Wednesday, November 21, 2012

William Twigg-Smith | Camouflage Artist

William Twigg-Smith, Hilo Sampans (1917), oil on canvas

On Wikipedia, there is a brief biography (which admittedly I contributed to) of a New Zealand-born American artist named William Twigg-Smith (1883-1950), a painter, illustrator and musician (primarily a flutist), who lived most of his adult life in Hawaii. During World War I, in 1917 he paid his own expenses to travel from Honolulu to Washington DC to join the American Camouflage Corps on the grounds of Camp American University. According to a news article (Riley H. Allen, "Camoufleur Twigg Smith Is Wearing Corporal's Stripes" in Honolulu Star-Bulletin, October 20, 1917, p. 8), he "was about the first man on the ground, and he carries No. 1 card showing him to be the first member of Company F, 25th United States Engineers, Camouflage, the official name of the unit." Soon after, he was joined in that unit by Iowa sculptor Sherry Edmundson Fry, Everit Herter (brother of statesman Christian Herter), and New Hampshire muralist Barry Faulkner (cousin of Abbott H. Thayer, frequently referred to as the "father of camouflage"). In Faulkner's autobiography (Sketches From an Artist's Life), he recalls that when he, along with Fry and Herter, first arrived at their tent, "we found a minstrel [Twigg-Smith] easing his solitude by playing Hawaiian airs on a ukelele. He came from the islands and was pleasant and companionable."

I recently found a photograph of Twigg-Smith (reproduced below) that appeared initially in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Saturday, February 17, 1917) in connection with his collaboration with two other artists on three Pan-Pacific Carnival dioramas that year. Five months later, he would leave to join the army. To enable Twigg-Smith to travel to Washington DC, a large exhibit of his work was mounted in the Pan-Pacific building, with proceeds from the sales to go to covering his enlistment costs.

left to right: Joseph Whittle, Lionel Walden, D. Howard Hitchcock, and William Twigg-Smith

Twigg-Smith was born in Nelson, New Zealand. At age 16, he moved to the US, living first in San Francisco, where he studied painting with Evelyn Almond Withrow, and then in Chicago, where he worked with Harry M. Walcott at the Art Institute. A naturalized US citizen, in 1916 he settled in Hawaii, where he was a flutist for the Honolulu Symphony, and where, by his marriage to Margaret Carter Thurston, he became related to the American entrepreneurs (descended from the original missionaries) who had engineered the overthrow of the Hawaiian royalty. He was the father of Thurston Twigg-Smith.

Prior to his camouflage service, Twigg-Smith was known for on-site paintings of active Hawaiian volcanoes. In a news article (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 9, 1916, p. 8), he is said to have exhibited "a sequence of volcano paintings—an attempt to catch Madame Pele in a systematic series of her changeful moods." A later article (December 26, p. 4) reports that the "crater Mauna Loa is smoking…[and Twigg-] Smith is anxious to get to the Big Island and paint the crater in action."

In February 1919, having returned from France but still in Washington, Twigg-Smith was among a dozen artists who were listed as having contributed "posters and decorations" for a philanthropic fundraising event. In a news account of that (Washington Times, February 9, 1919, p. 11) it was stated that "Men of the camouflage corps are seen on the streets of Washington wearing funny looking yellow lizards on the left shoulder. The lizard is really a chameleon, a 'critter' which changes color according to the background on which it is placed. The insignia therefore is significant of their work." Below is a photograph of Twigg-Smith's fellow camoufleur, Barry Faulkner, in a uniform bearing his yellow camoufleur's shoulder patch.

American muralist Barry Faulkner (c1918), wearing camoufleur's patch

In that same article, the names of those in the Camouflage Corps (no doubt some of them misspelled) are listed as follows: "Leslie Thrasher, H. K[err] Eby, A. Bloudheim, H[enry] R. Sutter, A. Rottnere [probably Abraham Rattner], G[eorge] B[radford] Ashworth, Fred[eric] S[eymour] [called Feg] Murray, Robert Laswent, Joseph Cox, [Frederic] Earl Christie [Christy], Frank [Francis William] Swain, Don Methvin, Walter Tubesing, Howard [Ashman] Patterson and [William]Twigg Smith."

