Friday, January 31, 2014

New Book on Military Deception

Above The cover of one of the latest books on the subject, a wide-ranging massive anthology (586 pp.) of important essays, articles and book chapters on camouflage and other aspects of military deception: Hy Rothstein and Barton Whaley, eds., The Art and Science of Military Deception. Boston: Artech House, 2013.


The book includes a chapter from our own FALSE COLORS: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage (2002), with the title "Now You See It, Now You Don't: Camoufleurs, Conjurers and Pickpockets." In introducing it, this is what the editors say about FALSE COLORS—

Simply the best all-round introductory book on camouflage. A brilliant fulfillment of the promise of the author's previous 1981 book on the subject. The book not only gives us the theory that ties deception to art, design and war, but extends its reach to encompass con games, magic, and perceptual illusions in general. Consequently, it is perfect for beginners and a finishing school for veteran camoufleurs.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

WW1 Commonwealth Ship Camouflage

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Above Dazzle-camouflaged British Commonwealth transport ship SS Australford as photographed by Allan C. Green (c1918). Digitally adjusted. Original in collection of Victoria State Library AU.


American artist Thomas Hart Benton, quoted in Richard Cork, A Bitter Truth: Avant-Garde and the Great War. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1994, p. 193—

[Working as a camoufleur during WW1] was the most important thing that, so far, I had ever done for myself as an artist. The mechanical contrivances of buildings, the new airplanes, the blimps, the dredges, the ships of the base, because they were so interesting in themselves, tore me away from all my grooved habits, from my play with colored cubes and classic attenuations, from my aesthetic drivelings and morbid self-concerns.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Camouflage Paintings | Pia Dehne

© Pia Dehne 2011
In the late 1960s, when we first began to write about art and camouflage, there wasn't much interest. But in recent years, the subject's popularity has grown phenomenally, and now it seems a commonplace for artists or academic scholars to be engaged, in one way or another, in camouflage-related research. Some of the results are fascinating, while, not surprisingly, a lot of what is being done is neither interesting nor innovative.

Among those whose art pertains to camouflage, I find of particular interest a series of paintings (oil on canvas) by German-born American artist Pia Dehne. One of those works (titled Red Leaf Hunter, 2011) is above, with a second below (F-16 Jet, 2011). She has an artist's website that includes a subsection on Camo Vision, which houses the series of paintings that I find of particular value. Her gallery representation is with Salomon Contemporary in NYC and with AJLART in Berlin.

© Pia Dehn 2011
books on art and camouflage

WW1 Norwegian Ship Camouflage

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Above Dazzle-camouflaged Norwegian tanker SS Ranella as photographed by Allan C. Green (c1918). Digitally adjusted. Original in collection of Victoria State Library AU.


J.M. Daiger, CAMOUFLAGE MAKES WARSHIP INTO "TUB;" ENEMY IS DECEIVED: Painters So Disguise Craft That Brand New Torpedo Boat Looks Like Old Tub or Leaves Landscape Vacant; OLDER NAVAL OFFICERS LIKE NAVY GRAY THE BEST in Ludington Daily News (Ludington MI), December 17, 1917—

NORFOLK, Va., Dec 17—…naval camouflage—the painting of ships to look at a short distance like what they are not and at a long distance like nothing at all.

Impossible as it might seem to make super dreadnoughts appear anything but the monsters they are, there are nevertheless processes of camouflage for them. It is obvious that details as to what designs are being used on various types of ships are not for publication, especially in view of the fact that experimental schemes for having ships sail in false colors—not under them—are constantly being tried out.


I saw one of the largest of the naval colliers, which has several times crossed the Atlantic since America's entry into the war, that had a very simple scheme of camouflage in which only grays were used. Simple in conception and execution apparently, but it had an amazing effect on the appearance of the ship a short distance at sea, and from what happened at that short distance I have no doubt the collier was lost to the eye when it got much farther away.

The older naval officers incline to the opinion that the regulation navy gray by itself is better than any camouflage that the artists have invented, and they are frankly skeptical about these riots of color and freak designs that the scientific application of one of the fine arts is smearing over their ships.

