Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Patternalia Meets Camoupedia

Cover, Patternalia by Jude Stewart
Jude Stewart is a Chicago-based writer. Back in 2013, she published a five-part online series about the visual history of camouflage at Believer magazine. That same year she also published a book (with lively text and graphics combined) titled ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color (Bloomsbury USA, 2013) .

In recent months, she has come out with an inevitably suitable sequel, titled Patternalia: An Unconventional History of Polka Dots, Stripes, Plaid, Camouflage, & Other Graphic Patterns (Bloomsbury USA, 2015). Anyone interested in design, vision and camouflage will find this book of value, including the following memorable quotes—

Albert Einstein

One you can accept the universe as being something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something, wearing stripes with plaid is easy.


R. Buckminster Fuller, I Seem To Be A Verb

Man is a complex of patterns, or processes. We speak of our circulatory system, our respiratory system, our digestive system, and so it goes. Man is not weight. He isn't the vegetables he eats, for example, because he'll eat seven tons of vegetables in his life. He is the result of his own pattern integrity.

Cover, ROY G. BIV by Jude Stewart

Saturday, December 19, 2015

D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson on Camouflage

Above Photograph of D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, and (to the left) cover of a recent edition of his famous book (originally published in 1917).


From CAMOUFLAGED CRAB in Ashburton Guardian (Ashburton NZ), May 15, 1919, p. 5—

Professor D'Arcy [Wentworth] Thompson [Scottish mathematical biologist, and author of On Growth and Form] had some interesting things to say about crabs at his recent lecture at the Royal Institution, London.

There was one crab of the "spider" variety which, he said, turned the top of its shell into a sort of garden. He was often to be seen taking cuttings of marine vegetation and carefully planting them on his back, where they took root among the hairs, which meanwhile held them in position.

"This little [sic] creature," said Professor Thompson, "is a master, if not, indeed, the inventor, of what we have come to call camouflage."…

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Camouflage | A Checkered Past

USS Panaman (c1918)
Above US government photograph of the port side of the USS Panaman (c1918) in dazzle camouflage. Courtesy US National Archives.

Anon, CAMOUFLAGE FIRST USED IN OUR INDIAN WARS, in The Milwaukee Journal (Milwaukee WI), January 22, 1942, p. 16 (reprinted from the Bulletin of the National Paint Association)—

The origin of the word camouflage has, it seems, been left in the shuffle. One of the stories told in connection with it is that during the Indian troubles in the southwest, one Jacques Camou• built a circular mud fort. This fort has large square openings at regular intervals around the walls in a single line. Through these the garrison of the fort used to fire. As the Indians’ shots often found their mark through these openings, Camou painted the entire fort like a checkerboard with large, black squares on a white field. This confused the Indians so that they were unable to determine which dark square to aim [at].

• There was in fact a 19th-century French general named Jacques Camou (1792-1868), but we haven’t found any connection with the American Indian Wars, nor with camouflage.


Anon, CAMOUFLAGE OF MODERN WAR KNOWN ANCIENTLY in The Deseret News (Salt Lake City UT), February 1, 1941, p. 4—

In the war between the states in America, trenches and breastworks were concealed by branches of trees, and merchant ships often painted their hulls black with gun ports simulated in white, thus taking on the appearance of men-of-war. Similarly fort walls were checkered in black and white during the World War to confuse gun locations.

Since initially posting this, we've run across numerous references to an exotic British sea fort, built in 1859, near Portsmouth, England. Known as Spitbank Fort, it is circular (see below) like General Camou's fortress, and at least part of its surface was covered at various times with an alternating pattern of light and dark checkered squares, some of which may have been gun ports. 

Spitbank Fort Postcard

Spitbank Fort was given up by the government in 1982. Since then it has been privately owned, and now functions as a luxury spa hotel and retreat

Spitbank Fort

Mud to Mufti | Oleo in Camouflage

Camouflaged armored car (c1918)
Above Disruptively-painted WWI Rolls-Royce armored car (with turret machine gun removed), mired in mud, on the French battlefield (c1918). See comparable Rolls-Royce below, minus camouflage.


Anon, from  OLEO PAINTERS SUED in The Stars and Stripes, July 19, 1918—

Over-artistic oleomargarine producers have been sued by the [US] Government for coloring oleo in lifelike imitation of the best creamery butter.


Anon, MORE JOY TAKEN OUT OF LIFE: THERE WILL BE NO KICK LEFT IN PATENT MEDICINES JULY 1 in Rock Island Argus (Rock Island IL), May 26, 1919, p. 2—

Another function of the laboratory [newly established at the Bureau of Internal Revenue] is to protect the unknowing housewife from the sale of adulterated butter…

On oleomargarine camouflaged to resemble butter, there is a tax of 10 cents a pound, and on uncolored oleomargarine a tax of a quarter of a cent a pound, substantial evidence of the government’s purpose to see that the public gets what it pays for. Hotel proprietors or boarding house keepers who color oleomargarine and serve it to their guests are subject to the same penalties of fine and imprisonment as are visited on the manufacturer and retailer. “Butter is butter and oleo is oleo, and never the twain shall be confused,” is the maxim of the government.

WWI Armored Rolls-Royce c1919), Wikipedia.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

J. André Smith and Camouflaged Tents

J. André Smith (1917), WWI camouflaged tents
Above In the November 1917 issue of the Architectural Record, American artist and architect J(ules) André Smith (1880-1959) published a lengthy article on “Notes on Camouflage” (pp. 468-477). Among the ink wash drawings that accompanied the article was a view of disruptively camouflaged tents (shown here), as compared to those without camouflage.

The effect was all but identical to an approach that was used in New Zealand, at Camp Louvencourt, during the same war, as shown in a photograph (see detail below) by Henry Armytage Sanders, from April 1918. The original is in the collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

WWI camouflaged tents in New Zealand (1918)
In Smith’s article, he includes the following passage from Italy, France and Britain at War by H.G. Wells (a criticism of British Army camouflage)—

…many of the British tents look as thought they had been daubed over by [a] protesting man muttering “foolery” as he did it. With a telescope the chief points of interest in the present British front in France would be visible from Mars…[such that] the effect of going from behind the French front to behind the English is like going from a brooding wood of green and blue into an open blaze of white canvas and khaki.

