Thursday, December 26, 2013

War Log of the Camouflaged Mauretania

Herbert Paus, Collier's magazine cover (1918)
The World War I dazzle camouflage of the RMS Mauretania (designed by British camoufleurs) was a sight to behold. Equally interesting is a 1919 painting of that ship (below) by American artist Burnell Poole (1884-1933), a US government artist and a wartime correspondent for Everybody's Magazine. To the right of it, at a distance, can be seen a second dazzle-painted ship.

Burnell Poole, painting of the RMS Mauretania (1919)

That same year, another rendition of the Mauretania was reproduced (below) in the June 1919 issue of a magazine called Printing Art. It was lauded by editors as an effective use of a dazzle motif—

The war has brought out a great many wonderful effects in decoration, illustration, etc., and among these the various uses of the camouflage must be placed early in any list. Naturally this camouflaging of ships has lent itself better to pictorial illustration than to decoration, but in the insert [in this issue, facing page 304] will be seen a decoration adapted from camouflage designs for the cover of a booklet for the Cunard Steam Ship Company, Limited. This booklet, "The War Log of the Mauretania," while small in size, carries on the cover such an appropriate handling of this peculiar design that we are very glad to be able to show it as this time. The production is the work of Gaines Thurman, Inc., of New York City (p. 312).

Cunard Booklet Cover (c1919)

At the time, the Mauretania was transporting Canadian and American soldiers to and back from Europe. Its astonishing complex design was well-known and widely admired. A year before Cunard came out with its war log, a detail of the ship appeared on the cover of Collier's: The National Weekly (June 15, 1918), in a painting by American illustrator Herbert Paus (1880-1946), as shown at the top of this blog post.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Horses Camouflaged with Paint

We've talked about this before, but here's more information on an apparently once-common practice of actually painting horses, for purposes of camouflage, during World War I. In an earlier post, we wondered what if any harm this would do to the horse. It appears that the "paint" that was typically used was potassium permanganate (aka permanganate of potash or Condy's crystals). Among US soldiers during WWI, it was used twice daily as an irrigation in treating gonorrhea. Today, it is used in connection with eczema, blisters and athlete's foot—and in rocket propellent. Hmmm.

But first, a parenthetical note for those who are acquainted with Jerzy Kosinski's novel called The Painted Bird. Here's an excerpt that's oddly related to that from the Field Artillery Journal (November-December 1935, p. 537)—

[While awaiting orders to go into Mexico in 1915, the US 6th Field Artillery] had been instructed to leave behind any conspicuously marked animal. The favorite horse of Battery A was a big gray. The men were so anxious to take him along that they dyed him with potassium permanganate. The result was a dirty brown. It might have served, but when the dyed horse returned to his coral, his herd failed to recognize him and attacked him as a rookie. The gray won the fight that followed, but he lost most of his war paint.

Now back to the spurious zebras: As confirmed by a news photograph (above), early in WWI in East Africa, a band of British scouts under the leadership of Berkeley Cole (as described in Valerie Pakenham, Out in the Noonday Sun: Edwardians in the Tropics, p. 213)—

painted their ponies zebra-fashion with iodine to blend into the landscape, and spent five months leading a glorious cowboy existence, riding across a vast game reserve full of herds of almost tame game, before being brought sharply back to reality by a vicious fight with the Germans as Mbuyuni. Cranworth's zebra-striped mule, to his horror, bolted headlong through the German lines, and he then had to charge them in reverse.

Another confirmation of this (see photo below) was published in various US newspapers, such as in a story titled TRICKS IN ALL TRADES, in the Atlanta Constitution, on Sunday, June 13, 1915, with a caption that reads: English Troops in Egypt Paint Their Horses to Resemble Zebras, Which Are Almost Invisible Against a Tropical Background. In a concurrent but different clipping (with the same photograph), the caption reads: A British officer's pony dyed with permanganate of potash in order to make it less noticeable when fighting against the Germans on the East African border.

That said, consider three additional bits: According to Wikipedia, there is a tradition in northern Mexico of painting white donkeys to look like zebras, commonly referred to as Tijuana Zebras. In 2012, new research was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology claiming that a zebra's stripes make it less attractive to horseflies—with the result that some horse owners have since been painting black stripes on their horses.

