Thursday, November 30, 2017

Native Americans | War Paint as Camouflage

Edward Curtis, Photograph of Medicine Crow
Above Edward Curtis, Portrait photograph of Medicine Crow (c1905). Public domain. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs.


J. Keeley, WAR PAINT AT THE FRONT. How Many Lives and Much Material Are Saved. Snipers Like Indians of Old. The Dominion Post (Wellington, New Zealand). July 28,1917 p. 7 (reprinted from The San Francisco Chronicle)—

…France owes its indebtedness in this protective color science [called camouflage] to the American Indian, who painted his face and nude body to blend with nature so that in his ambuscades he might creep upon his enemy unseen. It is customary to think of the painted Indian as he was when going on his raids, decorated wildly with bright colors which added to the fierceness of his facial expression and which struck terror into the hearts of those who opposed him for the first time. Picturesque as was this phase of the Indian coloring, it was not infrequently nearly as considerable as his more artful concealment by tricks of colors. He could with plant and earth dyes make himself become to all intents and purposes part of the ground to which he hugged or part of the tree trunk to which he clung.

He, in his turn, owed his indebtedness to the birds and beasts of the forest. The quail in the weeds is as brown as the herbage about it; its back and breast are flecked with white in such a manner that it must move before it is detected. The squirrel on the bough is of the same brown hue as the bark; the rabbit crouching in the stubble blends perfectly with the plant life. The polar bear is white because of the advantage it gives him in stealing upon seals across the snow. The bears of more southern districts are brown and black to harmonize with the forests and weather-beaten rocks in which they live. Tropical animals are in the main spotted or mottled, because the sun of the equator is mainly unobscured, shining brightly down upon matted jungles and thus making spotted and flecked shade. Tigers, snakes, leopards, gazelles, giraffe all are marked so. The lion is of a duller dun hue, but one which is beautifully adapted to the rocks and veldts where he stalks.

That man should have in the heyday of his civilization, when the painted Indian had been relegated almost to mythland, had recourse to these savage methods of protection is marvelous and yet it is too common for remark in the ranks of the European soldiers.

Dazzle Camouflage Effect at San Diego Airport

Backchannel Article (2017)
Marty Graham, How Cubism Protected Warships in World War I in Backchannel (Wired Magazine online post)—

If you're stuck in traffic along the I-5 San Diego International Airport, and your attention wanders from the brake lights in front of you, your eyes might land on a low-slung leviathan of a building, a third of a mile long, resembling the upper deck of a buried cruise ship peeking above ground. Keep your gaze there long enough, and you will notice that the geometric black-and-white patterns on the northeast side of the structure keeps changing. More>>>

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Philip Little | Reverse Camouflage on Boston Common

Reverse Camouflage on Boston Common (1918)
In earlier blog posts, we've reported on efforts by Salem artist Philip Little to disguise a ship as an island, to camouflage ships in alternative ways, and to apply what he referred to as "reverse camouflage" to the Liberty Loan Headquarters building on the Boston Common. We reproduced a news photo of the building, and now we've found a second one (above), published in The Boston Globe, October 1, 1918, p. 3. The headline reads LIBERTY LOAN COTTAGE BLAZES IN SPLENDOR OF REVERSE CAMOUFLAGE; Liberty Hall In The Common In Reverse Camouflage.

Unfortunately, all this coincided with a 1918 flu pandemic, which caused more fatalities than World War I. The news article states—

Unfortunately the purpose of the coloring [of the building] is partly in vain, for no meetings are possible while the influenza epidemic rages. As soon as the danger from crowds passes, however, which it is hoped will be next week, Liberty Hall will become the center of daily mass meetings in aid of the Liberty Loan campaign, at which big subscriptions will be recorded.


Anon, DON’T MISS SEEING IT—BUT YOU CAN’T ANYWAY: Reverse Camouflage Makes Liberty Loan Building Stand Out in Startling Fashion, in The Boston Globe, September 24, 1918, p. 14—

Boston citizens who have passed along Tremont Street the past few days have rubbed their eyes, as they glanced over at the Liberty Loan Building being erected on the Common opposite the Conservation cottages. Some of them wondered whether they were looking at a combination of the cubist and postimpressionist schools of art; some decided to stop eating lobsters at night, others decided to swear off on other things.