Wells' remark is of value, writes Smith—

…in that it points out forcibly that camouflage is not merely a matter of daubing paint, but that it calls for the right sort of daubing and the right sort of color and, above all, demands skillful consideration and direction. In other words, it is an art and not the thoughtless application of a theory.

Reflecting on how different nationalities may arrive at different results, he later concludes—

Just what the American camoufleur will bring to this new art is still too early to predict…The art is still in an early stage of development. If the French were ingenious enough to invent it and the Germans to copy it, it is safe to say that we Americans shall first of all systematize it; we shall make a business of it—not a cut-and-dried business, but one directed with level reasoning and touched by American humor and inventiveness.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Camouflage Artist | J. Clinton Shepherd

American artist J. Clinton Shepherd
J[oy] Clinton Shepherd (1888-1975), an American muralist, illustrator and sculptor, is typically referred to as a “pulp artist” because of the illustrations he made for lowbrow publications. There is a biographical article about him on Wikipedia as well as on the website called Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists (including work examples). Less widely known is his involvement with camouflage, during both World Wars.

Shepherd was born in Des Moines IA, where his father was a men’s clothing salesman. After graduating from high school in 1906, he enrolled at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. He dropped out in 1909, at which time he and a younger brother traveled to the Northwest, apparently looking for adventure. According to some sources, they ended up living briefly with the Crow Indians.

By 1910, he had returned to the Midwest, where he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago until 1914, and thereafter worked as an artist. Prior to World War I, he served as a bugler in the Illinois National Reserve (despite an apparent hearing defect). After the US entered the war, it appears that he served in the Air Corps from 1917-1919. According to an article by Helen Van Hoy Smith, titled TROOPS, CIVILIANS LEARN CAMOUFLAGE ART, The Miami News (September 13, 1942), it was during his war service that Shepard gained “practical knowledge of it [camouflage].”

In 1919, Shepherd and his artist wife (née Gail English, also a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago) moved to New York, with the hope that he would flourish as a professional illustrator. During the next decade, he enjoyed considerable success as a magazine illustrator for Collier’s, Saturday Evening Post, Woman’s World, and other newsstand magazines. From 1925 until 1938, he lived in Westport CT, where, following the decline of more prestigious publications, he turned to making a living by painting covers for cheap pulp publications. He also returned to his interest in Western subject matter, and produced a series of bronze sculptures, not unlike those of Frederic Remington.

J. Clinton Shepherd (left) and Gail Shepherd, completing mural

From 1938, Shepherd lived and worked in Palm Beach FL. There, he taught at Barry College (now Barry University) in Miami, and served as the director of the Norton Gallery School of Art. As is documented in the news article cited earlier (supplemented by two press photographs), during the summer of 1942, he offered a free class for soldiers and civilians on how to design camouflage based on his own WWI military experience and “a working knowledge of camouflage as an artist.” The class consisted of “building and camouflaging a model town but which contains certain military structures.”

The article goes on to say that “Mr. Shepherd accompanied the lessons in camouflage with lectures and drawings. The camouflaged town represented several different methods of camouflage.” He also “called attention to the fact that nature provides the best examples for the camoufleur…Since time immemorial, men in wars have emulated nature in their recourse to camouflage.”

J. Clinton Shepherd, Self-Portrait (1946)

From 1947 until his death in 1975 (at age 86), Shepherd continued to work as a portrait artist and muralist in Palm Beach.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Camouflage Artist | Edward Hurst

Charcoal drawing, Edward Hurst
Above Charcoal portrait by American artist Edward Hurst (c1930).


Edward Hurst (1912-1972) was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Without completing high school, he moved to New York to study at the Art Students League with George Luks. He also studied in Europe at the Academy in Florence, Italy, in London, and at the school of Moritz Heymann (with whom Hans Hofmann had also studied) in Munich, Germany. Primarily known for his still-life paintings and commissioned society portraits, Hurst spent much of his life in New York and London, while also maintaining a studio in Knoxville. 

According to a news article in the Berkshire Evening Eagle (Pittsfield, New York) (June 4, 1948, p. 4) titled EXHIBIT OPENS HERE TOMORROW, during World War II, “Mr. Hurst left his canvases to teach camouflage to soldiers in the United States Army.”

Saturday, November 28, 2015

German Ship Camouflage (Tarnung)

Camouflaged WWII German minesweeper
Above (and below) photographs of disruptively patterned WWII German ships (called Sperrbrecher) used for detecting enemy mines or minesweeping (c1941). One often hears that disruptive ship camouflage was all but phased out in WWII, or that the patterns were more restrained than previously, but some German ships (such as minesweepers) were conspicuous deviations from that. Comparable examples can also be found in German WWI ship camouflage.


Anon, CAMOUFLAGED SHIP AND FREIGHTER COME CLOSE TO COLLIDING IN RIVER, in The Republican-Journal (Ogdensburg NY), August 23, 1918, p. 8—

A camouflaged ship, en route eastward on the St Lawrence River, and a large freighter bound westward, narrowly escaped collision near Brockville [NY] about 6 o'clock Tuesday evening. The proper signals were sounded, it is stated, but for some unknown reason they were misunderstood.