More recent (if not all that surprising) is apparent confirmation in the journal Zoology that zebras' stripes may be confusing as they move.

Additional Sources

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Aerial Views, Camouflage & Crazy Quilts

Prior to World War I, in part in response to the Armory Show (1913), there was a flood of comparisons (in cartoons in particular) of cubism and futurism with less exalted forms of "art," such as the "crazy quilts" (made of leftover quilting fragments) created unassumingly by America's grandmothers. Above is an especially funny cartoon of grandma and her cubist quilt. Drawn by Clare Briggs and titled THE ORIGINAL CUBIST, it was published in the New York Evening Sun, on Tuesday, April 1, 1913.

After World War I began, camouflage was widely adopted, and inevitably there were comparisons of camouflage and cubism, and, in turn, of camouflage and crazy quilts. More serious, and far more interesting as well, were the various many comparisons of cubism, camouflage, crazy quilts and views of the earth from an airplane (a novelty then). Here's what Ernest Hemingway said in "A Paris-to-Strasbourg Flight" in the Toronto Daily Star on September 9, 1922—

The plane began to move along the ground, bumping like a motorcycle, and then slowly rose into the air. We headed almost straight east of Paris, rising in the air as through we were sitting inside a boat that was being lifted by some giant, and the ground to flatten out beneath us. It looked cut into brown squares, yellow squares, green squares and big flat blotches of green where there was a forest. I began to understand Cubist painting.

Of course Hemingway wasn't the only one to make such comparisons. Journalists and the general public saw it too. Below are two aerial photographs of the French landscape from the same time period. The second view, which appeared initially in Collier's Weekly in 1918, was captioned with a text that read—

NO WONDER CUBISM STARTED IN FRANCE! No one need wonder any longer where the cubists got their inspiration. They must have gone up in an airplane and had a good look at France! This airplane view of an observation balloon floating over a French village is as good a bit of cubist art as anything that Marcel Duchamp ever turned out.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

FDR In Camouflage | Cecil Calvert Beall

Portrait of FDR by Cecil Calvert Beall (c1933)
The American artist who produced this portrait of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not (to our knowledge) serve as a camouflage artist, but it certainly looks like he could have. It is a clever composite (chockful of delightful puns) devised c1933 (some say 1936) by magazine illustrator Cecil Calvert Beall (1892-1967). This is a black and white version of course, but the initial painting (as shown below) was in full-color. It was met with such widespread approval that the National Democratic Party used it in its next presidential campaign, assigning it the title of Find What Roosevelt Means to the US in This Picture.

Full-color versions of the same composite portrait

Then or sometime later, it was apparently revised for promotional use in connection with FDR's residence at Warm Springs GA, describing it as "The Little White House," and introducing images of Eleanor Roosevelt and the United Nations.

Beall was a native of Montana who had studied at the Art Students League in New York with George Bridgman. It doesn't seem that "visual puns" were his usual way of working (look up Arcimboldo for historical precedents), but we do know that he used the same technique in at least one other painting. As shown below, it appeared in a wartime poster for the US Army Recruiting Service (presumably for World War I, if the soldier's helmet is correct).

In psychology, composite puzzle pictures such as these are typically referred to as "embedded figures." For a discussion of how these have been used in art, architecture and design (as well as, literally, in camouflage), here is an online essay.

additional sources

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Camouflage Artist | Everit Herter

Herter Brothers cabinet (c1875)
Above An astonishing decorative cabinet, made of ebonized cherry and mixed wood marquetry, circa 1875. It is now in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Its creators were the German-born designers Gustave (1830-1898) and Christian Herter (1845-1883), whose design firm in New York was called Herter Brothers.

During the Eisenhower administration, while growing up in the Midwest, we were well aware of the name Herter, because another Christian Herter (1895-1966), a respected American statesmen, was Secretary of State from 1959-1961. That person was the son of an American artist and muralist, named Albert Herter (1871-1950), whose own father had been the earlier Christian Herter, the designer-craftsman.

