Saturday, August 30, 2014

Maynard Dixon, Dorothea Lange & Camouflage

Maynard Dixon, Sunset magazine, cover illustration
Recently we were able to watch on Public Television a two-hour American Masters film about the life of American photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965). Like so many people, we are well-acquainted with Lange's documentary photographs, notably her Depression-era images for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). But somehow we hadn't remembered that her first husband (for fifteen years) was the Southwestern Modernist painter Maynard Dixon (1875-1946).

Born in Fresno CA, Dixon was descended from a prominent Confederate family from Virginia. He may have been related to the British surveyor Jeremiah Dixon, whose name is one half of the boundary that divides North from South, the so-called Mason-Dixon Line. It is also sometimes claimed that the nickname "Dixie" for the South was derived from the same family name. Whatever, Maynard Dixon is not typically linked with the South, but with the Southwest and West, especially New Mexico and California.

For the moment, we haven't found any evidence that Dixon was a camouflage artist. But we have found indications that some of his artist-friends were camoufleurs in San Francisco during World War I, and that in 1917 he was among the founding members of the American Camouflage Western Division in San Francisco. Although he apparently did not design camouflage, his awareness of the practice can be assumed by the fact that among his associates were Santa Fe-area artists William Penhallow Henderson (1877-1943) and (Swedish-born) Bror Jullius Olsson Nordfeldt (1878-1955), both of whom were ship camoufleurs in San Francisco. For more information on Maynard Dixon, see Donald J. Hagerty's The Life of Maynard Dixon (Smith Gibbs, 2010).

Cover of The Life of Maynard Dixon (2010)

The American Camouflage Western Division was a spin-off of the New York-based American Camouflage group (aka the New York Camouflage Corps), founded by Barry Faulkner and Sherry Fry. The purpose of the Western branch, whose designated founder was A. Sheldon Pennoyer, was the recruitment of "painters, sculptors, scene painters, house painters and all others interested in the application of protective coloration and devices for the deception of enemies and the rendering invisible of our own forces." That text excerpt appeared in the August 1917 issue of Western Architect and Engineer, in an article titled "San Francisco Architects and Artists as Camoufleurs" (p. 58), as did a roster of those who had by that time joined the Western camouflage unit, among them Maynard Dixon. Here's the list—

Chairman: Mr. Arthur Brown, architect. Assistant Chairman: Mr. Bruce Nelson, artist. Secretary: Mr. A. Sheldon Pennoyer, artist. Executive Members: Mr. John I. Walter, president, San Francisco Art Association; Mr. Edgar Walter, sculptor; Mr. E.S. Williams, scene painter Alcazar theatre; Mr. Ralph Nieblas, scene painter Columbia theatre; Mr. Warren C. Perry, instructor in architecture, University of California; Mr. Maynard Dixon, artist; Mr. Lee [Fritz] Randolph, director California School of Fine Arts.

In addition there is mention of experiments in ship camouflage, of which it is said "that the results obtained by the use of several colors in small squares, maplike patches, serpentine lines and similar methods have rendered our ships more invisible than those of any other navy treated in this manner."

In the January 18, 1919, issue of the El Palacio (Journal of the Museum of New Mexico), there is the following note about "Talk on Ship Camouflage"—

William Penhallow Henderson, the Santa Fe artist, who was a camoufleur on the Pacific Coast, one of the three in charge of the camouflage work in the western ship yards, gave an illustrated and instructive talk on Ship Camouflage on Museum Night, January 7. Besides blackboard drawings, a model of a camouflaged ship made by O.T. [sic] Nordfeldt, was used to illustrate the lecture.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ship Camouflage | Wartime Dazzle Painting

L. Campbell Taylor (1919), watercolor
In the last year of World War 1, a writer named Hugh Hurst published an illustrated article on ship camouflage titled "Dazzle-Painting in War-Time" in International Studio (September 1919, pp. 93-99). It remains one of the most eloquent essays on the subject, and is of additional interest because it included reproductions of a handful of wonderful paintings of camouflaged ships in the settings of various harbors. The artists represented were (Reginald) Guy Kortright, John Everett (whom we've blogged about before), and L. Campbell Taylor, all of whom were "war artists," in the sense that they had been assigned not to design camouflage but to record their encounters with these entrancing while also bewildering forms. 

