number of canvases that had been hung at the American Art Exhibit. He was promoted to first class sergeant.

After eleven months at Camp Grant he was attached to the 311th Engineers and went overseas with the outfit. After eight months of service in France he was allowed to take a three months' course at the art center at Bellevue, being listed as a special casual. The school was designed by the American Government for those members of the AEF wishing to avail themselves of an advanced course in art. Sergeant Weisenburg returned to America last week, receiving his discharge at Camp Mills [Long Island NY]. He is a son of Dr. and Mrs. Berthold Weisenburg of 1024 Wenonah Avenue [Oak Park].

Beyond that, there isn't much online about Weisenburg, although there is one mention of his having been an art teacher (in later life) at Marshall High School in Oak Park.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Camouflage Artist | Stanley Martineau

Stanley Martineau (detail) in his studio, n.d.

Recently we ran across an Associated Press Wirephoto, dated January 19, 1943, which includes the following caption: NEW YORK, Jan. 18, SOLDIER'S BUST OF FDR UNVEILED. Pvt. Stanley Martineau (left) of the 603rd Engineers, Camouflage Division, is congratulated today on his sculpture of President Roosevelt. The three-ton, 13-foot bust was unveiled at the General Post Office here. Left to right: Pvt. Martineau, Mayor F.H. LaGuardia of New York City, Postmaster Albert Goldman and Basil O'Connor, President of the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis.

Stanley Martineau (pictured above working on a portrait of financier J.P. Morgan), from Washington Depot CT, was born in 1915 and died in 1977. Throughout his life, he worked as a commissioned sculptor, completing portrait busts and/or medallions of US Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, the inventor Alexander Graham Bell, financier W.K. Vanderbilt, and various sports heroes, including tennis player Pierre Etchebaster and basketball player Bob Cousy.

Less widely known is his service during World War II as a member of the top secret Ghost Army, a part of the 603rd Engineers, Camouflage Division, officially referred to as the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. Other well-known artists-designers in the same unit included Bill Blass, Ellsworth Kelly, Arthur Singer (wildlife illustrator) and Art Kane. The existence and operations of this 1100-person unit remained classified until 1996. Details of its mission (including interviews with some of its participants) will be featured later this year (2012), with the release of a new documentary film called The Ghost Army.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Camouflage Artist | Ezra Jack Keats

Ezra Jack Keats (from Keat's Neighborhood)

Like Robert Lawson (who illustrated The Story of Ferdinand in 1936), his acclaimed predecessor in writing and illustrating children's books, award-winning artist and author Ezra Jack Keats (1916-1983) was also a camouflage artist. Lawson had served in France in the US Army's American Camouflage Corps in World War I, while the younger Keats (known then by his birth name, Jacob Ezra Katz) designed camouflage patterns during World War II in Tallahassee FL for the US Army Air Corps. Before the war, he had worked as a mural painter for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and as a background artist for the Captain Marvel comic strip. At war's end, searching for employment after receiving an honorable discharge, he was so dismayed by the prevalence of anti-Semitism that he changed his legal name to Ezra Jack Keats. He began illustrating children's books in 1954. According to his obituary in the New York Times, in the last three decades of his life, he illustrated 33 books, 22 of which he also wrote.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Camouflage and Baseball

American baseball in France, 1917

Recently we ran across this 1917 press photograph of a baseball game in wartime France. In the background, among the onlookers, are two military officers, and it occurs to us that these are probably American ballplayers, either US Army infantry, or professional ballplayers, brought in by the French army to teach its soldiers how to play.

In support of that, at the end of World War I, a section called "Baseball in France" was published in John B. Foster, ed., Spaulding's Official Baseball Guide (NY: American Sports Publications, 1919), which claims that French military officers were greatly impressed by the "perfect athletic training" of American soldiers, and concluded "that much of the excellence in running, in throwing, in quick action, in rapid achievement and alert judgment, came from years of training in baseball." The French brass "decided to adopt baseball instruction among their recruits," with the result that Johnny Evers (a star second baseman for the Boston Braves until 1917, and then with the Philadelphia Phillies) was brought over to Paris to teach the game to French recruits. After only ten days of instruction, the benefits were already evident and the generals were persuaded that "skill in throwing hand grenades would be much increased by regular training in baseball."

Coincident with this was the baseball contribution made by the artists who were attached to the American Camouflage Corps. It was their wartime duty, according to this source, "to disguise everything pertaining to rolling stock, airplanes, automobiles, and even themselves, under the cover of mystic cubic designs of all colors," and when they turned to baseball, they showed up "in baseball suits camouflaged like the uniforms of camouflaged troops. The result has been disastrous for both catchers and batsmen, to say nothing of fielders and basemen; and the matches between these men have created an immense amount of amusement and curiosity."

Friday, March 9, 2012

Art / Science Camouflage Podcast

Hooded Cutttlefish (photo by Silke Baron). Creative Commons.
EARLIER THIS WEEK, Woods Hole marine biologist Roger Hanlon and video artist Basia Goszcynska were interviewed by Mindy Todd on a 30-minute live radio program called The Point. Hanlon, who was featured on NOVA several years ago in Kings of Camouflage (available now as dvd), is well known for his research of camouflage in cuttlefish. The subject of this podcast is the collaborative work of artists and scientists in studies of camouflage and communication, with allusions to further ideas about architecture, landscape design, advertising and other research possibilities.