Tuesday, July 21, 2020

1918 pandemic spitting image | deja flu all over again

Above A poster issued by the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation (Philadelphia), as a means of controlling the spread of the “Spanish Flu” in late 1918. Source: Free Library of Philadelphia.•

The narrative at that weblink describes conditions that are disturbingly parallel to those of the current spread of COVID-19—

[The flu epidemic] reached Philadelphia by early September 1918, after infected sailors from Boston came to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Once patients began appearing, it became apparent how ill-informed and ill-prepared the City was. World War I created demands for increased labor at home and doctors abroad. This resulted in overcrowding in the city, and critical shortages of the doctors, hospital space, morgues, and burial services necessary to handle an out-of-control crisis. Accelerating the devastation was the City’s refusal (against the advice of the medical experts) to cancel a rally for the Fourth Liberty Loan Campaign, which brought 200,000 Philadelphians together on Broad Street, on September 28. Within three days (the incubation period of the virus), the number of cases skyrocketed. The epidemic in Philadelphia claimed 16,000 lives altogether, with 12,000 of those deaths occurring in the five-week period immediately following that war bonds rally.


Here is more information about that pandemic from the Wikipedia article on the Spanish Flu

The Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. Lasting from February 1918 to April 1920, it infected 500 million people–about a third of the world's population at the time–in four successive waves. The death toll is typically estimated to have been somewhere between 17 million and 50 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.…

While systems for alerting public health authorities of infectious spread did exist in 1918, they did not generally include influenza, leading to a delayed response. Nevertheless, actions were taken. Maritime quarantines were declared on islands such as Iceland, Australia, and American Samoa, saving many lives. 

Social distancing measures were introduced, for example closing schools, theatres, and places of worship, limiting public transportation, and banning mass gatherings. Wearing face masks became common in some places, such as Japan, though there were debates over their efficacy. There was also some resistance to their use, as exemplified by the Anti-Mask League of San Francisco.

Vaccines were also developed, but as these were based on bacteria and not the actual virus, they could only help with secondary infections. The actual enforcement of various restrictions varied.…

• Thanks to Claudia Covert for alerting us to this image.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Camilla Wilkinson article on WWI dazzle camouflage

HMS Osterley (c1918)
Above Near the end of World War I, British ship camouflage (called "dazzle painting") increasingly made use of stripes, as shown in this photograph of the HMS Osterley (c1918).


The person most commonly credited with the development of dazzle painting, as a means of camouflaging ships, was British artist and poster designer Norman Wilkinson. His granddaughter is British architect Camilla Wilkinson, who teaches at the University of Westminster in London. Only recently we were delighted to learn that she has published an important scholarly article on her grandfather's contributions to ship camouflage.

Titled Distortion, Illusion and Transformation: the Evolution of Dazzle Painting, a Camouflage System to Protect Allied Shipping from Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1917–1918, the article was published in Studia de Arte et Educatione, Number 14 (Krakow, Poland), 2019. Below is a screen grab of the title page, but the entire article can also be accessed online.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Camoufleurs Maurice L. Freedman & Frank B. Masters

Launching of SS Everglades at Tampa FL, 1918 (AI digital color)
The United States entered World War I, on the side of the Allies, in 1917. The following year, American artist Maurice L. Freedman (1898-1983) served as a District Camoufleur for the United States Shipping Board, Emergency Fleet Corporation. He was assigned to Jacksonville FL, where it was his responsibility to oversee the application of camouflage to merchant ships. He was provided with colored lithographic plans of “dazzle camouflage” schemes that were designed by US Navy artists in Washington DC. When they did not exactly fit the ships, civilian artists at the docks (such as Freedman and his colleagues) made the required corrections.

Freedman was one of about two hundred civilian camouflage artists, who were assigned to seaside shipping ports on the east, south, and west coasts of the US. The extent of Freedman’s service was clarified about fifteen years ago, when Claudia Covert, a librarian and research scholar at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), realized the significance of a collection of 450 colored lithographic plans of ship camouflage that had been in the school’s possession since 1919. As Covert researched this material, it soon became apparent that Freedman, at the end of the war, had enrolled as a student at RISD, where he studied drawing, painting, and design. While there, he donated his collection of the plans (only two other sets, complete or nearly so, are known to have survived, although scattered, stray components can be found in public and private collections), along with vintage photographs of the dazzled-painted ships.

To support her research, Covert was awarded a grant from RISD, which enabled her to visit the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London, and the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Maryland, both of which have extensive holdings related to ship camouflage. As a result, she and others at RISD were able to embark on the arduous process of preserving the original lithographs, developing a lexicon of the different kinds of patterns, making archival digital scans, and arranging to share them publicly through publications, web-posting, exhibits, and symposia. As a way of supporting the project, some of the plans were reprinted at actual size, and sold online through RISD Works, the art school’s retail gift shop.