Anon, CAMOUFLAGE WOULD SAVE SHIP, in The Pulaski Democrat (Pulaski NY), September 17, 1919, p. 6—

A submarine can spot a ship five miles away, estimate its course, submerge and later intercept it. But this ship might have a keel painted fifty feet down its side and the actual keel blocked out. This would give it the appearance of traveling in a course that was quite off the actual course. The calculations of the submarine would be quite wrong and the ship would not be intercepted at all. It would be saved by the deception of its camouflage.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Milwaukee Art Museum Camouflage

Panoramic lithograph (detail) of Milwaukee WI (1898)
Above A detail of a panoramic view of downtown Milwaukee WI (East Water Street looking south), published in 1898 by the Gugler Lithographic Company. The Guglers played a prominent role in commercial printing in Milwaukee. The firm's founder's son, Julius Gugler, was the father of artist Frida Gugler (1874-1966), who studied with William Merrit Chase, and designer-architect Eric Gugler, who actively contributed to World War I ship camouflage. We discussed all this in an earlier post, but more recently have run across the following excerpt from an article by Dudley C. Watson, titled PASTOR SHOWS TALENT IN THE FIELD OF ART in The Milwaukee Journal (Sunday, June 9, 1918), p. 3—

The artists of Wisconsin were invited to meet at the [Milwaukee Art] institute Wednesday night [on June 5, 1918] to form a Wisconsin committee of the division of pictorial publicity…

Among the artists who were present at the Wednesday meeting were Frida Gugler, Alice Miller, Emily Groom, Julia Allen, Mabel Key, Raymond Sellzner, Armin Hansen, Gaetano Busalacchi, Irvin Kramer, Roland Tiemann, Hans Saltenberg, F.W. Heine, D[udley] C[rafts] Watson, Francesco Spicuzza, Carl Holty, and A.F. Brasz, Oshkosh.

It has been suggested that the local committee might work out some experiments in ship camouflage, providing an old hull could be procured and placed out in the basin of our [Lake Michigan] harbor. Ship camouflage is still in its infancy and who knows but our Wisconsin artists might discover or invent something that would save hundreds of lives. At the meeting on Thursday it is hoped that some way to obscure the hull will be revealed…

Dudley Crafts Watson (1885-1972) was the (first) director of the Milwaukee Art Institute (later called the Milwaukee Art Society, and now the Milwaukee Art Museum), serving from 1913-1924. He was related to filmmaker Orson Welles (who had been born in Kenosha), and became Welles' guardian after the deaths of his parents. After leaving Milwaukee, Watson was associated with the Art Institute of Chicago as an official lecturer.

Note See also earlier post about Milwaukee artist and WWII camoufleur Edward Morton.

Ship Camouflage | Why Sailors Hate Paint

WWI camouflaged British merchant ship
Above (top) Port and (bottom) starboard views of the SS Hunnie, a dazzle-camouflaged World War I British merchant ship (c1918). The original photographs, made by Allan C. Green, are in the collection of the Victoria State Library AU.


Day Russell, SAILORS HATE PAINT (short story) in The Sydney Morning Herald (April 23, 1946), p. 10—

“It’s like this,” began the sailor, “The old tub, she’s one of these passenger ships in peace time and they converts her to a troopship. Have you ever stopped to think how much paint it takes to cover the sides of one of them ships? No, you ‘aven’t. Well, some blokes had to fight their way through the war, and it seems that my pal Nobby and me had to paint our way through it. We did nothink but hang like flies on the side of a skyscraper, sitting on a bit of a plank with a bucket of paint and brush staring at them great walls of old iron; iron to the right of you, iron to the left of you, iron all round you, till if you’re a soft-skinned bloke like Nobby, it gets into your soul, if you understand me.

We gets aboard ‘er, Nobby and me, and the first thing that ‘appens is all ‘ands paint ship. That seems to take fifty years and then there comes an order which says there’s to be a new kind of camouflage and so it’s paint ship again, and by the time we gets that done we don’t know whether it’s us or the ship that’s cross-eyed, or whether we’re coming or going…

[Later, in another port] there comes along some admiral who doesn’t like the look of our camouflage and ‘e wants a few touches here and there to make us look like we was three ships and not one, so Nobby and me ‘as to go over the side again for a couple of weeks.… 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Architects and Camouflage | Roy C. Jones

Architect and camoufleur Roy C. Jones
Above Portrait photograph of American architect Roy Childs Jones (1885-1963), who was for many years the head of the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota. During World War I, he also served in the US Army's Camouflage Corps.


In Aymar Embury II, "Architects and the Camouflage Service" in Architectural Forum 27 (November 1919), pp. 137-138, Jones is among those included in a list of architects who had served in the war as camouflage specialists. Embury, himself a prominent architect, was a captain in the Corps of Engineers, United States Reserves [in the list that follows, those in brackets were not per se on Embury's list]—

G.F. Axt, Charles F. Brunckhorst, Cromwell H. Case, Robert A. Clifford, Walter C. Clifford, David C. Comstock, G. Dexter, John H. Eastman, W[illiam] D. Foster, S.N. Hartell, Everit A. Herter, [Laurance Hitt], Burnham Hoyt, Clifford C. Jones, Roy C. Jones, Oliver Larson, Fred R. Lorenz, Alexander MacLean, [Wilmer] Bruce Rabenold, Thomas I. Raguere, Abraham Rattner, Greville Rickard, Reah de Bourg Robinson, [Louis C. Rosenberg], Prentice Sanger, Thomas E. Seyster, [J. André Smith], V.P. Spalding, [Evarts Tracy], Sheldon Viele, Louis F. Voorhees, Ralph T. Walker, Austin Whittlesey, James R. Wilson, and Van Horne D. Wolfe.


According to other online sources, Roy C. Jones was born in Kendallville IN on June 22, 1885. He attended Purdue University, then earned a BS degree and a Masters in Architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to WWI, he worked at Holabird and Roche (Chicago) and McKim, Mead and White (New York). He also taught architecture at the University of Illinois and the University of Minnesota. It was during WWI that Jones served as an army camoufleur in France (not WWII, as was incorrectly claimed in a university senate obituary when he died).

After the war, Jones returned to the faculty of the University of Minnesota, where he was appointed head of the School of Architecture in 1937. He continued to practice architecture, and served as the university's advisor for building design from 1936 to 1950.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Camouflage Artist | Charles Hafner

Charles Hafner, Peter Pan (1928)
Above Sculpture by Charles Hafner of literary character Peter Pan, originally made in 1928 for a fountain in the lobby of the Paramount Theatre in Times Square in New York. In 1975, it was given to the City of New York, and installed in an outdoor garden site in Carl Schurz Park. In 1999, it was vandalized and stolen, then soon after found to have been dumped into the East River. It was restored and reinstalled.