The camouflage used by a great many merchantmen is familiar to every one who has observed the shipping in the harbors along the Atlantic coast. These vessels close by look like scrambled rainbows or like the palette of an artist in his cups. The weather has much to do with the power of these gay colors to create optical illusions.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dazzle Camouflage House Paint

WW1 ship camouflage motifs (1919)
Above Ship camouflage patterns from Robert G. Skerrett, "How We Put It Over on the Periscope" in The Rudder, Vol 35 Nos 3 and 4 (March and April 1919), pp. 97-102, as reprinted in SHIP SHAPE: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook (2011). When initially published, it included the following caption:  

Patterns designed to produce interrupted margins and to blur outlines so that the periscopic observer would find it difficult if not impossible to keep his cross hairs upon any feature of the ship long enough to obtain an accurate measurement for the determination of the target craft's speed or range.


Anon, ZIG-ZAG PAINTING MAY BE ANSWER in the Spokane Daily Chronicle (Washington), June 20, 1949—

NEW YORK, June 20 (AP)—Herman Rodenberger, 75, thinks maybe this paint job will last.

Many times Rodenberger has tried to paint his home in Brooklyn. Each time he's failed. His house is a favorite for ball-bouncing games played by kids in the neighborhood.

Each time Rodenberger slapped on a new coat of paint—wham! The boys gathered round and bounced balls off the walls, ruining the paint job.

But this time it's different. Rodenberger had a painter do a "dazzle job" on the house—"just like camouflage" with all sorts of irregular black designs on white paint. Now the kids can't see the ball coming back at them.

"Look," one of them told a reporter. "It drives me crazy. Bounce a ball there, and it'll be back in your puss before you know it."

Zébrage | Striped Camouflage

Above WW1 New Zealand passenger cargo ship, SS Tofua, docked at Nelson (c1919) in striped disruptive camouflage, known in French as zébrage.*


Norman Wilkinson in "Dazzle Painting of Ships" in The Nautical Gazette (September 13, 1919), p. 177—

Sometime before the end of the war we had arrived at the striped type of design which was the most successful type. These striped designs were commented on by a great number of seamen as being by far the best for upsetting the calculation of a ship's course.

* Image Source Digital restoration of photograph by F.N. Jones of the SS Tofua at Nelson NZ (c1919). Original in collection of State Library of Victoria AU.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Abbott Thayer's Spartan Funeral

William Adair © 2013
Above In September 2013, William Adair (of Gold Leaf Studios in Washington DC) visited the environs of American painter (and "father of camouflage") Abbott Handerson Thayer in Dublin NH, in the shadow of Mount Monadnock. This is an on-site watercolor he made during that sojourn (and mountain climb), showing Dublin Pond, with Thayer's beloved mountain beyond.


From Alice Frost Lord, SUNLIT TRAIL WITH MAINE FOLKS in the Lewiston Evening Journal (Lewiston ME), September 14, 1928—

Now Maine lovers of the beautiful in nature are being appealed to in behalf of another New Hampshire mountain, promoters of the Old Man of the Mountains' campaign having been encouraged by their success to undertake this new venture. The sum of $20,000 is the goal of today.

It is proposed to buy 1300 acres in two mountain townships which include Monadnock—a height famous in prose and poetry of New England, Emerson, Edna Dean Proctor, William Ellery Channing, Whittier, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, John White Chadwick, Richard Burton, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Rudyard Kipling and Lord Dunsany have lauded its beauty in immortal lines.

Abbott Thayer, the artist loved this mountain and spent many hours exploring its heights. His masterpiece of the eminence hangs in the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York today. So did he love the mountain that in acccordance with his wish his body was cremated after this death in 1921 and he was given a "clean Spartan funeral."