Although we didn't know it then, the artist Albert Herter had a second older son, a young artist named Everit Albert Herter (1894-1918), who died tragically at the front at Chateau-Thierry in France in World War I. The young Herter was a Harvard graduate, among whose college friends had been the muralist Barry Faulkner (cousin of Abbott H. Thayer) and theatrical designer Homer St. Gaudens (son of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the most famous sculptor of his time).

Portrait (perhaps a self-portrait) of Everit Herter (n.d.)

When the US Army officially started its Camouflage Corps in 1917, Herter was one of the first to enlist, along with Faulkner, Iowa sculptor Sherry Fry (an Augustus Saint Gaudens protegé), and others whose names I have listed in earlier posts, among them William Twigg-Smith, Valentin di Colonna and Cobb X. Shinn. Saint Gaudens was the officer in charge of the unit, the same unit that published a camp newspaper called The Camoufleur. They trained for several months on the grounds of the American University in Washington DC, then sailed for France in the last few days of December 1917 or the first week of January 1918 (there are conflicting accounts of the departure date).

Until recently we hadn't realized Herter's capabilities as an artist, and still know very little. While it's unfair to assess his potential on the basis of a single painting, we cannot help but be impressed by a work of his in the collection of the Fogg Museum at Harvard. Reproduced below, its title is Portrait of a Young Man in a Brown Shirt (c1913). There is writing on the side that reads: "Study by Everit Herter Harvard Class of 1914 Sergeant Camouflage Corps: [not readable] died in France June 1918." Obviously, the inscription was not added by Herter, but perhaps it was placed there by his teacher, Harvard professor and art theorist Denman W. Ross (1853-1935), whose family gave it to Harvard in 1936.

Everit Herter (1913), Fogg Museum, Harvard

Nor had we realized until recently that Everit Herter had kept a diary during the war, and that a good portion of it can now be accessed online, in M.A. DeWolfe Howe, Memoirs of the Harvard Dead in the War Against Germany. Vol 3. (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1922), pp. 229-247. He was the first of two American camoufleurs to be killed in action at the front (the other being Faulkner's friend Harry Dickinson Thrasher).

There are numerous accounts of Herter's death, given his friends and family ties. A brief report that first appeared in the Harvard Graduates' Magazine. Vol 27 (1918) reads as follows—

Everit Albert Herter, sergeant, 40th Engineers, died of wounds, June 13, 1918. A small body of men had volunteered to camouflage a gun in a position in advance of the front line. Sergeant Herter was the first to go out, and after reaching the appointed place, waited for the rest of the party. The other members were either delayed or were unable to come, and while waiting, Herter was severely wounded by a bursting shell. He tried to make his way back to the lines, but lost consciousness. Finally he was rescued and carried to a hospital, but he never regained consciousness, and died within a few hours.

His family was of course devastated, made more poignant by the fact that Everit and his wife were the parents of two infant sons. In Everit's memory, his painter father gave to the French people a huge, magnificent mural that was installed in the lobby of the Gare de Paris-Est (East railway terminal). It can be accessed on Wikipedia here. In addition, there are other photographs of it and an insightful account of its meaning on a blog called Invisible Paris.

additional sources

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Camouflage Artists | Davenport & Benrimo

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Three views of dazzle-painted USS Mount Vernon (1918)
The following is a newspaper article (JAMAICA WOMEN'S CLUB) that appeared in The Daily Long Island Farmer (Jamaica NY), January 9, 1919, p. 1—

The program for the January meeting of the Jamaica Woman's Club yesterday was in charge of the Arts and Crafts Department of which Mrs. J.T. Cooley is chairman. Mrs. Cooley had succeeded in procuring as speakers, Messrs. Henry Davenport, a portrait painter of Boston, and Thomas B.[sic] Benrimo, a magazine illustrator. These artists responded to their country's first call for camoufleurs, and as such have been working on boats in New York Harbor for many months. The father of naval camouflage is Wm. A. Mackey [should read William Andrew Mackay], lately returned from France. The French has used land camouflage for some time. Naval camouflage has been a great success, as out of 150[sic] boats* so treated by the United States, none have been sunk and only two or three hit. The object at first was to render boats invisible, but owing to changing clouds, light and shade, this became impossible and the best plan was found to deceive the eye of the enemy as to the direction in which the boat was proceeding. This was accomplished by means of disappearing and converging lines, black, white and gray being the colors most effective.