The artist Charles Andrew Hafner was born in Omaha NE on October 28, 1888. He studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Art Students League in NY, and the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in Paris. As a student he worked as an assistant to Daniel Chester French, and may also have been influenced by James Earle Fraser and Solon Borglum (whose brother Gutzon Borglum created the US presidents' busts at Mount Rushmore).

In 1918, Hafner served as a ship camouflage artist in the Third Naval District in New York, in the course of which he probably worked with muralist William Andrew Mackay. At the end of the war, the following social note appeared in Art News

Charles Haffner, the sculptor who was working in the Camouflage Department for the Government, has returned to New York and has taken a studio in the Holbein [Studios at 154 West 55th Street in Manhattan] ] where he is modeling portraits and figure compositions.

According to Who Was Who in America, Hafner was a founding member of the American Veterans Society of Artists, a sculpture instructor, and was best-known for his portrait busts of Thomas Edison, Daniel Carter Beard, Maude Adams and Richard Strauss. He died In New York on July 29, 1960.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Camouflage in Meat Packing in 1919

Cartoon by Bart O. Foss (1919)
Above A cartoon by Bart O. Foss, titled CAMOUFLAGE—A PACKER ADAPTATION, published in The Nonpartisan Leader (St Paul MN), February 24, 1919, p. 1. The text beneath the drawing reads—

Among the things war has developed is the art of camouflage. It is a very handy weapon for special interests. Cartoonist [Bart O.] Foss here gives a graphic illustration of how the packers have seized on the method to deceive the public. The cleverest means that money can secure are used to make the people believe that there is competition between the big packers, while behind the camouflage they chuckle to themselves on their cuteness and merrily arrange the markets in their own interests. But if the war has developed camouflage it has at the same time made the people aware of it as never before. The farmers of the Northwest have become expert camouflage detectors. They all see "around the corner" of those packer ads, and yet those ads are the last word in camouflage.

Camouflage Artists | Kimon Nicolaides and Mark Reed

WWI British camouflaged artillery
In a blog post several years ago, we mentioned that American artist and teacher Kimon Nicolaides (1891-1938), primarily known as the author of a famous drawing textbook, The Natural Way to Draw (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941), was also an American Army camoufleur during World War I. He taught what is commonly called "contour drawing." More recently, we've run across a newspaper article by Amy MacMaster, titled HE BECAME AN ARTIST IN SPITE OF OPPOSITION, from the Brooklyn Eagle Magazine (Sunday, March 23, 1930), which includes a substantial discussion of his service as a camoufleur.

Nicolaides' father was a Greek importer; his mother was Irish. According to the article—

To the Greek side of him may, no doubt, be ascribed his artistic inclinations; to the Irish side, his great love of boxing.

Despite his father's objections, he ended up studying art at the National Academy of Design, the Corcoran School, the Philadelphia Academy, and the NYC Art Students' League. Interestingly, he showed his early drawings to comic artist Winsor McCay at the New York World, who found him a position at a vaudeville booking company. Soon after came World War I, which the article recalls in the following way—

When the war came, he enlisted, in spite of his strong opposition to war. He applied for admission to the Aviation Corps, but heard of the forming of the Camouflage Corps, and went into that. He covered three-inch guns to protect them from airplane observation.

He was sent to France and connected with the Field Artillery. He spent much time in one small town, Bar-sur-Aube, on the River Aube, and came to love the French country scenes. 

An important part of the work of the Camouflage Corps was in teaching the American soldiers and officers the importance of simple camouflage maneuvers. For example, the making of paths on green fields meant the drawings of white lines for the eye of the aviator; the desisting from the making of paths amounted to camouflage.

Mr. Nicolaides, as a private, was put in charge of the camouflage disciplining of a whole battery. As the word camouflage acquired a frivolous connotation early in the war, however, his task was not an easy one.

The article goes on to say that Nicolaides became friends with an American architect and playwright named Mark Reed (1890-1969), most likely while still in France, since both served in the Camouflage Corps. Returning to the US after the war, Nicolaides and Reed "rode the rails" in search of adventure. Originally intended as a cross-country (even worldwide) excursion, it was short-lived because of Reed's sudden, surprising success as a New York playwright.

Originally from Chelmsford MA, Reed had played football at Dartmouth, studied architecture at MIT, then took up playwrighting at Harvard. For a time, he was even the editor of the Women's Journal, a major women's rights periodical.

While researching Reed's camouflage service, we came across an online article about his wife, Virginia Reed (née Virginia Belding), a one-time prominent model (as a model for advertising artists, she had posed for Maud Humphrey (mother of actor Humphrey Bogart), James Montgomery Flagg, Arthur William Brown, and others). Titled THE LADY ON THE SIXTH FLOOR, the article was written by Edward Bliss for the Lifestyle Section of the Washington Post (January 22, 1995). According to the article—

He [Mark Reed] had written only one play before America's entry in the First World War. He enlisted in the Army, which, hearing he had painted scenery for plays, sent him overseas to design camouflage for its big guns.

Virginia (Belding) Reed was born in Des Moines IA, but grew up in Manhattan. She and Mark Reed were married about 1940. The article tells the story of how their marriage came about, at a time when he was living in New York while she was in Florida. She recalls—

He sent me a telegram saying, "Meet me at the high school in Clinton." That's Clinton, Iowa!…He'd never been to Clinton, and neither had I.…trying to choose a place to meet, he just poked the road map and hit Clinton. He knew it had a high school, every town did—and picked it as a place to meet.

So she drove to the Clinton IA high school from Florida—

…in my ramshackle Chevy…and he drove up in his Buick.…We were married in Dubuque. We found the courthouse, and a judge married us with two janitors as our witnesses.

They were happily married for 29 years.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Dazzle-Painted Ship Models in Australia

Dazzle-painted ship models AU National Maritime Museum
There is a selection of wonderful blog posts from 2014 that we've only recently happened upon. They were posted on the blog of the Australian National Maritime Museum, which is in Sydney Harbor, and in fact we've actually visited there

One of the posts, titled When in doubt, Razzle Dazzle them, includes a wonderful WWI photograph of the HMT Zealandia, adorned in striped dazzle paint

Two other posts, called Dazzle ship models and A dazzling connection with WWI, feature the work of museum model maker Col Gibson, who rebuilt models of some of the ships, and whose father actually served on a dazzle-painted transport ship during that war. See above models in process. 

