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."