It has been a tedious and most difficult job for these artists, for besides a long day at work, 7 days in the week, the boats themselves were not easy to decorate, as on one side they were unloaded of their cargoes and on the other, perhaps loaded. All the work had to be done while ships were in port and besides the loading and unloading there were the usual number of mechanics on board, clearing, painting and repairing. The original plans of working were made at Washington [DC, at the Design Subsection of the Navy's camouflage unit] and might or might not fit the boat they were designed for. Much of the actual work or painting—the large masses—was done by Swedes with huge brushes, but the marking out and finishing was done by these patriotic artists who were accustomed to much finer and more congenial work.

Mr. Benrimo said that the English had adopted our idea of camouflage and had made it much finer, and been wonderfully successful in work turned out.

The object of all the different methods was to apparently turn the course of the boat so that submarine commanders would make wrong sights. Mr. Benrimo in conjunction with this spoke of the importance of painting out prominent parts of a boat using massed color, and bringing different surfaces all on one plane.

Mr. Davenport spoke of the difficulties of actually applying the designs and paint. His talk was very humorous and both he and Mr. Benrimo made one realize how portrait painters can pitch into work wholly foreign to them and accomplish something really big, while the public regards it as picturesque and amusing.

* This may be a printing error since, according to Harold Van Buskirk (the executive officer in charge of the Navy's two-pronged Camouflage Section), more than 1250 US ships were dazzle-painted prior to 1919.

There is more to know about Messrs. Davenport and Benrimo. American painter Henry Davenport (1881-1965) was born in Brookline MA. A Harvard graduate, he went to Paris to study architecture but turned instead to painting. Returning in 1914, he studied at Provincetown MA under Charles Hawthorne and George Elmer Browne, then founded his own school in Paris in 1916. Later, he taught studio art and art history at Yale University. In Richard H. Love's fascinating book on Carl W. Peters: American Scene Painter (NY: University of Rochester Press, 1999), there is a suspect statement that claims that "In the New York area, the artist in charge of camouflaging ships in military service during World War I was Henry Davenport, an accomplished painter who had worked in Europe." On the contrary, William Andrew Mackay was in charge of the New York civilian camoufleurs.

As for Thomas D[uncan] Benrimo (1887-1958), he is fairly well-known as a magazine illustrator and early Modernist painter. He also worked successfully as a theatrical designer. His wartime service (during which he is said to have worked with Mackay) is described as follows in David L. Witt, Modernists in Taos (Santa Fe NM: Red Crane Books, 2002):

Benrimo became a lecturer in camouflage methods, training others in this art while at the same time gaining experience valuable to his later teaching career. Using tape measures, chalk lines, and rules, the camoufleur marked out the design on the ship and supervised quality control in the actual paint application…[he] apparently thought this design experience important because he kept his lecture notes and drawings (pp. 72-73).

It is of curious interest that Benrimo, while on the faculty at Pratt Institute (1935-39), was an influential teacher for graphic designer Gene Federico, who himself served as a camoufleur during World War II.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Camouflage Artist | Douglas D. Ellington

US Navy camoufleurs in model-making room (1918)
In 2011, in Ship Shape: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook, we published a 1918 US government photograph of World War I ship camouflage artists working in the Design Subsection of the American Navy's marine camouflage unit.

In that photograph (reproduced above), five men are shown constructing wooden ship models, on which would be painted experimental "dazzle camouflage" designs, which in turn would then be tested in an observation theatre. Through notations in the papers of Everett L. Warner, we were able to identify the camoufleurs (from left to right) as Douglas D. Ellington, Kenneth MacIntire, Frederick C. Clayter, Richards, and D. Frank (Sully) Sullivan. We have since learned more about Ellington, MacIntire, Sullivan and Clayter, but Richards remains to identified.

Douglas D. Ellington (1886-1960) was an architect who would later become known for his innovative Art Deco public buildings. Indeed, among the historic attractions of Asheville NC (which we inevitably think of as the location of Black Mountain College) are four buildings he designed: First Baptist Church, Asheville City Hall, S&W Cafeteria, and Asheville High School. There is an extensive online biography of Ellington, posted as an article on North Carolina Architects and Builders: A Biographical Dictionary.