But they were all wrong. What they saw was the first example of the latest of war products, reverse camouflage.

Just as camouflage aims to hid objects from the Hun, so reverse camouflage is used to make certain that the thing to which it is applied will be noticed by everyone. It might be defined as the art of being seen. No one who has seen the Liberty Loan Building will question its ability to accomplish this object. Beside it the cottages and welfare huts look pale and shrinking and strictly neutral.

Philip Little, a Boston and Salem artist, is the originator of reverse camouflage. Some time ago he was asked by the Liberty Loan Committee to suggest a design for the new building. The original idea was to have the building camouflaged. Mr. Little, however, came forward with a new and startling scheme. He declared that since the committee wished to have the building attract all the attention possible, camouflage was not the thing wanted. Instead of concealing it among the trees, he said, the thing to do was to paint it so that it would be the most striking object in sight.

With the enthusiastic consent of the committee Mr. Little began the design which is now being carried out by the workmen. It was desired to use the Allied and American colors. Instead of making them up in flags Mr. Little has splashed the red, white, blue, green, orange and black in great curving streaks and swirls of color.

Here an aggressive right angle of green shoots out across a great blob of red and there a thick bar of orange stands out triumphantly like a policeman’s club above a riot. The same designs, if design they can be called, are never repeated, but from any angle a man with a good eye can pick out the National colors of the five great Allies in ever varying arrangement. The reverse camouflage even extends inside the building, where—but never mind. Go in and see.

Mr. Little has visited the Common several times this Week to see how the painters are progressing and to give suggestions. He says, by the way, that there is plenty of room for individual genius, and that if any of the painters have any eye-arresting ideas they are at liberty to use them.


Frederick W. Ried, THE EASTERN ARTS CONVENTION AT NEW HAVEN, in Industrial Arts Magazine, 1918, p. 247—

“Camouflage” was the subject discussed on Saturday morning at the general session, by Mr. Philip Little, of Salem. Mr. Little sketched as he spoke and outlined the leading systems of camouflage as applied to seagoing vessels.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Concealing Coloration Through Figure Disruption

from Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (1909)
Above In a recent find of a brief newspaper article by Francis Rolt-Wheeler on natural camouflage (quoted below), we were reminded of a demonstration of background matching versus figure disruption in butterflies, using cut-out paper shapes, by Abbott H. Thayer and (his son) Gerald H. Thayer, from their early book about Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (1909). 


Francis Rolt-Wheeler, CAMOUFLAGE IN THE WOODS in The Richmond Palladium (May 29, 1920), p. 14—

Of course you’ve read [Rudyard] Kipling’s Just So Stories. If you haven’t, get busy! And if you have, you’ll have read “How the Leopard Got His Spots.”

The point is that there’s a lot of good woodcraft in that story. All the woods folk fit into their backgrounds. Watch, and you’ll see!

Khaki has been found to be the color least visible at a distance, and how many of the woods folks are brown? If you don’t really look hard, of course, you won’t see. Why? Simply because though the creatures are there, you don’t see them. They’re camouflaged.

Good observers have said that it you go silently into any place in the deep woods, and keep perfectly still, by and by you’ll see one creature, and then another, until maybe half a dozen are right near you. You didn’t see them at all, at first, they seem to grow out of the woods like a puzzle picture. Sometimes even the most striking colors are the hardest to see.

Try it. Take a piece of gray-green paper and pin it on a butterfly cut out of paper, solid color. You see that butterfly a block away. Now take that same paper butterfly, scallop his wings, and give him big white spots and shades of blue. Near at hand he looks twice as conspicuous. Pin him on the paper. Twenty yards away you can’t see him at all.

Now try the trick yourself. A girl who wants to see the wild folk should put on a light green frock, a little hat with flowers and stay quite still in shrubbery that is not too dense. Don’t hide. If you fit into the background, you’ll be really concealed. And you might see a fawn stroll by, prettiest of all spring creatures in the woods.