In Hurst's article, one of the paintings that was reproduced in color (as shown above) was Taylor's Dazzle Ships in Canada Dock, Liverpool. Watercolor, 1919. We found it well worth the sleuthing to track down an original copy of Hurst's article (it's reasonably easy to find through inter-library loan, and there is an online full view also*). In addition, the entire article and its illustrations have been reprinted (albeit in black and white only) in our recent collection, SHIP SHAPE: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook (2012). Here are the opening paragraphs of Hugh Hurst's delightful essay—

To the lover of the ship for the ship’s sake the appearance of our docks in the great ports during the war may perhaps have come as somewhat of a shock, but to the artist the transformation from a monotonous uniformity to a scene presenting a pageant-like array of strong color and strange designs this change can have been nothing but a joy. Certainly it has proved to many painters not merely a stimulus to record one outward aspect of the war, but a direct source of inspiration towards design and color. It was the artist who in devising means for saving tonnage provided, by accident as it were, these splendid scenes of fleets clothed in their war paint, such as were never before and, possibly, may never again be seen.

Although the accompanying drawings naturally lose some of their effect by being reproduced in black and white, to the uninitiated they may perhaps appear sufficiently bizarre. Those who were not fortunate enough to see the docks at one of our great ports during the war may imagine the arrival of a convoy—or, as frequently occurred, two at a time—of these painted ships, and the many miles of docks crowded with vessels of all sorts, from the stately Atlantic liner to the humbler craft bearing its cargo of coal or palm oil, each resplendent with a variety of bright-hued patterns, up-to-date designs of stripes in black and white or pale blue and deep ultramarine, and earlier designs of curves, patches, and semicircles. Take all these, huddle them together in what appears to be hopeless confusion, but which in reality is perfect order, bow and stern pointing in all directions, mix a little sunshine, add the varied and sparkling reflections, stir the hotchpotch up with smoke, life, and incessant movement, and it can safely be said that the word “dazzle” is not far from the mark. 

* Thanks to John Simpson for the link.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Painting of a Dazzle-Camouflaged Ship

Kenneth D. Shoesmith, HMS Queen (1919)
In recent weeks, we were delighted to receive a photograph (full view above) of a painting by UK maritime artist Kenneth Denton Shoesmith (1890-1939). It's a view of a Royal Navy battleship, the HMS Queen, as painted in 1919. For our purposes, it's especially interesting to note the dazzle-camouflaged ship behind and to the right of the HMS Queen. Below is a detail from the same watercolor painting. Private collection.

cropped detail from the same painting

Shoesmith's life and artistic achievements are vividly recounted in a richly illustrated book by Glyn L. Evans, titled The Maritime Art of Kenneth D. Shoesmith RI (Silverlink Publishing 2010), supplemented by 80 color and black and white images. Here's an author contact for additional information.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Camouflage Artist | Henry Reuterdahl (Again)

Henry Reuterdahl poster (1917). Public domain.
In an earlier post, we talked about Swedish-born American artist Henry Reuterdahl (1871-1925), and the mural that he painted for the Missouri State Capitol Building, titled The Navy Guarded the Way to France (1921. It included several camouflaged ships. 

But we failed to note that earlier, in 1917, he designed a wartime poster, with the caption He Guards the Road to France. Warm His Heart. As reproduced above, it too includes two dazzle-painted ships in the background.

Additional sources

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Camouflage Artist | Henry Reuterdahl

Portraits of Henry Reuterdahl
Above Three portraits of Swedish-born American artist Henry Reuterdahl. The pen-and-ink drawing is from a newspaper advertisement (Milwaukee Journal, February 17, 1913) for Tuxedo tobacco. Described in the ad as a "famous naval artist and expert on naval construction," Reuterdahl is quoted as saying: You've got to smoke while painting out of doors in winter—it helps you keep warm. And a pipeful of pure, mild Tuxedo tobacco makes one forget the cold, and the paint flows more freely.


