Monday, January 21, 2013

Camouflage Artist | David O. Reasoner

USS Banago (1918) in dazzle camouflage (digital coloring)

David O(rville) Reasoner was born in 1882 in Upland IN. He attended Indiana University in Bloomington, where he graduated in 1909. In subsequent years, he studied painting at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. 

During World War I, Reasoner was employed by the US Shipping Board, Emergency Fleet Corporation, as a civilian navy camouflage artist, in the course of which he applied camouflage designs to US merchant ships. Records in the Archives of American Art indicate that his assignment officially ended on December 15, 1918.

Around 1920, Reasoner and two other Boston artists (Henry O’Connor (1891-1975) and Frederick Rhodes Sisson (1893-1962)) became apprentices and assistants to Abbott Handerson Thayer at the well-known painter’s home and studio in Dublin NH. Thayer’s publications about the “concealing coloration of animals” had influenced the development of Allied wartime camouflage during WWI. In various sources, Reasoner, O’Connor and Sisson have been described (along with other apprentices) as Thayer’s “copyists” (they made precise duplicates of his unfinished paintings, from which he then went on to make different finished versions). Also cited as an assistant in his later years was a painter named Grace Dredge (1895-?), originally from Des Moines IA.

Thayer’s health (both physical and psychological) was declining rapidly in the winter of 1920-1921, and according to Gladys Thayer (called Galla), the artist’s daughter, it was primarily David Reasoner who attended to Thayer’s needs and “toward the end did little besides take care of him.”

As described in Ross Anderson’s biography of the artist—

In the spring of 1921, while resting in bed Thayer asked an assistant [Reasoner] to bring him one of his unfinished canvases and his palette and brushes. As he began to work, his hand suddenly stiffened, evidence of a slight stroke. He suffered two more within the next three weeks, and died from a third on May 29, 1921.

Years later, Reasoner provided his own account of Thayer’s last weeks in a 1948 news article in The Kingston [New York] Daily Freeman, in which the following text appears:

Even on his [Abbott Thayer’s] deathbed, painting was uppermost on his mind. The family physician had told [David] Reasoner ‘It won’t be long. He might last the day out.’ Thayer had been working on a picture promised for shipment to a New York gallery. The elderly man asked Dave to bring up the picture from the studio. It was set up where he could see it from his bed. He then required Dave to darken a small area near the bottom. ‘No, a little higher—now a little to the left. No, no, come and help me over to it.’ Any movement would likely be his last, but Reasoner knew he would try to do it alone if he didn’t help so he practically carried Thayer to the spot that needed darkening. It is said that half the time, Thayer worked paint with his thumb instead of a brush, and the thumb had a beat as regular as a metronome after fifty years of use.

Curiously, there is a public record that Grace Dredge and Lyman Reasoner (David Reasoner’s brother) were married on May 28, 1921, in Keene, New Hampshire (a dozen miles from Dublin), one day before Thayer’s death. She took on the married name of Grace Dredge Reasoner (and later, Grace Reasoner Clark). Ten days later, on June 6, 1921 (according to an Indiana University alumni note), David Reasoner and Gladys Thayer were also married.

Following Thayer’s death (based on correspondence in the Thayer Family Papers in the AAA), it appears that Thayer’s son, Gerald Handerson Thayer (called Gra) was initially the executor of Thayer’s estate. Somewhat later, due to an unclear set of circumstances, the role of executor was shifted to David Reasoner.

Around 1925, the Reasoners moved to Woodstock, New York. They became the parents of four children, Allen (who died during World War II), Jean (portrait painter Jean Reasoner Plunket), Peggy and Richard.  According to online information, plans for that facility—

began in 1928 with the formation of Woodstock Property, Inc. (WPI), founded by David O. Reasoner, an Indiana-born artist with a superb golf game. After selling stock in WPI Reasoner negotiated the purchase of 250 acres of farmland…WPI then leased the land to Woodstock Country Club, Inc. at a nominal fee. Reasoner presided over both WPI and the Country Club…

At about the same time, the Woodstock Playhouse was founded, under David Reasoner’s management, a position that he continued to hold for at least the next few years. A solo exhibition of his wife’s paintings was held at the Woodstock Country Club Tavern in August 1932.