[Added 18Jun2014] RELEASED FROM NAVAL SERVICE, Wilmington Morning Star (Wilmington NC), December 23, 1918—

Washington DC, December 22—Douglas Ellington, of Johnston County, has been released from service in the camouflage department of the navy and has returned to Pittsburgh. He is a professor in the Brezel School of Architecture. Mr. Ellington is the only living American credited with having won the Paris prize in architecture.

Additional Sources

Friday, November 29, 2013

Camouflage Artist | Manley Kercheval Nash

We've been trying to find information about an American artist named Manley Kercheval Nash, pictured above c1918, when he was working for the US Navy in Washington DC as one of its camouflage artists. This portrait is a detail from a larger government photograph (reproduced below) of the ship model-painting room of the design subsection of the Navy's Camouflage Section.

Nash, who is seated in the right foreground, is applying a dazzle camouflage scheme to a wooden ship model, which will then be tested for its effectiveness in a specially-designed observation theatre.

Given the historical prominence of all three of Nash's names, perhaps he was descended from venerable families in the South. One source states that Nash was born in Fleming County KY in 1882. There was a lawyer named Samuel Kercheval (1767-1845), who wrote an early well-known history of the Shenandoah Valley (A History of the Valley of Virginia). And Nashville TN was named for the Revolutionary War hero, Francis Nash (1742-1777), who also grew up in Virginia. Manley may also be a family name, and a quick look on the internet finds people who have name combinations like Kercheval Nash, Manley Nash, and so on.

So Manley K. Nash (1882-1947) remains a mystery more or less. One source (Edan Hughes, Artists in California 1786-1940) claims he studied art in Paris in 1905 (as did everyone at the time). When he returned to the US, he apparently lived briefly in (possibly) Harris TX, then moved to St Louis MO, where he painted scenery for the stage, and where other relatives may have settled. After World War I, he moved to southern California, and then, prior to 1930, to Oklahoma City OK. While on the West Coast, he must have made connections with Hollywood movie studios because he continued to paint stage sets for films and in 1938 (according to Hughes) "painted the burning of Atlanta for Gone With the Wind." Moving back to St. Louis, he may have taught at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University, where he himself had studied art as an undergraduate.

Not much to go on really. But we did find one other curious bit. It seems that in 1940, with Hollywood listed as his residence, Nash and another person named Arthur J. Thomas were granted a patent for a toothbrush (US Patent No 2246867) that features a "polishing and massaging element" that "combines with the bristles in cleaning and polishing the teeth [while] also imparting gentle massaging action to [the gums]." Their patent drawing is below.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Camouflage Artist | Gordon Stevenson

Model Painting Room (c1918)
Above is a wonderful photograph of US Navy camouflage artists during World War I. It was initially published on the title page of a magazine article called "Fooling the Iron Fish: The Inside Story of Marine Camouflage" in Everybody's Magazine (November 1919), pp. 102-109. The article was written by American artist Everett Longley Warner, was the officer in charge of the design subsection in Washington DC of the Navy's Camouflage Section. He is seated on the far left, while (from left to right) the other camoufleurs include Frederick Judd Waugh, John Gregory, Gordon Stevenson, Manley K. Nash (in the foreground), and Maurice O'Connell. However, this particular post is about Gordon Stevenson because we recently obtained new information and images about him from his granddaughter, a DuPont chemist.

Gordon Stevenson (1892-1982) was probably born in Chicago, to parents who had immigrated to the US from Scotland. He grew up in Chicago, where he attended the School of the Art Institute there. While still a student, he was awarded two mural commissions, one of which, titled Construction Site (1909) was installed at the Albert G. Lane Technical High School, while the other, The Landing at Jamestown (1910), was among five other murals (by other artists) about moments in American history, installed at the John M. Smyth Elementary School in Chicago. Fortunately, both of Stevenson's murals have survived; they were restored first in the late 1930s, in connection with the WPA, and then restored a second time in the late 1990s.