As discussed in four blog posts, including a longer, more recent one on WWI dazzle, art and fashion, dazzle-painting was widely adopted, not only for ship camouflage, but throughout popular culture as well. All this is also featured in an ongoing exhibition, titled War at Sea: The Navy in WWI, which is touring through Australia until March 2018. Wish we had seen it while visiting there.

Blog post detail from AU National Maritime Museum

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Apache Camouflage

Design © Roy R. Behrens, from Edward Curtis photograph
From John G. Bourke, On the Border with Crook. Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1971 (originally published in 1891), p. 37—

They [Apache warriors] knew how to disguise themselves so thoroughly that one might almost step upon a warrior thus occupied before he could detect his presence. Stripped naked, with head and shoulders wrapped up in a bundle of yucca shoots or sacaton grass [sporobolus or dropseed grass], and with body rubbed over with clay or sand along which it wriggled as sinuously and as venomously as the rattler itself, the Apache could and did approach to within earshot of the whites, and even entered the enclosures of the military camps, as at [Forts] Grant and Crittenden, where we on several occasions discovered his footprints alongside the ollas, or water jars.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Glyn L. Evans | Dazzle-Painted Ships of WWI

book cover (2015)
Good news. You may remember British historian Glyn L. Evans, whose 2010 book on UK maritime artist Kenneth Denton Shoesmith we featured in an earlier blogpost. At the time, we reproduced a painting by Shoesmith of a WWI dazzle-camouflage ship, which the author had provided us with.

The good news is that the same author has now published a new full-color book on WWI ship camouflage, titled Dazzle-Painted Ships of WWI (see full-color cover above). It's a 76-page softbound book, with more than 50 illustrations, many of which are in color. It can be ordered directly from the author, with payment made through PayPal. The cost (with shipping and handling included) is $25 USD (or the GPB equivalent). Shipments to the US from the UK will be made by airmail, in a bubble-wrap mailing envelope. In making the PayPal payment (to evans19191(at)btinternet.com) make sure to include your name and shipping address.

Among the book's reproductions is a US War Bonds poster (1918) of a German U-boat in the act of surrendering to a US Navy four-stack destroyer (as shown below). Steaming safely past in the background is a large troop transport. The painting is by American artist L.A. Shafer (1866-1940), whom we've also blogged about.

L.A. Shafer poster (1918), public domain

Friday, September 18, 2015

Khaki Hunting Outfits in Camouflage History

Article on hunters' use of camouflage (1917)
The following is an excerpt from a syndicated article that was reprinted in newspapers throughout the US during World War I (see original page above).

SOLDIERS' KHAKI UNIFORMS CAMOUFLAGE RESULT OF HUNTERS’ EXPERIENCE in Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne IN), December 11, 1917, p. 16—

While the term camouflage may be applied in the world war to masking batteries and hiding troops from enemy fire, it only describes the tricks long in use among hunters for years, and even among the American Indians, according to Lester Pritchard of Battle Creek, who has won more than a local reputation as a hunter.

According to Louis Ebert, a well-known hunter, camouflage has been employed by Missourians for years. “At the Culvre Club and at the Lemp Club duck hunter used camouflage,” Mr. Ebert said, “Culvre Club members have built large tanks whose color is a dark brown and sunk them in the streams. The hunters hide in the tanks and wait for ducks to come close enough to be shot, then they poke their guns over the top of the tanks and fire. At the Lemp Club trenches similar to the kind dug by solders in France are being used as a hiding place for duck hunters. The hunters, garbed in khaki and squatting in the trenches are protected from the keen eye of the duck or goose because the brown of their togs and the surroundings harmonize."

Friday, September 4, 2015

Camouflage Artist | Robert Lawson

Vintage pencil sharpener (c1938). P.D. Whitson Collection.
Above Vintage pencil sharpener by Walt Disney Enterprises, which produced an animated film of The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf in 1938. Two years earlier, Robert Lawson had illustrated the original book version (New York: Viking 1936). P.D. Whitson Collection.


The papers of American illustrator and US Army camouflage artist Robert Lawson (1892-1957) are in the University of Minnesota Children's Research Collections. Other materials (mostly illustrations, including Lawson's book mock-up for Ferdinand the Bull) are also housed in the Frederick R. Gardner Collection of Robert Lawson in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Among the latter materials are a sketchbook and several letters that date from 1917 to 1918, at which time Lawson was stationed in France, as a US Army sergeant, assigned to camouflage.

For a detailed account of the service of Lawson and others in the American Camouflage Corps, see Barry Faulkner's Sketches from an Artist's Life (Dublin, New Hampshire: William Bauhan, 1973). While in France, the American camoufleurs produced amusing theatrical shows for the French children whose mothers were aiding the war effort by constructing camouflage nets. According to Faulkner, "It was his [Robbie Lawson's] sense of fantasy and humor which made our musical shows successful."

A news article about Lawson (with excerpts from an interview) was published in the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston SC) on Sunday, November 30, 1930, on page 1 of the magazine section. Written by Rose Henderson and supplemented by Lawson's illustrations, the article was titled ROBERT LAWSON—MASTER OF FANTASY. The following are Lawson quotes, excerpted from the article—

In 1914 two great calamities occurred. The World War in Europe was one and my having to work and attempt to earn a living was the other. Europe's struggle is now more or less settled, but mine still continues.

From 1914 to 1917 I was a New Yorker and began to absorb things they hadn't taught in art school. My art activities were varied and pretty bad…

The French and English having by that time muddled the war all up, I joined the Camouflage Section of the Army which, as you are well aware, after a few years in France managed to get things straightened out. That being over, I really got to work, and have been doing illustrations and commercial drawings ever since, except for a period when my wife [née Marie Abrams] and I did nothing but Christmas cards.