Beginning in the spring of 1937, for about three years, the Reasoner family was all but nomadic, traveling across the country by station wagon, often camping out, and living intermittently at various locations in California (San Diego, Point Loma, Santa Barbara, Montecito, and Santa Monica). In June of 1940, when David Reasoner’s mother became ill, they moved back to his hometown, Upland IN, about 75 miles northeast of Indianapolis.

The US entered WWII at the end of 1941. In early January, David Reasoner (leaving his wife to care for his ailing mother in Indiana) moved to Washington DC­­, accompanied by his daughter Jean, in the hope that, given his experience in the previous war, he might once again find work as a ship camoufleur. In late January 1942, he met with artists Charles Bittinger (1879-1970), head of the U.S. Navy Research Department, and Everett Warner (1877-1963), both of whom had been involved in WWI camouflage. According to a Reasoner letter (in February 1942), he had been told by Bittinger that it was “just a question of time until there will be all-out marine camouflage,” and that “when this happens, I  seem to be in line for the top job.” But, according to a later letter (June 1942), he was eventually assigned not to camouflage but to “managerial duties”: “Instead of camouflaging ships I find myself an impresario, secretary, and telephone operator.”
News article from Kingston Daily Freeman, New York (1948)

In the same 1948 news article (cited earlier) in The Kingston [New York] Daily Freeman, there is a story that contends that, when David Reasoner moved to Washington DC, he gave to Walter Seaton, a Woodstock friend and artist, "what he thought were a lot of old canvases," including some from Thayer's studio. One of those canvases, as Seaton discovered while cleaning them for future reuse, was a previously unknown Thayer self-portrait, one of only four he made. Included in the news article is a low quality newsprint photograph (reproduced here) of Seaton (standing on the left) and other local artists with the newly discovered painting.

A few years earlier, Gladys Thayer Reasoner had rejoined her husband in Washington, DC, where she died in August 1945. David Reasoner’s mother, Louanna, remained in Indiana and died in 1948.  

In a letter dated October 4, 1949, David Reasoner (on behalf of the Thayer Estate) donated to the Smithsonian Institution 96 sketches, photographs, watercolor studies, demonstration models, and paintings “made by my father-in-law [Abbott Thayer] is his study of protective coloration in the animal kingdom.”


Abbott Handerson Thayer andThayer Family Papers at the website of the Archives of American Art (Smithsonian Institution), Research Collections (includes 10,074 online image and document scans, with numerous letters and other materials pertaining to David Reasoner).

“Alumni Notes” (David Reasoner entry), in Indiana University Alumni Quarterly. Vol 8 No 4, October 1921, p. 528.

Ross Anderson, Abbott Handerson Thayer. Exhibition catalog. Syracuse, New York: Everson Museum, 1982.

“Artist Discovers Rare Self-Portrait by Thayer,” in The Kingston Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York). December 14, 1948, pp. 1 and 17.

Roy R. Behrens, Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art,Architecture and Camouflage. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books, 2009.

“Gladys Reasoner to Hold Exhibition,” in The Kingston Daily Freeman, July 25, 1932, p. 6. 

Nelson C. White, Abbott H. Thayer: Painter and Naturalist. Hartford: Connecticut Printers, 1951.   


Camouflage Artist | Charles Bittinger

Anon, painting of a WWI US dazzle-camouflaged ship (1918).

American artist-scientist Charles Bittinger was born on June 27, 1879. Originally from Washington DC, he studied for two years at MIT, with the intention of becoming a scientist. He then switched to painting, and went off to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts and other French schools. There he married a concert singer named Edith Gay, and returned to the US to study at the Art Students League. 

