Thursday, June 27, 2019

WWI Camouflage Artist | Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt

B.J.O Nordfeldt (c1900)
Above One of my favorite photographs is a portrait of Swedish-born American artist Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt, ca. 1900 / unidentified photographer. Bror Julius Olsson (B.J.O.) Nordfeldt papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Nordfeldt designed ship camouflage for the US Shipping Board during World War I, in San Francisco. He was a fascinating character, with an all but unbelievable range of interests and capabilities. The newspaper article below provides an account of the wartime camouflage work he did with William Penhallow Henderson, Maynard Dixon, A. Sheldon Pennoyer, Edgar Walter and others.


SHIP CAMOUFLAGE in Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque NM). January 12, 1919—

Most delightful as well as instructive was the talk on “Ship Camouflage,” given by William Penhallow Henderson at the new museum [New Mexico Museum of Art in Albuquerque] on Tuesday evening before a really distinguished audience that included Lieutenant Governor and Mrs. [Benjamin] Pankey and other state officials, playwrights, poets, painters, scientists, educators and the social set. Col. Ralph E. Twitchell presided and cleverly introduced the speaker who illustrated his talk with the model of a camouflaged ship made by [Bror Julius Olsson] Nordfeldt, and with blackboard drawings. Mr. Henderson and Mr. Nordfeldt had been in charge of the work of camouflaging the ships on the Pacific coast at San Francisco and shipyards north and were so successful in developing the technique and devising patterns that their work became standard for the rest of the country. It was a significant statement that up to two weeks before the signing of the armistice not one ship camouflaged according to the method adopted was sunk. Mr. Henderson described how the first theory adopted, that of low visibility, proved unsatisfactory because of its limited application. It was followed by a brief period of experiments with a transition method of “impressionism,“ which was succeeded by the successful “cubist” or “distortion” patterns. Four basic patterns for that method were adopted on the Pacific coast, a combination of several of these being developed into the most successful patterns by Mr. Nordfelt and Mr. Henderson. The latter described how practical steps were taken to save the government large sums on paint and labor developing an efficiency which permitted them to accomplish with three men what it elsewhere took sixty to do. It was explained that the enemy submarine made three observations in order to get the range for the torpedo, these observations being taken at a distance of from 2,000 yards to several miles. For the last and nearest observation only eight seconds, at the most, were available to the submarine observation officer and if he was deceived by the camouflage pattern as to the location of his third sighting point, the location of the vitals of the ship and its superstructure, then the object for which the ship was camouflaged was attained for the torpedo was certain to go wild or at the most would strike only such portion of the ship as was amply protected by bulkheads. Mr. Henderson made his talk doubly interesting by the relation of incidents at the shipyards and detailed explanations of the science of camouflage which gave his listeners a far different idea than most of them had formed by casual reading.

Below William Penhallow Henderson and his wife, the writer and editor Alice Corbin. While they were living in Chicago, she was an associate editor for Poetry Magazine, while he was commissioned by Frank Lloyd Wright to design murals for Midway Gardens. He also designed the scenery for an innovative Chicago-based stage production of Alice in Wonderland.* In 1916, when it was determined that his wife Alice had tuberculosis, they moved to Santa Fe NM. After the US entered the war in 1917, Henderson began to work on ship camouflage in San Francisco.

* A dramatic screenplay script rendering of Alice in Wonderland by Alice Gerstenberg; Actress Vivian Tobin; copyright A. C. McClurg & Co., Chicago 1915, Produced by The Players Producing Company of Chicago (Aline Barnsdall and Arthur Bissell), at the Fine Arts Theater, Chicago, 2/11/1915. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Canine Stealth | Can you find the cubidachshund?