Tim Caro, Sami Merilaita and Martin Stevens, “The Colors of Animals: From Wallace to the Present Day. I. Cryptic Coloration” in Charles Hyde Smith and George Beccaloni, eds., Natural Selection and Beyond: The Intellectual Legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace. UK: Oxord University Press, 2010—

[The Thayers were among] the first to argue that camouflage consisted both of blending (background matching), and disruption (G. Thayer called it “ruptive”)—the latter being where the animal’s appearance is broken up by strongly contrasting patterns that mask the outline of the body. Similarly, disruptive patterns may disguise otherwise conspicuous or vulnerable parts such as the legs or eyes. In addition to disruptive coloration, [the] Thayer[s] also pioneered the related idea of “dazzle markings” (the term “dazzle” stemming from the American term “razzle dazzle,” to confuse).


Francis Rolt-Wheeler, THE WONDER OF WAR AT SEA. Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, 1919, pp. 346-347—

“Do you suppose, Chief," asked the lad, as they were standing on deck, rejoicing in the capture of the submarine and looking at her checkerboard colored conning tower, "that this marine camouflage is really useful? Some of it looks so absurd?"…

[The Chief replies] "The ‘dazzle’ system o’ camouflage, which is British, is designed to puzzle the eye. At a mile and a half or two miles, ye can’t tell whether a ‘dazzled’ ship is comin’ or goin’. Ye can’t tell if she’s high out o’ the water, or low. Ye can’t tell, sometimes, if she has one, two, or three funnels. For a soobmarine, with a periscope maybe four to six feet out o’ the water, a ‘dazzled’ ship is like shootin’ at a ‘now ye see it an’ now ye don’t’ target. Soobmarines have been known to fire torpedoes as much as eight degrees out o’ line, when thinkin’ they were firin’ straight at a dazzled ship, even at close range. The human eye, after all, is no’ a pairfect mechanism.”

Exhibition at Dubuque Museum of Art

Ladies Home Journal | What Is Camouflage?

The Indianapolis News, January 2, 1918, p. 18
Above Recently we ran across this newspaper advertisement from The Indianapolis News, January 2, 1918, p. 18. It anticipates a pictorial in the January issue of The Ladies Home Journal, with "the most amazing pictures you ever saw."

However, if you track down that issue, you may be disappointed. There is a two-page selection of images (see pages reproduced below), but they are standard government photographs that back then were being reproduced in newspapers and magazines throughout the country. In addition, they have been heavily "enhanced" by hand, so they have little if any credibility (pp. 16-17).

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Page Spreads from New Book on Dazzle Ships

From DAZZLE SHIPS: World War I and the Art of Confusion
Above Four page spreads from a fantastic new, award-winning book by Chris Barton, with illustrations by Victo Ngai, titled DAZZLE SHIPS: World War I and the Art of Confusion. Minneapolis MN: Millbrook Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-5124-1014-3. Below The book's spectacular cover.

Midwell Crampton Wilson, Thoughts in Passing. Carroll County Citizen-Times (Delphi IN), August 17, 1918, pp. 1 and 3—

“Do you know anything about camouflage?”

“No, I never eat foreign cheeses.” Now this conversation MUST have taken place in the early stages of the war, for since the American army has been in the thick of the fight, we use the word camouflage as if it had always been in our vocabulary and we know it isn’t a brand of cheese, either.

The war has made quite a contribution to our stock of words. Scarcely a day but that we use “over-the-top.” “Over there,” “somewhere in France,” “carry-on,” “morale,” "hooverize” and “let’s go” are familiar expressions that we use almost constantly.

But few war words are more popular than “camouflage.” The Old Settlers’ ice cream was camouflaged with syrup and condensed milk. A nice brown meringue on top of bread pudding makes it look like something good and that is camouflage. When the guarantors of a picnic eat the back and neck (leaving the drumstick and pulley-bone for the guests) and register great joy in so doing, they are doing the camouflage act that our mothers have done all their lives. The girl at the Old Settlers’ who wore the furs was camouflaging her feelings for style’s sake but when

    “Little grains of powder
     Little dabs of paint
     Make the girl of forty
     Look like what she ain’t”

then it is, that camouflaging is really well done.