During World War I, he was one of the artists who studied at a camouflage training school established in New York by William Andrew MacKay (Yates 1919). He also worked for the US Navy at Eastman Kodak Laboratories with physicist Loyd A. Jones on the development of ship camouflage.

Camouflaged USS Zirkel (1918), digital coloring

Between the wars, Bittinger relocated to Washington DC, and began to experiment with the use of science in making art. In 1929, he painted three murals for the Franklin Institute, depicting stages in the life of Benjamin Franklin. When observed in incandescent light, each painting appeared to be a certain picture, but when viewed under ultraviolet light, it appeared to be an entirely different picture. In 1935, Bittinger exhibited another work in which Charles Lindbergh’s famous transatlantic flight appeared under normal viewing conditions, but the same painting became the Mona Lisa when viewed through an optical instrument that Bittinger had invented.

The following is an excerpt from Literary Digest (1921) that talks about his tandem use of art and science for inventive purposes:

…Charles Bittinger, a scientist who is primarily an artist, has hit upon the idea of utilizing these differences, increasing them where possible and making them serve his purpose. During the war Mr. Bittinger served in the department of camouflage of the United States Navy, conducting experiments in reflection and transmission of light-waves. By means of the spectro-photometer, he established the reflective powers of a number of pigments and dyes that had invisible spectral differences, and, with a palette set with paintings similar in color when seen in a white light, but contrasting sharply in degrees of light and dark when seen under a red light, painted his two-fold pictures, using round brushes for one series of paints and triangular ones for the other, to avoid confusion in the work.…

In Mr. Bittinger’s New York studio is a miniature stage set with a scene on the Riviera, which immediately changes to Madison Square in winter when the red light is switched on. Costumes, too, can be handled in endless effective ways by applying the principle to the dyes used and to the patterns in which the colors are put on. A chorus might come dancing on in dresses with horizontal stripes. The light changes—and instantly the stripes are vertical…

Mr. Bittinger has painted an airplane wing with the German cross upon it, which when viewed by our army through binoculars equipped with a red filter, discloses itself to be not the German cross, but the red, white and blue of the Allies. Thus an airplane could fly unscathed over the German lines and return home again without being fired upon.

Bittinger's research was also described scientifically by Walter Clark (1939) as follows:

Some observations by Bittinger may be mentioned in connection with the separation by photographic means of two colors which are visually identical. He selected paints having predetermined and known reflection characteristics and a spectral difference which was not apparent to the eye. Scenes were painted in these colors, and illuminated with light of one color to produce a certain visual effect. By changing the spectral quality of the light in accordance with the known invisible spectral difference in the paints, he was able to produce an entirely different visual effect. For instance, in one example the painting shows a summer scene when viewed by white light, and an entirely different winter scene when illuminated by red light.

Bittinger (c1931) working on a project for the US Bureau of Standards

In 1937, Bittinger was invited jointly by the US Navy and the National Geographic Society to travel to Canton Island in the Pacific to paint a total solar eclipse. Nearly a decade later, he was the official artist for Operation Crossroads, for which he was one of the artists to paint the first atomic explosion at the Bikini Atoll in 1946. The paintings he made for the latter are posted online here by the US Naval Historical Center.

During World War II, he once again worked on ship camouflage for the U.S. Navy, in which he was the administrative overseer of the research of such camouflage artists as Everett Warner (who was the head of the camouflage team), Bennet Buck, Sheffield H. Kagy, William Walters, Arthur S. Conrad, and Robert Hays. When Bittinger died on December 18, 1970, his obituary in the Washington Post included this statement:

Mr. Bittinger served in the Navy during both world wars, receiving the Legion of Merit in 1946 for his work in the camouflage section of the Bureau of Ships. 

