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.