I have read that it is the most celebrated word coined in the great war, will undoubtedly live in the dictionaries, and the name and the art which it labels will be credited to the French, who first applied the science of “concealing coloration” as a means of military disguise. But credit for the original idea and its development should rightfully go to an American, Abbott H. Thayer, one of America’s most distinguished painters. It is said that more than twenty years ago Mr. Thayer, as a huntsman and student of bird and animal life, made an exhaustive study of nature’s method in protecting wild things.

The chameleon is an artful little camouflager, being able to change his color to resemble the object on which he lies. It is an excellent defense for him, as he is too small to fight, and does not care to spend too much time fleeing from his enemies, who desire his body for dinner.

The American bobwhite adopts a medley of colors—reddish, black, brown, yellow and white—that completely harmonized with the foliage colors during all seasons of the year. He is present in person, but lost to sight.

The parrot fortifies the defense produced by his rancorous voice by brilliant colors that blend perfectly with the brilliant foliage of his tropical home.

The present camouflage is simply making objects, principally military machines, look like something else—a haystack or a bush—in which practice the painters are simply copying from Nature’s most effective disguises, through which only the expert can see.

The modern army is now using every known device for camouflage. The olive drab or khaki-colored uniform blends into the landscape and is lost to sight much sooner than the more brilliant colors formerly worn by troops. Flashing breastplates, buttons and polished equipments of all kinds have been absolutely discarded for others that do not shine.

The Alpine troops, fighting above the snow lines, went to great extremes in painting themselves white, so that there was no contrast with snow during the day and for night duty troops have painted themselves black for easier hiding. During the spring and early summer green colors are used, and as soon as the season progresses, dabs of yellow, red and golden tints are used to duplicate the color effects of the advancing season. So it is that camouflage dates back farther than the Trojan Horse—it dates back to Nature herself, who gave the cow her mottled hide, no doubt in anticipation of the amateur hunter. The American Indian, by the way, was an adept at camouflage.

A few years ago, a party of us went to the National Military Home, near Marion [IN], to spend Decoration Day. Mr. Wilson was convalescing from an operation for appendicitis. I was thin from worrying. The two girls with us were pale and wan. My father looked at the party and then remarked in his characteristic way that we looked like a bunch of empty snake skins. After dinner on Decoration Day, the two girls looked so exceedingly pale that we insisted they go upstairs and lie down. They were upstairs less than a half hour but when they came down, they looked so wonderfully rested that the whole party became more cheerful. They had color in their cheeks and theirs smiles were bewitching instead of haunting. The change was marvelous and so worthwhile because it helped the “morale” (another war word) of the company. One had to look at these girls twice to notice the camouflage, put on from a box of rouge and some good face powder.

Ever since that day, I have been an ardent believer in face camouflage. Of course, I don’t want to see a girl painted like a battleship, but I can’t help believing in a certain amount of make-up. It is the duty of everyone to appear as beautiful as possible. Red cheeks are prettier than sallow ones and a powdered skin is much neater than an unpowdered one—if you can just keep the world from knowing that you use either rouge or powder. I never have become reconciled to lipstick or an elaborate use of carmine. But just enough to make one look well—and just enough not to get caught at it. This is my notion of real camouflage.

Another form of camouflage the men use is bluffing. I heard the other day of a young man who was in charge of a newly plotted realty tract, upon which the only building was the office of the company. Upon seeing the first person to enter the door, he hastily took down the telephone receiver and commenced:

“Yes, sir, I think we can agree on those terms. Thirty lots in one parcel and twenty in another. Yes, sir, the price is satisfactory—$30,000 at the transfer and the remainder in sixty days. Did you say I could meet you in the morning at nine o’clock and receive your check for $10,000 as the initial payment? Very well, sir.”

Hanging up the receiver, this busy person turned to the man who had entered the office.

“Is there anything I can do for you, sir?”