Patents by Charles Bittinger
US Patent No. 1,342,247 [June 1, 1920]: Combining Reflected and Transmitted Light Waves of Varying Lengths to Produce Subjective Changes in Scenic Effects.
US Patent No. 1,629,250 [May 17, 1927]: Production and Utilization of Diachronic Inks.
US Patent No. 1,781,999 [March 16, 1929]: Rear View Mirror.
US Patent No. 1,934,310 [with E.O. Hulburt, November 7, 1933]: Visibility Meter and Method of Measuring Visibility.
Anon, “Two Paintings in One” in Literary Digest, March 12, 1921, p. 25.
Anon, “First ‘Invisible’ Murals in Franklin Institute” in New York Times, June 8, 1934, p. 14.
Anon, “By Any Other Light” in New York Times, March 3, 1935, p. X18.
Roy R. Behrens, Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books, 2009, pp. 54-57.
Roy R. Behrens, ed., Ship Shape: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books, 2012.
Charles Bittinger, “Naval Camouflage” in US Naval Proceedings, October 1940, pp. 1394-1398.
“Charles Bittinger, 91, Dies” (obituary) in Washington Post, December 20, 1970, p. B12.
Walter Clark, Photography by Infra-Red: Its Principles and Application. New York: John Wiley, 1939.
Raymond Francis Yates, “The Science of Camouflage Explained” in Everyday Engineering Magazine, March 1919, pp. 253-256 (reprinted in Behrens 2012).

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Vaccination Camouflage and More Swimsuits

Have you a camouflage bathing suit? (1919)
Above, photographic images (digitally restored) from “HAVE YOU A ‘CAMOUFLAGE’ BATHING SUIT? It’s the Summer’s Newest Fad” in The Evening World Daily Magazine. May 31, 1919, p. 1.

Anon, “HER BATHING SUIT IS GOOD, BUT NOT MUCH: Young Woman in Camouflage Outfit at Coney Island, Reverses Art as Practiced in War and Reveals—Oh, Boy!” in The Washington Herald, June 2, 1919, p. 1—
Camouflage, according to the general understanding, is intended to conceal, but the young lady who sprung a “camouflage” bathing suit at Coney Island this afternoon—providing that was her intention—failed to accomplish any such purpose.

It is doubtful if anything about the suit, or the young lady, escaped the attention of the several thousand persons on the beach. No two could be found who agreed on the details of the costume, but they all agreed beautifully regarding the details of the young lady. A woman’s description of the effect would be highly technical, so here’s one by a man—

Face—Slightly tanned.
The rest—bathing suit.

The costume was made of something or other, and its principal colors were violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and read, with intermediate shades. It was a perfect fit.

Above Some of the first vaccinations for the most dreaded contagious diseases (diptheria, tuberculosis, scarlet fever, and whooping cough) were introduced shortly after World War I. Sometimes they left substantial scars. Shown here is a full-page article on “Beauty’s Latest Skin Game” which revealed the latest clever means of “vaccination camouflage.” From The Morning Tulsa (OK) Daily World. December 17, 1922.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dazzle Swimsuits Déja Vu

Dazzle-camouflaged swimsuits at Margate (UK) in 1919

In two earlier posts, we shared World War I-era news stories and photos about the scandalous popularity of women's swimsuits that were prompted by the dazzle designs used on merchant ships back then. Just today, we found yet another one. The news photo above was published in the New York Sun on July 15, 1919, with the following caption—

The camouflage bathing suit has made its appearance in England and has excited attention if not admiration. Three exponents of the "dazzle" idea are pictured here, disporting themselves on the sands at Margate.

In addition, maybe this gives us reason enough to share a little poem about the same subject from just two years earlier. Written by Well Clay and titled "Telephone Trail," it was published in Telephony. Telephone Publishing Corporation, 1917, p. 31—

"Oh, mother, may I go down and swim?"
     "Oh, yes, my darling daughter;
But your bathing suit's so awfully scant
     You must stay in deep water."
"Oh, camouflage will remedy that,"
     The maiden laughed in glee.
"No one will notice my bathing suit
     After it has made them notice me."

books & historic prints and photographs

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Still More on H. Ledyard Towle | A Hue Guru

Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps (1918
H(arold) Ledyard Towle was an American artist and industrial colorist, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1890. After studying art at Pratt Institute, and at the Art Students League (under Frank Vincent DuMond and William Merritt Chase), he embarked on what he thought would be a career as a painter of portraits and landscapes. However, as he later admitted, his experiences as a camouflage artist during World War I changed many of his attitudes, including how he looked at art.