Gordon Stevenson mural, Construction Site (1909)

As an advanced student at the Art Institute, Stevenson was also awarded the John Quincy Adams Prize, a foreign travel stipend worth $425. This enabled him to travel to Spain and to work as an apprentice for the well-known Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, whose paintings were not unlike those of his friend, John Singer Sargent. There is a portrait of Stevenson by Sorolla dated 1917 (reproduced below), which may be the year he returned to the US.

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, Portrait of Gordon Stevenson (c1917)
Soon after, whatever the circumstances, Stevenson was chosen to serve in the camouflage subsection that was headed by Warner.

Further confirmation of his wartime service is in two other government photographs. In one (dated July 12, 1918), he is shown in a different room, where he and three co-workers are painting ship models. Stevenson is standing in the center background. The other artists include (left to right) sculptor John Gregory, marine painter Frederick Waugh, and theatrical scene painter Manley K. Nash.

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In another photograph, this one of the drafting room (where he and his co-workers prepared schematic instructions on how to paint the actual ships), he can barely be seen in the background. He is in the very back row in the center (looking down), directly beneath the wall clock.

On August 25, 1918, an article (BENEFIT OF BLIND SOLDIERS) in the Washington Post announced a garden party "for the benefit of the American, French and British blinded soldiers."  The decorations for the fundraising event, the article continues, "will consist of an extraordinary display of flags of all nations and of specially prepared banners painted by members of the camouflage section of the navy." Also featured will be "Gordon Stevenson, of New York, who will sketch portraits while you wait."

Camoufleurs in the drafting room
Following the war, Stevenson continued to reside in New York, where he had considerable success as an illustrator and portrait painter. Of particular note is a portrait he made of Mark Twain, which now hangs in The Players club in NYC. There are at least four other Stevenson portraits in that club's collection. His portraits of other dignitaries can also be found in the Museum of the City of New York, Rutgers University, National Academy of Design, and the Toledo Museum of Art.

Stevenson was a prolific magazine illustrators for prominent publications, notably the New York Times Book Review. He also made a series of portraits for the covers of TIME magazine (1923-24), including pencil drawings of Jack Dempsey, Herbert Hoover, Mrs. Herbert Hoover, Samuel Gompers, Ataturk, Winston Churchill, Fritz Kreisler, Roy Chapman Andrews, Joseph Conrad, Woodrow Wilson, and David Lloyd George. The list goes on—reproduced below are some.

One of those covers (as seen below) was a portrait of Homer St. Gaudens (son of the sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens), who had been the officer in charge of US Army camouflage in WWI.

Speaking of camouflage, below is a marvelous portrait he made (ala Arcimboldo) for the cover of Outdoor Life magazine (August 1940). In 1948, he also illustrated a book by his father-in-law, Edward R. Hewitt (grandson of New York industrialist Peter Cooper, who founded Cooper Union), titled A Trout and Salmon Fisherman: For Seventy-Five Years (New York: Scribner's and Sons). The same family also established the Smithsonian Institution's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

Illustration by Gordon Stevenson (c1940)

In the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, there are eight portrait photographs of Gordon Stevenson, taken in 1962, which can be accessed online here.


Since this was originally posted, I have run across an online interview of American artist Everett Raymond Kinstler, titled "On the Shoulders of Giants" and conducted in 2009 by Ira Goldberg. It is online here at LINEA: The Artist's Voice.  On page 7, Kinstler states:

The painter Gordon Stevenson, who'd taken classes with [Joaquín] Sorolla in Spain and knew [John Singer] Sargent, was another of my mentors. Gordon would drop by my studio—he was well along in years, an elegant man, who lacked fire in his belly because he didn't have to work for a living. He'd look at my work and begin his remarks with, "Now, Sargent told me that…" or, "When I was with Sorolla…"

Gordon Stevenson, portrait of Homer St. Gaudens

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Aerial Photography and WWI Camouflage

The following text is a news article issued by the US Signal Corps, published as "War News" in American Photography Vol 12 (1918)—

Plans have been completed for the great enlargement of facilities for training and equipping the aerial photographic force for photographing the German trenches from the skies and keeping up to the last minute the large composite picture of the whole German front…

The bulk of the training [of the aerial photographic staff] will be for the developing and printing work which must be done on a standardized plan under process specially developed during the war, often in great haste on special motor lorries close to the front and to the staff. After a month's course, the men will be given a short advanced training and immediately sent overseas for operation in the American sector.