“Naw, not a thing,” returned the visitor. “I have just come to connect up your telephone, that’s all.”

The fellow was caught in camouflaging and therein lies the sin.

Another instance:

An old fellow on his death bed, in making his will, murmured to his lawyer: “And to each of my employees who have been with me twenty years or more I bequeath $20,000.”

“Holy smoke! What generosity!” the lawyer exclaimed.

“No, not at all,” said the sick man. “You see, none of them have been with me over a year; but it will look good in the papers, won’t it?”

This was a camouflaged will.

Now, Bill Nye [Edgar Wilson Nye], the humorist who appeared in Delphi [IN] with [James Whitcomb] Riley years ago, didn’t believe in camouflage at all. One time he had a cow to sell and he advertised her as follows:

“Owing to my ill health, I will sell at my residence, in township 19, range 18, according to the government survey, one plush raspberry cow, aged eight years. She is of undoubted courage and gives milk frequently. To one who does not fear death in any form she would be a great boon. She is very much attached to her present home with a stay chain, but she will be sold to anyone who will agree to treat her right. She is one-fourth shorthorn and three-fourths hyena. I will also throw in a double-barrel shotgun, which goes with her. Her name is Rose. I would rather sell her to a nonresident.”

I have often wondered if he sold the cow.

Camouflage is a useful art and an interesting study and we await with interest the homecoming of our boys, who will be able to tell us more of the real wartime camouflage. Until then we will use the word at our own sweet will and make it mean all kinds of arts in which “a gay deceiver” is proficient.

Camouflage Exhibit at Dubuque Museum of Art

DUBUQUE, Iowa – RAZZLE DAZZLE: World War I Ship Camouflage opened November 3, 2017 at the Dubuque Museum of Art (DuMA), and continues through February 4, 2018. The exhibition consists of ephemera from the collection of artist, designer and author Roy R. Behrens, Professor of Art / Graphic Design and Distinguished Scholar at the University of Northern Iowa.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Behrens will present a slide talk at the museum on Understanding Camouflage: Blending, Countershading, Mimicry and Dazzle, at 1:30 pm on Sunday, November 19. The talk, which is free and open to the public, is made possible by funding from Humanities Iowa.

Professor Behrens is internationally known for his publications, lectures and documentary film appearances on the historic connections between art, architecture and camouflage. Author of four books on the subject, he has appeared in programs on PBS on NOVA, National Public Radio, Australian Public Televison, BBC and other documentaries. In recent years, he has spoken at the Sydney College of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, the Smithsonian Institution, The Courtauld Institute in London, and the Royal Society of Arts. His blog has been described as "the most important online resource for anyone interested in the subject…"

His most recent book is Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie (Charleston SC: History Press, 2016).

Leah Evans, THE COAT GIRL in The Boston Globe (January 14, 1921), p. 15—

“Frenchy,” said the Coat Girl to Jacques, the head waiter, “have you seen anything about this invisible paint they used in the late war?”

“Seen invisible painting, Ma’amzelle?” asked Jacques, puzzled.

“Frenchy,” said the Coat Girl, “as the English say, ‘are you spoofing me?’ Are you, at this late day and date, trying to pull a wheeze? No, I can see by the expression on your face you are innocent and stupid.

“But in the army, Frenchy, they discovered a paint they called camouflage, which makes things invisible. Frenchy, if I had some of that paint I could get rich in this man’s town, where there are a lot of guys tryin’ to camouflage friend wife, and so many Janes tryin’ a little camouflagin’ on their own hook.

“Just think of a guy havin’ a auto duster painted with that stuff! When he turned his gas buggy into a chicken trap and met friend wife, or one of the old lady cats from his neighborhood on the road, all he would have to do would be to pull down his camouflaged cap and skate by incognito, as it were.

“Then just think of the bootleggers!

“Then if one of these modern Othellos who wanted to give his girl the O.O. when she was on the front porch with some other guy! Blooie! Also whoops!!

“Frenchy, if that stuff ever gets on the market—good night.

“I can think of so many other things to say, I’m just goin’ to put on the emergency!”