Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Gerald Thayer Talks on Camouflage at Ithaca 1919

G.H. Thayer, Cottontail Rabbit (1909). Public domain.
Above Gerald H. Thayer, painting of a cottontail rabbit, first published as an illustration in his Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (NY: Macmillan, 1909). There are 16 full-color illustrations in the book, nearly all of which were collaborative paintings. In this example, Gerald painted the rabbit figure, while the background (as credited) was completed by Abbott H. Thayer and Emma B. Thayer.


CAMOUFLAGE ONLY NATURE IMITATION: Is Shown By Gerald Thayer in Lecture at Reorganization Meeting of Cayuga Bird Club in Ithaca Journal (Ithaca NY), Tuesday, March 18, 1919—

An unusual and enlightening lecture was given last night in Roberts Hall when Gerald H. Thayer, son of the famous artist, Abbott H. Thayer, spoke on “Camouflage in War and in Nature,” illustrating the talk with lantern slides showing birds and animals in their natural surroundings, in some cases so perfectly concealed that they could not be seen until pointed out, and concluding with illustrations of the use of camouflage in war. Not only did Mr. Thayer show what looked like trees, bushes and grasses and then prove that they were birds and animals, but he reversed the process, showing what looked like birds and animals, and proved to be only sections of trees, bushes, etc.

Mr. Thayer’s lecture was the first to be given this year under the auspices of the Cayuga Bird Club, and in introducing him, Louis A. Fuertes spoke of the success of the club in past years, of the wonderful opportunities for the study of birds offered in Ithaca and of the bird sanctuary with its recorded list of more than 200 different species of birds-and a wealth of flowers in the spring. He explained that the club is now entering upon a period of reorganization after the war, and asked all who were interested to renew their memberships.

“Abbott Thayer and his son GeraId have worked together on the wonderful problems of protective coloration,” said Mr. Fuertes “and the resuIt is the art of camouflage, which did not prove successful when presented to the military authorities of this country and of England, but which was eagerly taken up by the French and developed by them, stolen by the Germans, and given to their allies.”

“There are three principal kinds of camouflage in nature and in war,” said Mr. Thayer. “The first consists of hiding things, making them more or less disappear, and plays an important part in nature. The second type is [the] making of fake things, things which are made to look like something else.”

In ilIustration of this second type in war he spoke of the use of supposed stumps of trees, made out of iron and covered with bark, in which telephones and observers could be concealed, and which looked so exactly like the real thing that they were seldom noticed by the enemy. Another instance which he told as a true story of the war was that of the aviator who came back to headquarters and urged the captain in charge to train some guns on a cemetery just back of the enemy lines. When the captain objected to firing on a cemetery, he explained that when he flew over early that morning the “cemetery” was on the opposite side of certain field.

As a good iIlustration of this type of camouflage in nature he spoke of the walking stick, measuring worms and caterpillars which are made to look exactly like a twig.

“The third kind of camouflage can best be used with things that move around,” said Mr. Thayer “and has been developed during the past year, particularly on ships at sea, painting them in striking contrasts, making them harder to hit and sometimes making them look as if they were going in a different direction, an iIlusion which proved particularly deceptive when seen through the periscope of a submarine. He explained that the object in painting these vessels in stripes and blotches was not to conceal them, as so many supposed, but to make them look strange, so that they were hard to locate. In the early years of the war, he added, they did try to make vessels resemble clouds, sea horizon, etc., but were unsuccessful for nothing but the whitest white will disappear against the sky.

He spoke of the sinking of the Titanic when she struck an iceberg on a clear, starry night, and explained the catastrophe by the fact that the white iceberg must have been practicalIy invisible against the sky.