Can you find the cubist dog?
Above This is one of a series of cubist-themed puzzles that were published in the San Francisco Sunday Call during 1913. This network of lines was published on the entertainment page on May 26, with a challenge to the readers to "find the cubidog" and, more specifically, to "find a cubidachshund" by filling in a certain number of shapes. The solution (posted below) was revealed the following Sunday. This is an embedded figure puzzle, of course, a variant of camouflage. But this example predates World War I, and "camouflage" was not yet an English word. Instead, this is a spin-off from the famous Armory Show which opened in New York in early 1913. It was the American public's first introduction to Cubism. More>>>

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Dazzle Camouflage Picture Puzzle

Cartoon Puzzle, East Hampton Star, February 22, 1929, p. 5

WWI Ship Camouflage Artist | Arthur Turnbull Hill

USS West Zula (1918)
In 1918, The East Hampton Star (East Hampton, Long Island NY) announced its plan to publish a list of residents who were serving in World War I. Among those who replied was an artist named Arthur Trumbull Hill (1868-1929), who had already been employed as a civilian “camofleur” [sic] for several months. He welcomed the opportunity, he said—

to give you some idea—no detailed description is allowable—of the unique and important work the Navy and Shipping Board have done in Marine Camouflage since the United States entered the war.

This was published as a Letter to the Editor on the front page on October 18, 1918. He went on to say—

Everyone, of course, has by this time, seen some of the camouflage ships, but few know that these remarkable, and frequently very handsome, cubistic looking productions in line and color, are the result of a carefully defined system adopted by our navy and only after the most exhaustive tests, and that the designs, far from being a hit or miss proposition, are most carefully worked out and elaborated [in] almost infinite variety under the immediate direction of artists employed solely for this purpose by the Federal Government. In fact, the personnel of the Navy and Marine Camouflage Departments include some of the most talented artists in America.

In signing his letter, Hill listed his affiliation as USSB, EFC—for US Shipping Board, Emergency Fleet Corporation. In other words, he was working for the civilian branch of wartime camouflage, which itself was overseen by the US Navy. In December 1918, four of his paintings were included in an exhibition in New York of war-related art, titled the Allied War Salon. His exhibited works were titled “Camouflage at Robins Dry Dock,” “Camouflaged Ships at Erie Basin,” “Camouflage on the Mystic River,” and “Leaving for Providence.”

These works and those of fourteen others were included in a section in which the artists were described as “Marine Camoufleurs of the US Shipping Board, Second District.” This is the same district (based in New York) for which William Andrew Mackay was the Chief Civilian Camoufleur. The other camoufleurs were Spencer B. Nichols, Hobart Nichols, Alonzo Kimball, Alfred Huty, George E. Harris, Hubert R. Chapin, Henry Davenport, Harry Farlow, Thomas D. Benrimo, Ralph T. Willis, Carol M. Sax, M. McGregor Jamieson, Alon Bement, and George Wright.

Arthur Trumbull Hill died in Brooklyn NY in 1929. Five years later, there was a memorial exhibition of his artwork at the South Gallery, Guild Hall in East Hampton. The majority of the exhibited works were from his wife’s collection. She also wrote the catalog introduction, which included the following statement—

In this collection, as a matter now of historical interest are several pictures of camouflaged ships which my husband painted when he served as a camoufleur in the marine camouflage in the World War.

USS Major Wheeler (1918)
USS Major Wheeler (1918) second view



A.E. Gallatin, Allied War Salon. Exhibition catalog. New York: American Art Galleries, 1918.

Arthur Turnbull Hill, in National Cyclopedia of American Biography.

Hill, Arthur T. A.T. HILL, CAMOFLEUR. Letter to the Editor. The East Hampton Star (East Hampton NY). October 18, 1918, p. 1.

Local News: MEMORIAL SHOWING OF WORK OF A.T. HILL AT GUILD HALL. The East Hampton Star (East Hampton NY). July 19, 1934, p. 5.

Note The ship photographs on this post are intended merely as examples of WWI dazzle ship camouflage. They may not have any connection with Arthur T. Hill.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Camouflage Artist | Iowa Artist Halleck J. Finley

Halleck J. Finley (c1944)
Above A magazine photograph of American artist and photographer Halleck J. Finley in the 1940s, at which time he was an advertising artist, photographer and art director in New York. During World War I, he had served in France as a US Army camoufleur.