Aerial photography has greatly developed during the war. During the single month of September, British official reports state that 15,837 aerial photographs wee taken by the British alone. No new trench can be dug, no new communication system opened up, no new batteries placed but the ever-present and infallible camera above records it for the examination of the staff below. So piercing has been this work that camouflage has been developed as a protection, thus forcing aerial photography to even greater ingenuity.

Every sector of the front is divided into plots about half a mile square, each one numbered and entrusted to a squad of photographer who become fully familiar with it. As fast as the photographs are made, they are developed, printed, reduced or enlarged to a standard scale, and then fitted into their proper place on the large composite photograph of the sector. This work requires a large force of experts in developing, printing and enlarging, as well as in map reading interpretation.

Cases are on record where only twenty minutes have elapsed from the time a photographer snapped his camera over the German trenches until his batteries were playing upon the spot shown. In that time the airman had returned to his lines, the photograph had been developed and printed, the discovery made, and the batteries given the range and ordered to fire.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

US Women's Camouflage Corps

Above Photograph of members of the Women's Camouflage Corps applying disruptive (or dazzle) camouflage to an ambulance (c1918).


The following text is by Bessie Rowland James [journalist and wife of Marquis James], as originally published in her book For God, For Country, For Home. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1920, pp. 164-166. It has also been reprinted in Roy R. Behrens, ed., SHIP SHAPE: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook. Dysart IA: Bobolink Books, 2011, pp. 286-293.—

The Camouflage Corps was formed by a group of artists, writers, stenographers, school teachers, debutantes, many sorts of women. The Corps was not the idea [of the National League for Women's Service], but when there was the nucleus of an organization, the members asked to be put under its direction. After consulting government officials and learning that there was a real need of women camoufleurs, the League took steps to complete the organization.

Like the Motor Corps, the Camouflage Corps had its captain and lieutenants. The commander, a corporal, was Anne Furman Goldsmith, an artist. Courses were arranged under the direction of Lieutenant H. Ledyard Towle, an artist, who was at that time training the first camouflage section of the Seventy-First Regiment. Large numbers of English and French women, safe locations many miles behind the battleline, were employed in France to camouflage the big guns, wagons, trucks, to make observers'  suits, and other equipment as well as the miles of wire netting used upon the roads. It was a kind of work women could do. It required, however, much technical training.

The course given by the Camouflage Corps covered not only training in camouflage, but drilling, boxing, pistol and rifle shooting. The first Corps was formed in March [1918], and when the training was completed a second one was organized, this time under the direction of the United States Shipping Board.

Women ship camoufleurs in Washington DC (c1918) *

For the training of both Corps, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., permitted the women to utilize the old Billings Estate on the Hudson River for developing screens to match the rocks, water, and trees. Part of the estate was used as a revolver range. The camoufleurs spent much time in attempting to design an observer's suit which would harmonize with any scenery and make the wearer practically undiscernible at a distance of twenty feet.

The camouflage of the front of the suit matched the trees; the back shaded into the rocks' reversed, the front merged with the grass and the back with ice and snow. By such an arrangement the observer's suit could be used in a variety of landscapes; but the Camouflage Corps was not satisfied. It sought to design a suit useful in any terrain.

About a dozen graduates of the Corps were employed by the navy, some in Washington to work out different plans of camouflage and others in the yards at Philadelphia. Perhaps the most spectacular work of the Corps was the camouflage of the [USS] Recruit, the big land battleship built in Union Square, New York City. This was a night's work for the women and was done at the request of the navy to further recruiting. The camouflage design was worked out in the classrooms of the Corps. One day at sundown New Yorkers saw the ship a tame, neutral gray. The next morning it wore a wild, fantastic design of many colors.

Tanks, ambulances, and trucks were camouflage at the request of different branches of the Government to encourage recruiting, for wherever the camoufleurs went in their uniforms, spreading their bright paints, a crowd was sure to gather.

* The officer in the top photograph is Harold Van Buskirk, who was the executive officer in charge of the US Navy Camouflage Section during World War I.