In the afternoon of a perfect June day, his son [Gerald Handerson Thayer], barefoot and alone, carried his ashes up the long climb of the great ridge of Monadnock to the open heights. Hermit thrushes, warblers, wrens, all the pensive choir of sundown, sang from the green spruce coverts below. The sun shone full upon the western slope of the mountain; and, overflowing, mantled the summits of the distant Peterborough hills. The gleaming lakes that gem the landscape caught and sent back the deepening colors of the sunset sky. A cool breeze was blowing from the northwest; and up there under the open sky, in the waiting majesty, royal fellowship, and perfect peace of Nature, the ashes of artist and friend were given to the wind and the mountain he loved. Something of his free spirit lingers there, and Monadnock will be forever a prouder and greater mountain because he lavished so richly upon it his genius and affection.

Postcard of Dublin NH in 1906

Camouflage Artist | Raymond J. Richardson

US Navy camoufleurs (1918)
Above This is a rare World War 1-era photograph (c1918) of the drafting room at the Design Subsection of the US Navy's Camouflage Section. This art-centered subsection (under the direction of artist Everett L. Warner) was located in Washington DC, while a second science-centered Research Subsection (under the direction of optical physiologist Loyd A. Jones) was at the Eastman Kodak research facility in Rochester NY. The executive officer in charge of the combined subsections (the Camouflage Section per se) was architect (and Olympic fencing champion) Harold Van Buskirk. Through extensive searches (in part thanks to notes received from the descendants of the camoufleurs), we've been able to identify more of these individuals and to learn about their lives. In this photograph, as indicated by numbers, we have identified Harold Van Buskirk (1), Everett Warner (2), painter Frederick J. Waugh (3) (seated to the right of him is sculptor John Gregory), painter Gordon Stevenson (4), painter Manley K. Nash (5) (standing behind and right of him, holding a large ship model, is Kenneth Stevens MacIntire), and architect Raymond J. Richardson (6), who was in charge of the drafting room. It is not surprising that two of the supervisory personnel (Van Buskirk and Richardson) were architects, because it was often claimed that the best camouflage officers were not artists but architects, because of their experience in working collaboratively. Note also the inclusion of women (an innovation at the time), four or five of whom are in this group.

Richardson (left) and Van Buskirk, looking at model and ship plans

Richardson (?) and Van Buskirk in model storage room

Below is more information about Raymond J. Richardson, with details regarding this unit. It is of additional interest that in 1922 Richardson was appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. The head of that school's Department of Art was Homer Saint-Gaudens, who had commanded the US Army's Camouflage Corps during WW1, and in 1924, Everett Warner also joined the faculty there.



Ensign Raymond J. Richardson, of Reading, who, as a member of the US naval reserve forces, had been serving in the camouflage section of the navy, has been placed on inactive list and has returned to this home town to again take up architecture, the profession which he had been following when he left civilian life to answer the call to the colors. Ensign Richardson enlisted on July 10, 1917, at Newport RI, and was sent from that station to New York City, where he trained under William A. Mackay, considered the dean of naval camouflage in America. Mr. Mackay was at that time engaged in working out camouflage designs for the shipping board.

Later Ensign Richardson was transferred to the League Island Navy Yard, Philadelphia, and had charge of the camouflage work there. On February 25, 1918, he was sent to Washington, where he helped to organize the camouflage section of the navy. At first the designing department consisted of only three men [Van Buskirk, Warner and Richardson, presumably]. This finally grew until there were between 50 and 60 men.

Lieutenant Harold Van Buskirk, a well-known architect, was the executive head of the department, and Lieutenant Everett L. Warner, one of America's best landscape painters, was the head designer. Ensign Richardson served as assistant to these two men and had charge of the drafting room.

The work of this department was to design the type of camouflage which was to be used on the various vessels, both of the transport and combatant type. Models of the vessels were made in wood and these models were studied at various angles and ranges through periscopes and in this way the most effective type of camouflage was determined. Plans and blueprints were then prepared and these were used by the men in applying the camouflage.*

During the time that he was in the service, Ensign Richardson had occasion to make short cruises in submarines and also to make flights in airplanes in order to determine the effectiveness of the work of the camoufleurs. So he served under water, on land and in the air.

Among the men attached to Ensign Richardson's department at Washington was Earl Bankes* * , a brother of C.W. Bankes, of this city. Bankes was a warrant officer.