Finley was born in 1895 in Knoxville IA. He was the son of a school administrator named S.J. Finley, who had moved from Quaker City OH to serve as the school superintendent in Knoxville and Oskaloosa IA. The family apparently also lived in Waterloo IA, as well as in Indianapolis IN, where Halleck graduated from high school. He studied at John Herron Art Institute of Art in Indianapolis for two years, until his family moved to Hollywood CA, where he continued to study art and design. His brother, Harold M. Finley, had joined the editorial staff of The Los Angeles Times in 1909. Around 1915, Halleck Finley began to work for the advertising section of the same newspaper, while still attending classes in the evenings.

In 1916, he was hired as a scenic artist to work on the production of Joan the Woman, an important early silent film, directed by Cecil B. DeMille and produced by Jesse Lasky, with Geraldine Farrar in the role of Joan of Arc. Soon after the US entered the war in 1917, DeMille was appointed to a government committee whose purpose was “to mobilize the theatrical profession for war work.” DeMille’s particular duties, the article continues, “will be to take charge of the recruiting for the camouflage companies.”
Halleck J. Finley in 1917

In 1917 (perhaps at DeMille's suggestion), Halleck Finley and another young artist, a scenic designer named David E. Taylor, volunteered to join the army as camouflage specialists. According to The LA Times, Finley “was the first man to be recruited to this branch of the service in Southern California.” The two men were trained at Camp American University in Washington DC, in preparation for serving in France.

Camp American University (Washington DC)

While in France, excerpts from wartime letters to his family were sometimes published in The LA Times. But they offer little insight into his involvement in camouflage. As an article in that paper surmised—

Whether the censor had deleted passages telling of the camouflage work of the corps at the front, or whether the actual work of making the Germans think a big gun is only a fallen tree has not yet begun, the letters tell of no particular doings yet of the camoufleurs.


Harry A. Williams, MISSOULA MIKE A COLONEL: At Least that is What Every One Calls the Marine Philosopher, in Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1919—

[Williams describes a postwar conversation at the Times Building with a returned US Army veteran, known as Missoula Mike, who had served in France with Halleck Finley. Finley has returned from the war to work at the newspaper, and Mike recognizes him from across the room.] “See that guy with the pensive face humped over a drawin’ desk in Boss Dodge’s department. If that ain’t Halleck Finley who was over there with our camoufleurs, I’m a poor guesser.”

Mike crossed the editorial room for a closer look, and the mutual recognition was plain to the naked ear…

“Last time I saw Finley before this was up in the Argonne. The camouflage boys, at least some of ‘em, when not engaged camouflaging the trenches, roads, barracks an’ one thing an’ another was paintin’ pictures along the front. In other words, they was engaged in picklin’ a world war in oil. Crawlin’ out of the brush one day I comes on Finley all humped up in a shell hole drawing a life-like picture of a battle. About that time a small shell hits in a bucket of red paint an’ splatters it all over the canvas. That gave Finley an idea. Instead of notin’ what a close call he had, he simply remarks that the next time he wants to produce a likeness of a great battle he’s simply goin’ to drop a hand grenade in a bucket of red paint, an’ let the explosion do the rest.”


After returning to Los Angeles c1919, Finley worked for a number of years as a free-lance designer and illustrator. During the mid-1920s, he worked in collaboration with his artist wife, Frances (Mudge) Finley, whom he married in November 1923. They had two children, a son (possibly Harold) and a daughter (Eliza Lee Petofi, born Finley), but the marriage appears to have ended. While working as an art director and illustrator, Halleck Finley “continued to do his own work and many leading advertising accounts boasted Finley color paintings in their ads.”

Halleck Finley magazine illustration

Over time, he became increasingly interested in the possibilities of creating illustrations, not by painting and drawing from photographic image sources, but by using photographs themselves as illustrations. Finley moved to New York, where he was hired by McCall’s magazine to use photographs to illustrate fiction.

In the June 1944 issue of Popular Photography, Finley published an article titled “What’s the Matter with Amateurs?”  in which he characterized amateur photographers as sloppy, undisciplined and preoccupied with gadgets (they were amateurs!). The article caused an uproar, which prompted the magazine to run a lengthy follow-up feature in the August issue, titled “What’s the Matter with Halleck Finley? The Amateurs Answer Back with Pro and Con Letters to the Editor.” In one of those letters, a reader asked (apparently aware of Finley’s Midwest origins) “Where did you see that sloppy print you write about? In Muddy Creek, Iowa?”