Later in the article, the author (Rose Henderson) writes—

The Camouflage Section was composed of artists, architects, interior decorators, movie people, sailors, stage hands—loosely organized, quite comic and very efficient. He [Lawson] enjoyed long nights of talk with painters, sculptors, architects and musicians, in cafes, in dugouts, freight cars, tents or on the vine covered terraces of southern France. There were freedom and honesty in those conversations among artist soldiers far away from home and profession and conventional habits of thought and life.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Did Native Americans Anticipate Camouflage?

Comparative camouflage photo by Abbott H. Thayer
Above American artist Abbott Handerson Thayer believed that modern military camouflage had been anticipated by the battle dress (both "war paint" and clothing) of Native American warriors, as well as other "savages." In this demonstration photograph, Thayer has positioned a model (it may be his son and co-author Gerald Handerson Thayer), dressed like a Native American in a forest setting. To the right of the model is a cut-out silhouette of a WWI-era foot soldier, in a single continuous color. It was Thayer's contention that the multi-colored disrupted attire of the Native Americans provided better camouflage than continuous khaki. This photograph was published in an article by Thayer, titled "Camouflage" in Scientific Monthly, Vol VII (1918), pp. 481-494.


Anon INDIAN SPORTS CAMOUFLAGE: Princess Astonishes Army Officers by Keen Sight and Quick Discernment, in Celina Democrat (Celina OH), February 22, 1918, p. 2—

Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg SC—Camouflage training at the military camp here was quickly detected by Princess White Deer [Esther Louise Georgette Deere], great-granddaughter of Chief Running Deer, the last of the Mohawk tribe of chieftains.

The princess was a guest at the camp during camouflage work and easily detected the men as they squirmed their way to a post held by an imaginary enemy. Army officers were greatly surprised by the girl's keen sight and quick discernment.


Associated Press INDIANS FIRST TO PRACTICE CAMOUFLAGE in Ada Weekly News (Ada OK), February 20, 1919, p. 1—

Chicago—"Camouflage is as old as the storm God of Indian folklore," said Chief Strongheart, who recently returned from France where he is credited with having done more for the fighting traditions of his race than any other American Indian.

"The Indians were the true inventors of camouflage," said the chief, who will go to his Yakima reservation in Washington State after a brief eastern visit. "They discovered its advantages in their earliest conflicts. When a battle was to take place in a forest in the summer months, the warriors would paint their bodies green, with a dash of other colors to produce the exact blend with surroundings. They even sketched birds and small animals on their bodies to make the effect more realistic. If the battle was to take place when autumn had withered the leaves and touched them into gold, splashes of brown and yellow made the warriors blend with the setting.

"The trick, when artfully turned, resulted in great victories. Many early settlers were taken into captivity by use of camouflage.

"The French were quick to visualize its enormous advantages in the war just closed and promptly carried the art to its peak."

Chief Strongheart was rejected by the army because as a leader of Indian scouts in the service of the United States in Mexico in 1910, he received a shot in the leg in a skirmish with the Mexicans. Before being wounded he killed two Mexicans and took seven prisoners.

Realizing his unfitness for military duty, the chief toured America for army recruits. After an address in the front of the New York Public Library one day 233 men enlisted. Two hundred more volunteered in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Heading due west from New York, he spoke in large cities for the Liberty Loan and War stamp drives. During his campaigns he wore his native dress, including the headfeathers.

Chief Strongheart said that 18,000 American Indians went to France with the American Expeditionary Force, most of them serving as scouts. He cited an incident where five Indians enabled the Americans to capture 13,000 prisoners.

Running Elk, Strongheart's father, was scout for General O.O. Howard in the Nez Perces war and aid to Colonel [Theodore] Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War; and Strongheart, when a baby, was carried about on the former president's back. His grandfather was Chief Standing Rock, who took part in "Custer's Last Fight," and who died at the age of 109 years.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Camouflage as an Agricultural Food Source

WWI workers applying ship camouflage (c1918)
Above Over the years, we've located perhaps a dozen World War I-era photographs of dazzle-camouflaged ships in the process of being painted. Here is yet another (source unknown), in which workers are shown applying various paint colors to large areas, as designated by chalk lines and, in this case, even the name of the paint color.


The following are edited excerpts from a humorous question-and-answer column, called ALL SORTS by Newton Newkirk, published in the Boston Post, September 17, 1917, p. 8. It begins with a spurious inquiry from an anonymous New England farmer and is followed by an equally fraudulent answer from the column's author—

QUESTION: …Is camouflage raised from seed or settings? How does camouflage compare in nutritive value with other vegetables? Can camouflage be canned and how? When is the best time to plant camouflage? Please tell me the etiquette of eating camouflage…

ANSWER: …It has been a long time since I sat down to a mess of succulent camouflage like mother used to cook. Your ignorance concerning this well-known vegetable amazed me—I was of the opinion that every agriculturist was familiar with camouflage.

Of course you know what ensilage is? Yes? Well, it will perhaps give you some idea what camouflage is when I say that ensilage bears no resemblance whatever to camouflage—you would never mistake one for the other. Neither does cabbage (accent on the last syllable) belong to the same family as camouflage. Camouflage—at least all the camouflage I have seen—grows more luxuriantly and is much more nutritious than persiflage. Some folks might prefer the flavor of persiflage, but give me camouflage every time.