Friday, November 9, 2012

Camouflaged Nebraska | Wolfgang Kring

USS Nebraska in Watson-Norfolk camouflage (1918)
Above World War I photograph of the USS Nebraska (1918), painted in an experimental camouflage scheme proposed by an American poster artist named F.M. Watson, who was the chief ship painter at the Norfolk Navy Yard in Norfolk VA.• In government documents, this system was referred to as the Watson-Norfolk plan. Photo Naval History and Heritage Command (NH 101208).

In recent years, as shown in the photos below, a German ship modeler named Wolfgang Kring has produced an amazing replica of the same strangely-painted ship.

Model of camouflaged USS Nebraska © Wolfgang Kring

• Several WWI posters by Watson are listed and described on the website for the Finding Aid of the WWI Poster Collection in the State Archives of North Carolina. Each time, he is cited as "F.M. Watson, Navy Yard Norfolk."


Heber Blankenhorn, Adventures in Propaganda: Letters from an Intelligence Officer in France. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1919, p. 3—

It's odd how childish and unbelievable camouflage makes the war seem. It makes it all look like the insane jest of the feeble-minded or a kid's toy. Man's war playthings—childish, ridiculous!

Finally, the convoying destroyers have come, tearing up out of a foggy, rainy, menacing deep—with terrific speed and bringing great comfort, but still looking like jokes—painted, restless insects.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Camouflaged Mauretania | Jim Baumann

RMS Mauretania (December 1918)

Above I haven't seen this particular photo before (although I've seen plenty of others, almost identical). I found it in an issue of the American Review of Reviews. Vol 59 No 1 (January 1919), p. 19. The caption reads—

THE GREAT TRANSATLANTIC LINER MAURETANIA ARRIVING AT NEW YORK ON DECEMBER 1 [1918] WITH THE FIRST AMERICAN TROOPS RETURNING FROM EUROPE. For more than a year, and particularly since the German offensive of last spring, British as well as American transports had been making eastward voyages crowed with human freight in khaki, through a submarine-infested ocean. Now their peculiar war, to deceive German submarine commanders, is unnecessary. When the Leviathan arrived, two weeks later than the Mauretania, the war paint had been removed. While war was on it was not considered advisable to print picture showing these so-called "camouflaged" vessels.

For more about the RMS Mauretania, I recommend a website called Atlantic Greyhound RMS Mauretania (1907-1935). It offers an extensive history of the ship, but even more fascinating are its dozens of photographs (scroll down the page to see them) of an exquisitely detailed model (numerous in-process views as well as the finished work, two of which are shown below) built by ship modeler Jim Baumann. What an amazing accomplishment.

RMS Mauretania (model by Jim Baumann ©)

RMS Mauretania (model by Jim Baumann ©)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Philadelphia Ship Camouflage Artists

Philadelphia ship camoufleurs (c1918)
Above This photograph was published in an essay by William Bell Clark, titled "Camouflage Painting on the Delaware."• It is an artfully posed group portrait of some of the Delaware River-area artists who contributed to ship camouflage during World War I. The people are positioned to look as if they are studying the colored lithographic camouflage plans (sent out by the US Navy from Washington DC), while others are applying dazzle camouflage schemes to wooden ship models, or discussing the appearance of already painted models. I am not familiar with many of the Philadelphia artists from that era, but I have identified two of them: Arthur B. Carles ( the father-in-law of graphic designer Herbert Matter) is standing on the right, with black hair and beard, smoking a cigarette, while, directly below him, seated in the front, smoking a pipe, is Frank Vining Smith. Someone else who is well-acquainted with that era and region of the country might be able to name the rest.

In the same article, there is a list of some of the artists who camouflaged merchant ships for the Navy and the US Shipping Board. It may be that someone will be able to match the names with the men who are shown in the photo. Here are the names (in no particular order): Paul [Bernard] King, Harold E. Austin, Frank V[ining] Smith, George W[arren Lawlor, Albert Rosenthal, Oscar de Clerk, Earl Selfridge, George McLaughlin, Harry W. Moore, Fred J. Thompson, Wilson V. Chambers, Ralph P[allen] Coleman, Franklin C. Watkins, Leo Kernan, Hamilton D. Ware, Worden [G.] Wood, Robert D[avid] Gauley, Mitchel R. Buck, and Arthur B[eecher] Carles [Jr.]. Henry C. Grover (whom we talked about in the previous post) is also mentioned as Manager of the Camouflage Department. Twenty names are listed in the article, while there are thirteen people in the photograph. (Other possibilities are Adolphe Borie, Jean Knox, Waldo Pierce and Carroll Tyson.) Does anyone recognize them?