In 1975, when Halleck Finley was 80 years old, he called the office of The LA Times, "asking for rights to reprint a piece he did in 1919, soon after he left the army camouflage forces at the end of World War I." Art Seidenbaum, the journalist who spoke with him, went on to talk to him at length about his feelings about growing old. The columnist continues—

We started to talk about old times—his—and how he'd lived in New York and Mexico and parts everywhere during the intervening years. "I never liked old people," he said, "until I woke up one day and found out I was one of them."

There is no mention of where Finley was living at the time of the phone conversation. But he continued on for twelve more years and died in Austin TX in 1987.


ABANDONS NEWSPAPER WORK TO ENTER ARMY.  Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1917.

ANGELOS TO GO AS CAMOUFLEURS. Youths Leave for East to Aid in New Division, in Los Angeles Times, September 23, 1917.

CAMOUFLAGE FROM PICTURE STUDIOS. Los Angeles Times, September 22, 1917.

IOWAN WITH "CAMOUFLEURS": Halleck J. Finley, Now of Los Angeles, Accepted in Engineering Corps, in Marshalltown Evening Times Republican (Marshalltown IA), September 28, 1917.

Art Seidenbaum, OLD-TIME DERISION. Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1975.

WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HALLECK FINLEY?: The Amateurs Answer Back with Pro and Con Letters to the Editor. Popular Photography, August 1944.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Camouflage Design of USS Indianapolis Cargo Ship

USS Indianapolis dazzle scheme (1918)
Above An attempted restoration of the top half of a nearly full-page article from the front page of the Magazine Section of the Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis IN), 1919. The war was nearly over, and the practice of camouflaging ships had all but ended. The top photograph is a montage of two views of the newly-built USS Indianapolis, showing its dazzle camouflage scheme (two different views of the starboard side). The dazzle plan is Type 17 Design D (thanks to Aryeh Wetherhorn).  This USS Indianapolis, a WWI cargo ship that was launched in 1918 and decommissioned in 1919, is not to be confused with the WWII heavy cruiser of the same name that was sunk in 1945. Of this cargo ship, I haven’t yet found photographs other than this. In the news article, the starboard side of another dazzle-camouflage ship is pictured in an elliptical frame. It is not the USS Indianapolis, which the article does not make clear. Instead, it’s a scheme (Type 3 Design C) that was applied to the USS Matilda Weems, views of which we’ve posted before.

Quoted below is a portion of the same article from the Indianapolis Star. It was written by an Indiana journalist, William Courtney Mattox, who worked for the Emergency Fleet Corporation during WWI.


W. Courtney Mattox, Acting Head of Publications Section, Emergency Fleet Corporation, Philadelphia, BIG SHIP CARRIES FAME OF INDIANAPOLIS OVERSEAS in Indianapolis Star, January 26, 1919—

One Last Camouflage
The picture of the Indianapolis shown here was made just before the vessel left the fitting-out berth at the Pusey & Jones yard. The big ship was dressed in war paint—the camouflage which has played such an interesting and important part in foiling Germany’s submarines. Incidentally, the Indianapolis was one of the last ships to be camouflaged before the armistice.

There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about the purpose of camouflage. The weird painting of seemingly haphazard lines and splashes upon the sides of a ship is not the result of an artist’s fancy. It is not designed to hide the ship from the enemy, as the camouflage on guns, buildings and even roads in France was intended. Sharp contrasts in colors on a ship would serve rather to betray the presence of the vessel than to hide it from the enemy. It has been the popular notion that camouflage at sea had the same purpose as that upon land, but the real reason for the “crazy” painting of merchant vessels was to prevent the pirate hidden beneath the waves from determining speed and direction of the ship.

Painting Tested on Models
The scope of this work of camouflaging ships was much greater than the public ever knew. It is now permissible to tell that in various districts of the United States Shipping Board there were schools of camouflage under the direction of district camoufleurs. In these various districts theaters with periscope devices arranged for the observation of models were in constant use by the student camoufleurs. Small ship models were made and they became an important factor in the testing of camouflage designs. These models were painted in accordance with the tested designs of camouflage and then examined through a periscope under conditions very similar to those surrounding a German submarine sighting an allied vessel in the ocean.