Ensign Richardson is a graduate of Reading High School, class of 1910, and of the University of Pennsylvania, class of 1913. He took a post graduate course at the latter institution and was awarded the degree of master of science in architecture in 1915.

After graduation Ensign Richardson worked in the offices of some of America's most prominent architects, principally in and about New York City. At present he is with E.Z. Scholl, a Reading architect.

Ensign Richardson is a son of Mr. and Mrs. Fred H. Richardson, 1324 Pricetown Road. His father is a member of the firm of Richardson and Early, wholesale confectioners.

* There were about 450 of these ship painting plans (reproduced in multiples as color lithographs), but apparently only two sets of the plans have survived. The most complete set is in the collection of Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), while a second set is housed at the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA).

** Through various online newspaper archives, we've located a number of articles on an Earl Bankes from Reading PA who had resettled in Miami FL, where his paintings were included in various art exhibitions.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Camouflaged Artillery

Above A US government-issued photograph of a camouflaged heavy artillery mortar, mounted on a railway in France. These were large moveable cannon that could be in place and ready to fire within fifteen minutes, and could strike at fortifications as far as ten miles away. As is evident here, some styles of disruptive camouflage (as distinct from background matching) outlined the contours of the shapes, producing a jigsaw puzzle effect.


Anon, a US Army officer in World War I, having learned of the formation of an American Camouflage Corps

Oh God, as if we didn't have enough trouble! They send us artists!

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Camouflage Artist | John Everett

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British painter John Everett (1876-1949) was born in Dorset, England, with the full name of Herbert Barnard John Everett. He studied at the Slade School of Art, and the Academie Julian in Paris. Although he was a close friend of marine painter Julius Olsson (who served as a WW1 ship camoufleur), Everett himself appears not to have designed camouflage—but he did make paintings of camouflaged ships.

Here's part of a note we found about him in an online article (which may no longer be online) by art historian Gwen Yarker at the Maritime Art Greenwich website —

In the spring of 1918 he [Everett] was commissioned by the Ministry of Information to complete some drawings and paintings of wartime London docks and the Thames which were subsequently exhibited in America…In his paintings Everett also explored the visual effects of dazzle painting. This was a form of camouflage put on ships during the war. He experimented with the formal possibilities these designs offered…

There's another online article by the same author on the relationship between Everett's family and the novelist Thomas Hardy, who was also a native of Dorset. Reproduced above is a reconstructed facsimile (reasonably accurate) of a poster from 1918, announcing an exhibition of Everett's paintings of camouflaged ships.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Camouflaged Cars

We've posted on camouflaged cars before, notably on the Kissel Kar and an ambulance that was camouflaged by the US Women's Camouflage Corps. But we still keep finding more and more. A recent discovery is the British dental car above. But we also found a newspaper article with the headline CHANDLER 'CAMOUFLAGE CAR' IN DISAPPEARING ACT in the New York Sun, on September 23, 1917, p. 6. There is a photo of the car, but it's of such poor quality that it's not worth reproducing here. Nevertheless, here's what the unsigned article says—

Motorcycle policemen, magistrates and justices of the peace are to be eliminated as sources of trouble.

How are they going to "get" you if they can't see you? They can't, that's all. They are through, down and out, and will have to go to work.

It's all very easy. It's "camouflage."

If your car is painted in the magic colors that the French at the front have found melt into the landscape and make the whole outfit invisible at certain distances, what chance will the motorcycle policeman have either to time you or to catch you? Even if your "camouflaged" cap and mask should come off and he should see your face sailing through space on invisible wings, how could he convict you of speeding? One cannot do much with a face of this kind if it is not connected up with something.

The crowds in front of the show window of the Brady-Murray Motor Corporation on Broadway and Sixty-Second Street , where an "invisible Chandler car" is on exhibition, speculate on the kind of service the strangely mottled creation has been giving at the battle front. It is a mysterious car that is worth a lot of study. An army officer is responsible for the strange curves and waves and splotches of color that have made the car scientifically and artistically invisible.