Clark's essay was first published in Philadelphia in the World War 1914-1919. NY: Philadelphia War History Committee, 1922, pp. 318-322. It has since been reprinted in SHIP SHAPE: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook (2012).

Camouflage Artist | Henry C. Grover

We wish we knew more about Henry C. Grover (above). Described as being from Boston, during World War I he was—

in direct charge of camouflage painting of all vessels—those of the United States Shipping Board and the United States Navy, the work for the Navy being done in coordination with the proper official in each naval district corresponding to each of the districts of the Shipping Board. The camouflage painting of all vessels by the baffle system [an alternative name for dazzle camouflage] is necessary and obligatory. It supersedes all other methods.•

We recently found an essay by him, titled "Developing Methods of Ship Protection"•• in which he writes that—

Camouflage painting was considered so important [during WWI] that it became a part of the construction division of the [Emergency Fleet] corporation. A nationwide organization was built up, there being district camoufleurs in 11 different districts of the country, distributed according to the requirements of the work. The organization was started at the home office in Washington under the management of Henry C. Grover, and within a short time about 150 men were actively at work and graded as district camoufleurs, camoufleurs and assistant camoufleurs. There were also subdistricts in charge of resident camoufleurs who were stationed at Portland OR, Los Angeles, Norfolk VA, Providence RI, and Montreal, Canada.

Early in 1918 a training school for camouflage painters was started [by William Andrew Mackay] in New York. From this school graduate camoufleurs were detailed to other districts when they were competent to apply designs to ships and had a thorough understanding of the dazzle theory.

Reproduced below are four photographs of dazzle-camouflaged ships that were published with Grover's essay. From top to bottom, they include (1) the USS Isanti camouflaged, (2) a dazzle camouflage pattern on the starboard side of the SS Crawl Keys, (3) and (4) camouflage patterns on two other US ships (not identified).

• Edwin D. Twombley, "How the Paint Box Baffles the Submarine," New York Tribune (August 25, 1918), p. 6, reprinted in SHIP SHAPE: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook.
•• William Courtney Mattox, ed., Building the Emergency Fleet. Cleveland OH: Penton Publishing, 1920, pp. 89-97. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Color Revolution and Camouflage

Ad in Ladies Home Journal, October 1929

The Color Revolution
by Regina Lee Blaszczyk
The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2012
368 pp., illus. 121 col. Trade: $34.95
ISBN: 9780262017770.

Reviewed by Roy R. Behrens

THE PHRASE in this book’s title initially appeared in print in a 1929 issue of Fortune magazine, a few months after the huge financial crash that launched the Great Depression. It announced that there was an ongoing “color revolution,” a widespread adoption of color in industrial products, resulting in “apricot autos, blue beds, and mauve mops.”

Ironically, this book also documents that, in another sense, this was not so much a “revolution” as an “evolution,” the stirrings of which can be traced to the early nineteenth century. It was massively encouraged by the Industrial Revolution, in the interior uses of color at the Crystal Palace Exhibition (the first World’s Fair in 1851), the invention of synthetic dyes, and chromolithographic prints and packaging.

It was also about “evolution” because in part it was empowered by the theories of Charles Darwin, whose much-debated writings about natural selection prompted an increase of interest in the survival function of colors and patterns in natural forms. Was conspicuous coloration a means by which to find a mate? At the same time, did subdued coloration contribute to concealment? One consequence of this exchange was the rise of modern theories about ”protective coloration” in nature, which in World War I acquired the name of “camouflage.” In turn, this led to chatter about “warning coloration,” such as zoologist Hugh B. Cott’s remark that the traffic commission “has adopted a system of coloration whose copyright belongs by priority to wasps and salamanders.”

A recurring theme throughout this book—which the author plays up from beginning to end—is that modern applications of color have developed hand in hand with advances in camouflage. Indeed, it is even contended that, at the end of WWI, it was former camouflage experts (both army and navy) who “applied their knowledge of visual deception to product design and created a new profession: the corporate colorist.” If a person has the wherewithal to conceal an object, he or she can also make that same object conspicuous, through reverse engineering. As this book points out repeatedly, the uses of color in product design were based on the inversion of camouflage techniques—in the words of American artist (and WWI camoufleur) H. Ledyard Towle, it was “reverse camouflage.” More>>>