During WWI, Towle was a camouflage instructor in the 71st Infantry Regiment of the New York State National Guard. In that capacity, he provided camouflage training for troops who were preparing to fight on the battlefields in Europe. He also taught a course about camouflage at the Columbia University Teachers College. Before the war ended, he himself shipped off to France as a machine-gunner and camoufleur at the Front.

While still in New York, he also took on an unusual task, which led to a flood of news articles. In early 1918, approval was made to establish a Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps, and Towle was designated as the instructor for a unit of about thirty-five to fifty civilian women volunteers. The training was largely conducted out of doors in New York, on the grounds of the Billings Estate, which is now the museum The Cloisters.

Full-page article on Towle's women camoufleurs (July 1918)

Towle’s course for women was not only about camouflage, since it also offered training in military drill, boxing, and pistol and rifle marksmanship. Because (or so it was commonly said at the time) women were naturally inclined toward sewing, one of their primary challenges was to make hooded camouflaged “observation suits,” with which they could blend in with natural settings. There was no shortage of news stories about the unit’s activities (enlivened by photographs, along with appropriate quotes from Lieutenant Towle). In July 1918, there were widely published stories about these women camoufleurs (jokingly referred to then as “camoufleuses”) because they had applied a camouflage scheme to a scaled-down wooden battleship (called the USS Recruit) in the middle of New York City in Union Square. In fact, it was not a genuine ship, but a landlocked replica built in 1917 for use as a novelty recruiting station. It was someone’s suggestion that it would be even more novel, generate more publicity, and encourage more recruits to join if its surface was totally covered in brightly-colored, abstract shapes (in “dazzle camouflage”). The women camoufleurs in Towle’s course were chosen to accomplish this. They did the whole thing overnight—and it was the talk of the town the next morning.

When Captain Towle returned from the war, surely he was discouraged to find (like others of his generation) that American Impressionism was no longer in vogue, having been swept aside by Modernism that had begun with the Armory Show in 1913. Beginning in 1919, he worked for the US Treasury Department in Washington DC, in connection with the Victory Liberty Loan Committee, then moved on to positions at several advertising agencies, including one at which he was in charge of the DuPont Company account.

A breakthrough in his career took place in 1925, when he was hired by DuPont (working in cooperation with General Motors in Detroit) to establish a Duco Color Advisory Service in New York. As documented in a book by Regina Lee Blaszczyk on the history of color use in industrial production (The Color Revolution), this enterprising artist-turned-camoufleur became phenomenally influential at DuPont, General Motors (where he worked with other former camoufleurs, and with Harvey J. Earl), and Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, as industry’s first and foremost “color engineer.”

Towle moved from New York to Detroit in July of 1928, when General Motors launched an “art and color section” and appointed Towle its “chief color expert.” He talked about his career transition in news articles at the time. “I went into the war,” he explained, “thinking art belonged to the chosen few. I came out knowing that it belonged to every urchin in the street. Working on wartime camouflage problems taught one how to use color with a purpose. I saw the futility of painting portraits to collect dust in museums, and turned to camouflaging industry and its products of everyday life.” His disdain for the art world is evident in his statement that “The automobile manufacturers and plumbing magnates are rivaling the Medici of old as patrons of art, and the resources of modern corporations are unlimited.”

In Blaszczyk’s book, she concludes that Towle was “America’s top automotive and paint colorist.” In the 1928 news article (cited earlier), he is described as "a pioneer in the movement which has brought lavender tea boxes, turquoise alarm clocks and a host of vivid motor cars…," a hue guru who “is now studying the 'color consciousness' of each section of the country, hoping to perfect hues which will satisfy the particular desires of each district."