We've known about Henry Reuterdahl (1871-1925) for a number of years, in part because he tried his hand at camouflaging a submarine chaser, the USS DeGrasse. We know this from a passage in Lida Rose McCabe, "Camouflage: War's Handmaid" (Art World, January 1918, pp. 313-318), in which she writes—

Contrary to [William Andrew] Mackay's or [Abbott H.] Thayer's method [for ship camouflage] is that of Henry Reuterdahl, the famous marine painter…

"There is no science that I know of in my ship camouflaging," said Reuterdahl who camouflaged the submarine chaser DeGrasse, "I am guided wholly by feeling acquired through twenty-five years more or less buffeting the sea."

In the meantime, we've now located a photograph of the USS DeGrasse, as painted in Reuterdahl's camouflage scheme. It's available online at the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NH 94479-A), and is also reproduced below. The camouflage is evident, but faintly so (the lack of color doesn't help). Splotchy and indefinite, it reminds me of the paintings of J.M.W. Turner.
Camouflaged USS DeGrasse (1918)

There is another reference to Reuterdahl's interest in camouflage in "Women Camoufleurs Disguise the Recruit" (an event we blogged about earlier) (New York Tribune, July 12, 1918, p. 6)—

[As the women camoufleurs were painting a multi-colored dazzle scheme on the ship-shaped NYC recruiting station] Henry Reuterdahl, the artist, was present with suggestions.

In retrospect, Reuterdahl's approach to camouflage is consistent with the style he used (with great success) in depicting heroic naval events as early as the Spanish-American War. He became, as one source put it, "a household word in the American Navy." The spontaneity of his style, combined with accuracy and amazing detail, is evident in his illustration (shown below) of the Atlantic Fleet in Rio (1908).

Henry Reuterdahl, Atlantic Fleet In Rio (1908)

Our interest in Reuterdahl and camouflage was rekindled about a week ago when Kansas City graphic designer Joe Boeckholt (we blogged recently about the current exhibit, initiated by the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site, that he designed about Benton's involvement with camouflage) shared his recent discovery that one of the murals in the Missouri State Capitol (Jefferson City) depicts a number of camouflaged ships. And the mural was painted by (guess who) Henry Reuterdahl. So far we haven't been able to find a good full-color image of that mural, but below is a reasonably clear grayscale version of it. 

Reuterdahl mural in Missouri State Capitol

Titled The Navy Guarded the Road to France, the mural celebrates the achievements of US Navy captain J.K. Taussig, who, like the commanders of the other (dazzle-painted) ships included in the mural, was Missouri-born (or raised). Taussig is shown attacking a submarine aboard his ship, the destroyer USS Wadsworth. His heroism was much publicized in magazines and newspapers, as is shown below in the photograph of the USS Wadsworth in camouflage, with an inset photo of Taussig himself.
Camouflaged USS Wadsworth and Captain J.K. Taussig

Henry Reuterdahl's accomplishments, as a painter as well as a writer (Including a major controversy because of his outspoken comments about the Navy's lack of preparedness), could be told in great detail. But for blogging purposes, it might be wiser to conclude with two other interesting facts about him.

First, during WW1, he was an active contributor to wartime publicity and recruiting, for the purpose of which he created posters for Liberty Bond and Victory Liberty Loan fundraising drives. In one project, he collaborated with illustrator N.C. Wyeth on a huge, 90-foot long mural. In another, a video clip of which is online on YouTube (see screen grab below), he is shown installing a mural that includes a mechanically animated U-boat.

Reuterdahl completing wartime mural

Both Henry Reuterdahl and his wife (née Pauline Stephenson, Chicago) are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. What is puzzling is a news report titled FAMOUS NAVY PAINTER DIES IN AN ASYLUM: Lieut. Com. Henry Reuterdahl Suffered Nervous Breakdown in September in The Norwalk Hour (Norwalk CT), December 25, 1925. It states that, following a nervous breakdown, Reuterdahl was committed to State Elizabeth's Hospital for the Insane, where he died on December 21. His wife died six weeks later, on February 12.