Camouflage is grown from blubs—I mean bulbs. One pound of camouflage contains more nutrient than half a ton of baled hay. Yes, camouflage can be canned, but I can't go into the canning now. Never plant camouflage until after the frost is out of the ground. If you plant it in January your crop will be a failure. It is good etiquette to eat camouflage until you feel you have had a genteel sufficiency…

Cartoonist Otto Soglow | WWII Tree Camouflage

Otto Soglow (1942)
Otto Soglow (1900-1975) was a New York-born cartoonist and illustrator. His humorous illustrations (especially a comic strip called The Little King) were widely published in magazines and newspapers from 1919 until his death in 1975. In the early 1940s, he produced a series of multiple-panel cartoon ads for Pepsi-Cola, including the above (from Life magazine, December 21, 1942), which may have been the only one that pertained to camouflage. At the time, with World War II on-going, there were countless news stories about military camouflage, including soldiers dressed as trees. We've also published earlier posts on tree-like observation posts and Charlie Chaplin's film on WWI tree camouflaged called Soldier Arms. Author's collection.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Give 'Em Hell | Billy Sunday Camouflaged

Billy Sunday (Wikipedia)
William Ashley Sunday (1862-1935), better known as Billy Sunday, was an Iowa-born fire and brimstone preacher, who played professional baseball in the National League for eight years. He left that profession in 1880 to become a popular, well-known evangelist, whose eccentric preaching style was outlandishly athletic (see photos above and below). He was in part the model for the preacher in Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis, and in Lewis' novel Babbitt, he was the inspiration for the boxer turned evangelist named Mike Monday, described by Lewis as "the distinguished evangelist, the best-known Protestant pontiff in America...As a prize-fighter he gained nothing but his crooked nose, his celebrated vocabulary, and his stage-presence. The service of the Lord had been more profitable."

Of Billy Sunday, the poet Carl Sandburg wrote: "You come along squirting words at us, shaking your fist and calling us all damned fools so fierce the froth slobbers over your lips...always blabbing we’re all going to hell straight off and you know all about it...Go ahead and bust all the chairs you want to. Smash a whole wagon load of furniture at every performance. Turn sixty somersaults and stand on your nutty head. If it wasn’t for the way you scare the women and kids I’d feel sorry for you and pass the hat. I like to watch a good four-flusher work, but not when he starts people puking and calling for the doctors." 

Sunday also wrote a syndicated newspaper column, a newsprint homily of sorts, in one issue of which he warned about the evils of camouflage. It makes sense. What better practitioner of duplicitous sales and deception?

Billy Sunday, THE ART OF CAMOUFLAGE, in The Delphi Journal (Delphi IN), December 9, 1920—

There's a Lot of Chatter, these days, about Camouflage! When your Uncle Bill first Harkened to the Word, he thought it was a New French Dish, probably Cooked in a Casserole, and, being the Kind of Geezer who will Try Anything Once in the Line of Eats, he came Pretty near Ordering it from the Dinge in the Diner.

But Camouflage is not that Sort of Thing, it Seems.

It is the Military Art of Kidding the Enemy—of making things Look like What they Ain't, so to speak!

The French Rig Up an old Tree to Pass for a Cannon, and let Fritz waste his Ammunition on This, while a Little Way down the Line, the Real Seventy-five is Blazing Away from what Appears to be an Innocent Domicile.

They can even Paint a Dummy Bridge on Canvas and Stretch it Across the River, and Fake a Rippling Stream to cover the Real Bridge, and Bunk the Flyers who Lamp it from Above.

As a Military Art, Camouflage is a great  thing!

But there is altogether Too Much Camouflaging being done in Ordinary Life. The Dame that Sails down the Boulevard in a Get-up which is the Last Holler in Vogue—and at the Same Time is Skinning Down on the Old Man's Bats, at Home—is practicing Camouflage.

And the Young Buck who Dolls Up like a Million Dollars and has Little More than the Return Fare in his Jeans, he's Trying the Art, too.

But Worst of Them All is the Old Deacon who Sits in the First Pew on Sunday and Pipes Up Strong in the Hymns and on the Amen Stuff, and then spends the Rest of the Week in the Gentle Game of Nicking the Poor Widow for Twelve Per Cent, on the Loan.

There are Enough Experts on Camouflage of This Sort in the USA to equip a whole Army Corps on the Western Front.

But they don't Get Away with it for Very Long. The World gets their Numbers, and the Big Guns of Honesty and Common Sense soon Shoot them to Pieces.

Leave Camouflage to the Military Men, where it Belongs and Does Some Good!

If you're only an Old Log, don’t Pretend you're a Rapid-Fire Field Gun!

Develop yourself, and Maybe you'll Get to Be One. Don't put yourself Higher up the Tree than you Belong, for there's Bound to Be a Fall—and usually with an Awful Bump.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Boston Common Camouflage | Artist Philip Little

Photo of Boston Common camouflage (1918)
In earlier postings, we've told the story of how members of the American Women's Service Corps painted a dazzle camouflage scheme on a navy recruiting station that had been built to look like a ship. The recruiting station, known as the USS Recruit, was constructed in Union Square in NYC, then dazzle-painted in July 1918. The purpose of the gaudy-colored pattern was the opposite of concealment: it attracted the attention of passersby, set off a storm of publicity, and thereby increased recruitment.

A few months later, a comparable strategy was used in Boston, not for navy recruitment, but for fundraising through the Liberty Loan Program. As before, it involved the application of a dazzle pattern to a building, using a design devised by Boston artist and ship camoufleur Philip Little. The effort was described and pictured (as shown above) in the Woman's Section of the Boston Sunday Post (October 13, 1918), p. 1, in an unsigned article titled THIS IS THE HOUSE THAT LITTLE DAUBED TO CATCH YOUR EYE AND SPARE CHANGE: Remarkable Example of the New Art of Reversed Camouflage, Now Aplash with Vivid Colors, on Boston Common as Aid to Liberty Loan Drive. Here is the entire text—

While common camouflage is more or less of a "now you see it and now you don't" proposition, reverse camouflage is coming into its own, and this time it's "now you see it first, last and all of the time," and hence the glaring structure of heterogeneous color known as Liberty Hall which has come into being on the Tremont street mall of the Common which is exciting the wonderment of thousands who daily pass that way. 

Philip Little, the artist, is the originator of reverse camouflage. Some time ago he was asked by the Liberty Loan committee to suggest a design for a new Library Loan building for the Common with an idea for the same to be camouflaged.

Mr. Little came forward with a new and startling scheme. He figured that since the committee wanted a building to attract all of the attention possible, camouflage, which primarily seeks to hide objects, was not what was really wanted, so he conceived the thought of reverse camouflage, and of having the building painted so that it would be the most striking thing in sight.

How well he succeeded can be by the Sunday Post's color photograph [not shown in color here] which has been reproduced according to the color that have been painted, or by a trip to the building itself.