 Camouflaged ship models in testing theater

One of the chief points was to get the model on a setting corresponding to the horizon at sea, so that the camoufleur, gazing through the periscope, would see the ship as if it were standing out against the skyline. It is much different to examine a camouflaged ship lying in a river harbor, with a background of buildings or land, than to size up the same ship from a periscope with a background of the sky.

It will be noted that the camouflage on the steamer Indianapolis is very deceptive. It causes the ship to appear much shorter than it really is. The stern is so painted that at first glance one would think that the end of the vessel is not rounded, as is usual with ships, but is built after a freakish design.

The real effect of this, however, would not be apparent until the vessel was seen through a periscope. The peculiar painting of the stern and the shortened or “squatty” effect produced by the design on the sides of the ship would make it almost impossible for an observer to tell what direction the ship is headed.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Kin Hubbard on why NOT to camouflage old age

The Camoufleurs (1918)
Above Cover of an issue of The Literary Digest on January 12, 1918. It shows the land-based camouflage of artillery by French artists (called camoufleurs), a practice they themselves initiated in 1914. The signature of the illustrator is at the bottom left, but the name is unclear.


Kin Hubbard was the pseudonym of an Ohio-born cartoonist, humorist, and journalist named Frank McKinney Hubbard (1868-1930). Will Rogers, America's greatest humorist, called Hubbard "America's greatest humorist."  A few years before he died of a heart attack at age 62, he had this to say about the efforts to conceal one's age through camouflage.

Kin Hubbard, ON AGE CAMOUFLAGIN'. Red River County Review (Clarksville TX), April 8, 1926—

One o’ the’ first things a feller notices after he reaches fifty is how swiftly Saturday night rolls around. He no sooner takes a bath till he begins t’ lay out his underwear for another one. He no sooner shaves th’ snow from his chin till it’s white agin. Th’ weeks an’ months an’ years dart by like a one-reel comedy. He no sooner gits used t’ a straw hat with a polka dot band till it’s time t’ look around for a rakish green hat. Th’ day’s gone ferever when he could git by with a youthful face an’ sparklin’ eyes, an’ th’ time t’ camouflage has arrived. Th’ never endin’ battle agin relentless old age is on. Th’ barber, th’ messeur, th’ tailor, th’ presser, an’ cleaner, th’ shoemaker, th’ osteopath an’ th’ toupee maker must all be drafted int’ his service an’ he starts forth t’ conquer an unseen foe. But why should a feller try t’ hide th’ fact that he’s fifty? Surely ther’s room enough on this earth for people o’ fifty. Who’s he tryin’ t’ fool? What’s he tryin t’ put over? He has started over th’ top an’ a talcumed face an’ tan spats won’t hold him back! A polka dot hat band an’ gray hair won’t mix! A peeled gray head an’ a green hat only excite comment! I don’t mean t’ say that a feller should begin t’ unravel and wither at fifty. If there’s anything I hate t’ see worse’n a peeled gray badger in a pinch-back suit, it’s a reconciled feller o’ sixty sittin’ around fumblin’ a two-column board when he ought t’ be [unreadable]. A feller ought t’ be tickled t’ death t’ reach fifty! He ought t’ be proud of it! What I’m drivin’ at is that a feller ought to stay in his class. A toupeed feller kin never look like anything but a restorer ad! Bright colors only emphasize ole age. If you’re spared till fifty, take advantage o’ ever’ moment from then on, but do it leisurely an’ gracefully. Don’t try t’ look like you’ve been born agin. You kin be youthful in spirit without shavein’ all th’ time an’ smellin’ like Florida water! Talk about th’ golden days o’ youth! What’s th’ matter with th’ diamond-studded years beyond fifty? At fifty we should quietly apply th’ brakes an’ leisurely descend the slope with seasoned muscles, ripe judgment, shorn of illusions, rich in experience, filled with sweet memories, grateful fer havin’ successfully weathered th’ adventurous years o’ youth, with a keen appreciation o’ ever’ precious hour an’ with th’ knowledge that ther’s no new sensations. Let’s stop camouflagin’ an’ leave th’ pinch-back clothes an’ zebra shirts t’ youth. Let’s bathe ever’ Saturday as usual, but let’s not worry about our chins bein’ white. We’ve had our fling at lady killin’ so let’s sober down an’ resolve not t’ drain our reserve tanks chasin’ after a procession that’s only headed fer where we already are.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Connecting the Dots Somewhere in Dijon, France