SS Everglades (1918), plan above, ship below

In 2008, Covert and librarian Ellen Petraits, working with other RISD staff and interns, documented their efforts in a presentation titled Dazzle Prints: Digitizing a Large Format Collection, which they then presented at a conference of The Art Libraries Association of North America (ARLIS/NA). Their report can be accessed online, as can other materials in the RISD Dazzle Print Collection.

Reproduced in that document are the plans for the camouflage pattern for an American merchant ship, named the SS Everglades, a 3,500-ton steel steamer. It had the distinction of being the first ship in which a camouflage pattern was applied while the ship was still being constructed, before the vessel had actually launched. As reported in several articles in the Tampa Tribune, the launching had originally been scheduled for July 4, 1918, but, because of complications, it was delayed until July 29. At 6:00 pm that day, it was officially launched at Oscar Daniels Shipyard in Tampa.

Maurice L. Freedman (who was headquartered in Jacksonville) may or may not have been present at the launching. His name does not appear in a lengthy news account as being among the attendees. But there is an explicit reference to the presence of one of his fellow artists, photographer and illustrator F(rank) B(ird) Masters, who is described in the article as having “completed his job Sunday.” The resulting “dazzle system” design, the article adds, is “one of the prettiest completed jobs imaginable.” It then speaks in some detail about the advantages of this approach to ship camouflage—

The “dazzle system” of camouflage, an adaptation from the latest English system, makes a much prettier looking boat. Instead of the hard straight lines with sharp angles that have characterized camouflage as used on vessels in the past, the new system comprises a series of graceful, curved lines and figures which deceive as to speed, size, and direction of progress, instead of attempting to hide the vessel. It Is said that as a cover or blending for the purpose of hiding the vessel, camouflage has been a failure but that it has proven its adaptability as a protective agency through deception. The new smooth and curving lines are said to be even more deceptive than the straight lines and hard angles. Certainly, on close-up observation the boat camouflaged under the new system is a much more pleasing sight to the eye, and as a success its value was apparent as one riding into town on Fifth Avenue looked down the estuary from near its head. Even at only this short distance away the vessel appeared considerably shorter as it was being towed to the river plant of the builders where a greater part of the machinery fitting and installation will be done.

Through the efforts of Covert at RISD, combined with other sources, there is additional information about Maurice L. Freedman. We know, for example, that, following his studies at RISD, he worked as an advertising artist in Providence RI, and, in the 1940s, designed Warfare: Naval Combat, an early iteration of a game since known as Battleship. In the 1950s, he was an assistant art director of Paramount Cards, the nation’s third-largest greeting card company, in Pawtucket RI. When he died at age 85, on December 4, 1983, he was living in Revere MA.

By comparison, there is considerably more information about Frank Bird Masters (1873-1955), who more often signed his work as F.B. Masters or Frank B. Masters. According to online postings, Masters was born in Watertown MA in 1873. He was initially drawn to science and engineering, with the result that he earned a BA degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1895. He worked briefly for the B.F. Sturtevant Company (the country’s oldest fan manufacturer), and then taught high school industrial arts for several years in Boston.

Illustration by Frank B. Masters (1907)

Around the turn of the century, his interests appear to have shifted from science and technology to art. In 1900, he rejoined the Sturtevant Company, but this time as an advertising artist. He also worked as an illustrator for the Curtis Publishing Company in Philadelphia. After his work was represented in several art exhibitions, he subsequently studied art with the prominent illustrator Howard Pyle in Wilmington DE. At the same time, he experimented with photography (specifically cyanotypes), by which he made candid images of workers, backstreets, locomotives, and industrial sites. He made these not as “photographic art,” but as image references for his illustrations for books, magazines, and advertising. From 1905-1918, he maintained a studio in New York at 23 West 24th Street, near Madison Square Park (in the Flatiron District).

Illustration by Frank B. Masters (1907)

In 1918, Masters accepted employment as a civilian ship camoufleur in New York with the US Shipping Board. He subsequently worked on projects in Jacksonville FL, Tampa FL, Washington DC, Charleston SC, and Savannah GA. The war effectively ended with the Armistice on November 1, 1918, and soon after Masters returned to New York, where he resumed his profession as an advertising illustrator.

Advertising poster for Century Magazine by Frank B. Masters (1903)


Above The two black-and-white illustrations by Frank B. Masters shown were originally published in the Washington Evening Star (Washington DC) on September 22, 1907.  