It was planned to use the allied flags liberally for decoration of the building, but Mr. Little has utilized the color for the colors of his reverse camouflage only. They have been put on in the colors of red, blue, green, orange and black in great curving lines.

Throughout the scheme of decoration can be seen the colors of the five great allies in ever-varying combinations. No two designs are alike, yet it would puzzle one in many instances to describe their difference.

The entire Liberty Hall structure has been deluged with reverse camouflage in the wildest possible style. Inside and outside, Liberty Hall is a thing to look twice at. But with even one glance you can't forget it or evade its tenacious grasp upon your optical nerves.

Liberty Hall may not be a thing of beauty, but it is most certainly a joy to the eye and heart of those who care for bright color and bizarre effects.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Edison Shmedicine | Ship Camouflage Wizardry

Thomas A. Edison's camouflage for the SS Ockenfels
Above Two views (before and after) of an American merchant ship, the SS Ockenfels (later called the USS Pequot), a ship assigned to Thomas A. Edison for testing experimental camouflage (it is apparently not the SS Valeria, described below). He was also loaned the services of Naval Reserve Officer Everett L. Warner, who later made the comment below about Edison's fiasco.• more>>>

Everett L. Warner in a letter (no date) quoted in Nelson C. White, Abbott H. Thayer: Painter and Naturalist. Hartford CT: Connecticut Printers, 1951, p. 138—

[A ship camouflage proposal by Thayer] was no more visionary than Thomas Edison's scheme involving a big spread of canvas. But Edison was an inventor, so they let him try out his idea, and a very wild idea it turned out to be. I know because I had the job of doing the painting work on the vessel (SS Ockenfels). Part of the added camouflage structural work was so unseaworthy that it got carried away before the vessel got out of New York harbor.


EDISON'S SHIP CAMOUFLAGE (reprinted from The Outlook) in Arizona Republican (Phoenix AZ), March 15, 1918, p. 4—

A scheme of camouflage for ships, attributed to Mr. [Thomas A.] Edison is described as consisting in cutting down the masts and funnels and covering the ship fore and aft with canvas strips painted in various colors. Lofty masts, it may be remarked, are a survival of the days of sails, and might be dispensed with altogether, as in the "monitor" type of vessels.


CAMOUFLAGE in Examiner (Launceston, Tasmania) May 6, 1919, p. 4—

How Edison, the famous American, invented one of the earliest and most successful systems of "camouflaging" merchant vessels has just been revealed by one who assisted in the experiments. In those days, before the convoy system had been so largely developed, and when merchant ships had to rely so much for safety upon their own unaided efforts, scientists of all countries were devoting much time to the question of the reduction of visibility at sea. Amongst them was Thomas Alva Edison, the American inventor. To aid him in his work the Cunard Company placed at his disposal for experimental purposes the Valeria, a 10,000-ton freight carrying steamer. Edison got quickly to work, and, before long, the result was seen in the Mersey, where an incoming vessel—squat, dumpy, barge-like—excited general wonder. It was the "camouflaged" Valeria. Her funnels had almost disappeared and her masts were cut right down; portions of her super-structure had been removed or concealed; and finally immense painted screens of canvas were hanged along the ship and "wrapped" around her top side like nothing else on earth—or at sea. She was almost invisible at a short distance and quite unrecognizable. It was the crew of the Valeria that had the thrill of feeling a shock in the vessel's bottom, and the subsequent pleasure of seeing a German submarine emerge with a broken periscope. The distance separating the two vessels was so small that the Valeria's guns had to be depressed to the fullest extent in order to fire on the intruder.


Benedict Crowell, "Marine Camouflage" in The Giant Hand: Our Mobilization and Control of Industry and Natural Resources, 1917-1918. Part 2. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, p. 502—

The cloth screen for breaking up the outline of a ship was popular with the inventors. No less a savant than Mr. [Thomas] Edison was intrigued by this notion. The Cunarder Valeria was turned over to Mr. Edison for experiment. Among other things that he did to the ship, he screen her upper work in canvas. The screen was blown off shortly after the ship left New York. The inventors, who were usually landsmen, appreciated neither the force of the Atlantic winds nor the psychology of the sailors, who scoffed at the screen contrivances and would not rig them up again if they below down.


Lindell T. Bates, The Science of Low Visibility and Deception as an Aid to the Defense of Vessels Against Attacks by Submarines. Submarine Defense Association, 1918, p. 31—

The new ships for the Emergency Fleet Corporation have been designed with low superstructure. A notable example of a vessel with superstructure reduced is the SS Valeria. The vessel was a Cunarder supplied to Mr. Thomas A. Edison by the Submarine Defense Association for this experimental purpose. The funnels and mast were cut short and the superstructure concealed by canvas screens. These measure appear to have rendered her less visible, but she has lately been torpedoed and sunk [while traveling in a convoy for the first time].

•  All this is somewhat confusing because on pages 498-499 of Crowell's The Giant Hand, the US Navy's official account credits Everett L. Warner with the camouflage of the SS Ockenfels (which is true in the sense that he carried it out), without any mention of Edison being the source of the camouflage plan. It reads as follows —

The dazzle system that was at length universally adopted originated in England. Yet we possessed in America an artist  who had not only advised distortion painting from the outset,  but had also applied his theory to several American vessels, which were therefore the first to carry dazzle designs to sea. This artist was Mr. Everett L. Warner of New York. On September 29, 1917, he brought to the Navy certain painted models which showed how he would break up a vessel's silhouette in order to make it hard for the enemy to get her range. This he did by using angular patches of whites and other colors in successive rows that overlapped each other and ran upwards from the water line at an angle of sixty degrees, covering hull,  structure, funnels, and masts, and bending around transverse surfaces, such as the ends of deck houses. The Navy adopted  the system and ordered Mr. Warner to paint the ex-German ship Ockenfels as an experiment. The pattern which he applied made the ship's water line elusive. He cut down the funnels and masts and stretched a screen of canvas from bow to stern,  the upper edge of the screen being on a level with the tops of  the truncated masts. He also affixed to the stern of the vessel a boom with trailing cordage, to equalize the two ends in appearance.