Assurances are generally given at Brady-Murray headquarters that there is a real car under the strange disguise.

"Of course it's real," said a salesman to a skeptic yesterday. "Let somebody offer to buy it and then you'll see how real it is. It will come out of the camouflage with a jump."

The car will be on exhibition for several days.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

WW1 US Ship Camouflage Schemes

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Above As explained in an earlier post, during World War 1 the US government approved the use on merchant ships of five ship camouflage schemes. These illustrations of them (along with several others), were published in full color in Lindell T. Bates, The Science of Low Visibility and Deception as an Aid to the Defense of Vessels Against Attack by Submarines (Submarine Defense Association, 1918).

Since there are no color photographs of WW1-era ship camouflage, these contemporaneous illustrations may offer some insight into what paint colors were used. More detailed reproductions of these and more are available here.

Camouflage pattern being applied to unidentified US ship (c1917)

From CAMOUFLAGE RECORD in the Weekly Commercial News. Vol 57 No 17, p. 8—

Ten painters in a Jacksonville (Fla.) yard recently put the coat of a camouflage on a vessel for the emergency fleet in two days and six hours. "The Hun Hammer" believes this is a speed record for painting. The ship was 285 feet long. "The Hun Hammer" invites reports from any crew in the country that can beat the Jacksonville record. It recalls that recently on the Pacific Coast a painting record was established, but remarks that nearly four days were required to complete the job.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

WWI Camouflage in Des Moines

WWI truck camouflage
Above World War I camouflaged truck in France (c1918).


From an unsigned news article titled CAMOUFLAGE ARTIST SUGGESTS HOW TO HELP AUTOISTS GET AROUND COP'S FEET in the Des Moines News, Des Moines IA (1917)—

Pierre Defregger, artist, issued from his East-side attic last week for the first time in nigh onto 20 years.

For years Pierre has been so busy in his attic painting pictures of cast iron oak trees growing beside wooden rivers that run uphill, that the census man has never discovered him.

But Pierre should worry.

When he came out of his attic, he brought with him a regular twentieth century idea, hatched by him in solitude, which he says will save the city of Des Moines thousands of dollars in the long run, and prove a pleasure and convenience to local taxpayers.

All Pierre asks in return is that he be put on the city's payroll at a fair salary, with the title of Professional Camouflage Artist.

Here are some of the time-saving, money-saving innovations that Pierre Defregger thinks that a first-class camouflage artist could accomplish for Des Moines:

1. Camouflage the feet of all traffic officers to look like the pavement, so that motorists can drive right over them and not have to go way around. "This would take considerable paint," Defregger points out, "but the cost is inconsiderable when compared with the saving of time to motorists."

2. Camouflage the legs of all women who wear unreasonably short skirts this winter. This might be done in a number of ways. Either camouflage them the color of the atmosphere so that they are invisible, thus saving the boys great eye strain, or camouflage them to represent hitching posts. "When it is taken into consideration," says Pierre at this point, "that most women wait from an hour to two hours for a car, it readily may be seen that a number of teamsters could tie their horses to the camouflaged posts during that period."

3. Camouflage the soft coal smoke issuing from Des Moines' winter chimneys, to represent sunset cloud effects. This could be accomplished by painting the soot particles by means of a squirt gun filled with paint of the desired shade. Says Pierre: "Fly specks on restaurant ceilings could be camouflaged into picturesque effects at small cost, obviating the necessity of redecorating each spring."

4. Camouflage a river to stick under the $400,000 worth of new bridges being built by the city.

5. Show Emil Schmidt* how to camouflage stoves in his street cars this winter.

6. Show Ralph Bolton** how to camouflage heat and light for the Coliseum.

Pierre Defregger, artist that he is, says if the city hires him, he will not guarantee successfully to camouflage food, brains nor clothing. The first two are honestly impossible, says Pierre, and camouflaged clothes always would meet opposition, he thinks, from the prudes.

When asked what he considered the best example of camouflage, Pierre replied: "Bread pudding."


* President of the Des Moines City Railway Company.
** Secretary of the Greater Des Moines Committee