the puzzle
Above A "connect the dots" puzzle titled DOTS "SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE" by Clifford Leon Sherman, as published in  The Anaconda Standard (Anaconda MT), August 31, 1917. The text beneath the puzzle reads—

DEAR FOLKS: We had a lot of fun today watching one of the men in the camouflage department ["somewhere in France"] matching up his paints and decorating the ambulances and ammunition wagons, so they could not be seen easily against the background. One of the boys in my company asked him why he didn't paint himself so as to be invisible. He replied in a joking way, "My dear friend, I don't want to waste any time on myself. And there is no use wasting any time on you, for I can't help it if you look naturally like a ________" [the missing word is in the completed drawing below].


We live in Iowa, not far from an architectural firm called StruXture Architects. It was founded in 1934 by David B. Toenjes, who was the first person to earn an architectural degree at Iowa State University in Ames. He also served in France during World War I, where he was stationed at Dijon ("somewhere in France"), which was also the location of a major American camouflage production facility.

We recently found this brief news article, titled TEN YEARS AGO IN THE SERVICE, in The Waterloo Courier, September 8, 1928—

"I was stationed at Dijon, France, 10 years ago," said David B. Toenjes [of Waterloo IA]. "Our company had charge of getting supplies up to the front from Dijon base." Toenjes was first sergeant of Company C, 309th machine shop repair unit, MTC. 

"At Dijon there was a camouflage park, where papier mache goats, cows and everything else were made. I went over one day to look around. Everything looked natural, but when I sat on a log, things weren't so natural. It was made of paper.

Armistice Day the boys put on a big celebration. The last one trailed in four days later with a woman's fur around his neck." 

the answer

Monday, June 10, 2019

Hurried Vibrations | Has Futurism Found Its Place?

USS Rinia with dazzle camouflage pattern (c1918). Public domain.
Laura Bride Powers ART. Oakland Tribune (Oakland CA). June 23, 1918, p. 24—


At last the futurists have found themselves. Rather has the world found them.

Their theories and practice are adopted by the navy department to camouflage the ships that go down to the sea, as witness the good ship that rode in the harbor during the week, a potpourri of colored angles, lines and geometric forms that recall visions of that famous room at the Palace of Fine Arts during the Exposition—the “My God Room.” You remember it? *

Dynamism—movement—is what the perpetrators of the pictures were striving for, movement as opposed to a static state.

And is not that the thing sought for by the navy—a movement of objects that are disassociated with ships to the consternation of the gunners who roam the sea?

Objects in movement multiply themselves, becoming deformed in pursuit of each other, like hurried vibrations. This does thus does the law work out for the protection of the ships of the allies, justifying the theories of Balla, Picasso, Picabia and the rest.

The stories of Courbet, and Manet, and Monet and Degas are fresh in mind—the concept of the people; then their acceptance of the innovators, followed by their standardization, by which the rest of the world of art is measure. Such is the psychology of the art of the mediocre.

Shall the war vindicate the theories of Balla and his confreres? more>>>


* For more about the "My God Room," see Michael Williams, A Brief Guide to the Palace of Fine Arts: Panama-Pacific International Exposition. San Francisco Art Association, 1915.

Room No 67
Here are shown many characteristic examples of the "new notes" in the most modern American art. Here are assembled a breezy company of ultra-radicals; revolutionaries, some of them, mingled with several older men who have definitely won their places. It is said that one of the rooms in the Annex was generally known as the "My God Room!" because the ejaculation—usually a heart-felt cry for help—was drawn from so many visitors by the appalling nature of some of the weird freaks which whirlingly burst upon their stupefied vision. This room, No. 67, cannot of course compete with the room in the Annex, but it certainly has its "My God" spots.