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.