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.