News articles about the launching of the SS Everglades were published in the Tampa Tribune on July 30, and August 4, 1918; and in the Tampa Bay Times on May 24, and August 1, 1918.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Don Jules Camou | Ye Olde Checkerboard Technique

Full-page article on Don Jules Camou (1932)
Five years ago, I ran across a news article that claimed that modern camouflage was originated in the 19th century by a French general named Jacques Camou (1792-1868). At first, I thought it was a joke. The coincidence of the person’s name and the Modern-era military term (which did not come into common use until 1914) was bizarre.

But I have now found a more detailed news article from 1932 that provides an account of the life of Don Jules Camou (not Jacques Camou), described as a major landowner (“a dictator, almost”) in the Mexican state of Sonora. Written by Oren Arnold, the article is titled INVENTED CAMOUFLAGE A CENTURY AGO TO SAVE HIS RANCH FROM THE APACHES: Fooling the enemy with paint was not originated by modern war strategists after all—for wily Jules Camou used it against his Indian foes in 1832 (Arizona Daily Star, May 22, 1932).

Accompanying the article are several surprisingly clear photographs of the then surviving structures on the Camou estate, located in Sonora, 250 miles south of the Mexican-American border. When the article came out, it was claimed that “more than 100 alleged heirs” were “still squabbling over his estate, and romantic yarns about him are becoming a vital part of Sonoran folklore.” Reportedly, part of the interest was due to the possibility of ore deposits, and, less credible, the rumor that a cache of gold was hidden somewhere on the property. “The courts at Hermosillo, the capital city of Sonora,” the article notes, “are crowded with matters concerning the Jules Camou estate.”

Jules Camou’s purported use of camouflage took place in 1832. His cattle ranch was huge; according to the article, “a horseman can travel in a straight line for two days” and never leave the estate. Each year he raised as many as 16,000 head of cattle, the success of which required dependable access to water. He decided to construct a dam with which to form a 400-acre lake. But he was plagued by frequent attacks by neighboring Apaches, who regarded him as an intruder.

In order to construct the dam, Camou first devised a large ranch fortress, with a cylindrical stone tower at each end. When attacked, the workers could flee to the towers, and fire at the attackers from above through five-inch square-shaped portholes. But the portholes themselves were a target. It was Camou’s innovation to make the portholes hard to see by randomly locating them within a surface pattern of painted squares. As a result, the article claims, “where any one Indian might before have seen four or five targets, he now could see only a confusing picture of colored squares.”

Did Camou actually do this? It seems that he did, but even so, it’s unlikely that he was the first. A comparable checkerboard pattern (to conceal the location of gun ports) had long been used by ships at sea. In an earlier posting about camouflage and checkerboards, we referenced the aforementioned Jacques Camou, who appears to have had no connection to Mexico. In Paris, there is a street called rue Camou, named in his honor.

In the article on Jules (not Jacques), historian John McPhee is quoted as saying—

…Jules Camou originated what we now call “camouflage.” I don’t know whether he named it or not, but it is at least a coincidence that the names—Camou and camou-flage—should be so similar, isn’t it?

Related to this is an earlier news article with the headline GERMAN CONSUL MADE TO PAY HEAVY RANSOM: Sonora Rebels Abuse Max Muller and Extort $10,000 From Him, in the Los Angeles Call (April 4, 1913). The article tells the story of the threat to wealthy residents of Sonora, who are in danger of being kidnapped and held for ransom. One of the victims was Max Muller, who was vice president of the Bank of Sonora and the German consul at Hermosillo. After paying the ransom and being released, Muller fled to safety in Los Angeles, where other Sonorans had already fled. The article adds—

Among the refugees now here [in LA] are thirty-two wealthy members of the Camou family, headed by Fermin Camou and Albert Camou. This family owns practically all of the state of Sonora, and is rated as worth more than three million dollars.  


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Seven to seventy | Edward Simmons looking back

Edward Simmons, Girl Reading (1893)
Edward Simmons, From Seven to Seventy: Memories of a Painter and a Yankee. New York: Harpers, 1922, p. 341—

…and then came the War. I was too old to go; they even refused me in the Camouflage section, although I insist I would have been of use.

Although I was not allowed to take part in the War, my whole world changed. The color of everything—we were enmeshed in khaki. To eyes accustomed to riotous shades, this deadening of the whole tone of things was tremendously depressing… I wanted to keep step, and felt as if I were marching, marching, marching—until I would suddenly become conscious that I was only sitting still. I had never found the necessity of realizing the meaning of the old saying, “He also serves—“ For the first time I was forced to acknowledge that it was the age of the young.

Edward Simmons (date unknown)