Additional Information

Saturday, November 2, 2013

More Horse Camouflage

Horse puzzle and solution
In earlier posts, we've featured camouflaged horses, notably battlefield listening posts in the form of horse carcasses that were constructed of papier mâché. We've also talked about camouflage-related puzzles that appeared in the entertainment sections of Sunday newspapers before and during World War I.

Reproduced here is a puzzle that predates adoption of the word "camouflage" but is an undoubted example of that. It was devised by a turn-of-the-century puzzle master, chess player and recreational mathematician named Sam Loyd (1841-1911). A compendium of his puzzles titled Cyclopedia of Puzzles was published in book form by his son in 1914, and is available online. It includes his "Pony Puzzle" (p. 17) in which a white pony is hidden among the various parts of a "dark horse" (looks more like a donkey to me) silhouette. Here are Loyd's instructions—

Trace an exact copy of the figure, as shown, and cut out the six pieces very carefully, and then try to arrange them together so as to make the best possible figure of a horse. That is all there is to it, but the entire world laughed for a year over the many grotesque representations of a horse which can be made with those six pieces.

Loyd's solution is shown above. It's a horse of a different color of course. We are reminded of the venerable Chinese puzzle game, the tangram (below), in which seven shapes are rearranged, and which Sam Loyd also wrote about.

Three solutions to the Chinese tangram puzzle

Friday, November 1, 2013

French Horse Camouflaged With Paint

French soldiers painting a horse (1917)
In the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday, June 24, 1917, there was a lengthy article on World War I camouflage, titled A PECULIAR WAR NEED THAT AMERICA MUST FILL. In the bottom left corner of the page, there is a small, poor quality photograph of a group of people painting a horse—yes, actually applying paint to a live horse. The caption reads—

The French, who have carried the "camouflage" to further extremes than any of the warring powers, paint all conspicuously white horses khaki color to make them invisible.

There is further confirmation of this practice in Cécile Coutin's recent book, Tromper l'ennemi: L'invention du camouflage moderne en 1914-1918. On pages 114-115, she reproduces two photographs of French soldiers applying brown pigment to a white horse. One of these photographs was published on the cover of Le Petit Journal agricole (No. 1120, December 23, 1917), while the other one (shown above) was taken on the same occasion. The caption explains that the paint consists of potassium permanganate. Hmmm. One wonders what the effects would be on the well-being of the horse.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

French Camouflage and Criminals

WWI French camoufleurs wearing hooded cagoule outfits
In an earlier post, we reproduced various images of French camoufleurs dressed in paint-streaked hooded outfits, the term for which was cagoule. These were adopted early in World War I by artists in the French infantry, to prevent themselves from being seen by aerial observers as they manned field artillery. Above is the cover of a French magazine (dated June 5, 1915) in which soldiers are wearing uniforms that look eerily like a mottled variation on the sinister ceremonial hoods of the American Ku Klux Klan. At the time, the French public was disturbed by this radical change of attire. This was described thirty years ago by art historian Elizabeth Louise Kahn in The Neglected Majority: "Les Camoufleurs," Art History, and World War I (University Press of America, 1984)—

Hidden beneath camouflaged cagoules…was a ghoulish image of the modern soldier, whose finely fitted and brilliant red and blue clothing was replaced by an amorphous costume of drab greens and browns that turned the individual into a frightening form.

Later on the same page, she mentions that one of the reasons for the initial disdain for camouflage was that "the very term camouflage held a devious and unseedy [sic] meaning for French readers of popular literature…" Prior to the founding of the first camouflage unit, it "was a word used to describe evil criminals who lurked about city streets and hid themselves from the police" (p. 148).

We were reminded of this when recently we ran across various images from French popular literature and film, before and during WWI, of a fictitious criminal named Fantomas. Created in 1911 by French writers Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, the character was central to more than forty crime novels. The popularity of the books was amplified by various adaptations for film, television and comic books.

French crime character Fantomas
I mention this because in some of the images (such as those posted here), this crime character has an uncanny resemblance to a WWI hooded camoufleur. If Fantomas was on the minds of the French public at the outset of the war, no wonder they viewed with suspicion the cagoules (the "hoodies") of the camoufleurs.

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