In December 1934, Towle joined the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company as director of its Division of Creative Design and Color. In 1941, he was interviewed in a news article about his proposal to set up a Pittsburgh civilian camouflage committee, for the purpose of determining which facilities in that city were most vulnerable to attacks by enemy aircraft, and “to design methods either to hide these places by breaking up their shadows or by making them harder to hit.”

From 1945 through 1950, Towle was a lecturer in Business Administration at the College of William and Mary. He died on November 8, 1973. His papers are housed in the Manuscript and Archives Department at the Haley Museum and Library in Wilmington DE.


Roy R. Behrens, False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books, 2002.
_________, Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books, 2009.
_________ ed., Ship Shape: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books, 2012.
Regina Lee Blaszczyk, The Color Revolution. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2012.
“Color Engineer Sees New Epoch of Vivid Utility” in Waterloo (Iowa) Courier, April 10, 1929, p. 14.
“Raid Defense Gets Impetus in Pittsburgh” in Sandusky (Ohio) Register and News. September 16, 1941.
H. Ledyard Towle, “What the American ‘Camouflage’ Signifies” in New York Times. June 3, 1917, p. 14.
_________, “Projecting the Automobile into the Future” in Society for Automotive Engineering Journal, July 29, 1931.
_________, “Here It Comes” in American Magazine, September 1932.
“Ledyard Towle” (obituary), in New York Times, November 11, 1973, p. 73.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Camouflage Artist | Valentin di Colonna

Cover of John Clayton's book about novelist Caroline Lockhart

Valentin di Colonna (who sometimes used the Anglicized name W.H. “Bill” Miller) was born in Rome, Italy, on September 25, 1879. According to a newspaper clipping (no date, no attribution), he was descended from Italian nobility, reputedly the same Colonna family who were Princes Assistant to the Pontifical Throne.

Apparently (again based on a news report), his father was a diplomatic envoy for Italy to the US, and was involved, in that capacity, with the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. It is not clear when the younger di Colonna moved to the US, but at some point he enrolled at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, then subsequently studied art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

At an unknown date, for reasons that remain unclear, he settled in Cody, Wyoming, the town named for Buffalo Bill (William F. Cody), who was one of the people who founded it in 1896, and the location of Cody’s Irma Hotel. It isn’t clear how Colonna supported himself while living in Wyoming. If he was a practicing artist, most likely he was a designer, and, in the diary of a friend and possible love interest, there is mention of his having designed posters on display in town.

His training and interest in art would explain why he was chosen to serve during World War I in the US Army’s first camouflage unit. In a 1917 issue of an area newspaper, the Pinedale Roundup, there is the following news feature:

Wyoming is one of the first states in the union to be represented in the new Camouflage Unit now being organized for service abroad. Valentine[sic] Colonna of Cody, more familiarly known as W.H. Miller in Buffalo Bill’s town, has the distinction of being the first Wyoming man, and one of the first from anywhere, to enroll in this highly specialized force which is expected to render great service in Uncle Sam’s war with Germany (p. 2).

Di Colonna’s service is further confirmed by two brief items that appeared in the camouflage unit’s camp newspaper (of which there were only three issues) called The Camoufleur. (It was written, illustrated and produced by members of the Camouflage Corps, who were in training on the grounds of the American University in Washington DC.) The first mention of him appears in the following paragraph from the October 31, 1917 issue:

Corporal Di Colonna, Buffalo Bill’s right hand man, makes ‘em hustle to keep him supplied with food when he gets a meal downtown [in Washington DC]. He says if a waiter in the Plains Hotel, in Cody, tried to get away with what passes for service here, he’d be shot five times before he hit the ground. Cody isn’t the only place either (p. 6).

A few weeks later, he is mentioned again, in an issue of the same publication dated November 17, this time in a story about a camp visit by President Woodrow Wilson and other civilian and military officials for a demonstration of camouflage, ending with a dinner and a stage performance by the troops. The last paragraph reads as follows:

Artistic balance was achieved by the statuesque figure of Sergeant-at-Arms Di Colonna, who towering above our honored guests, with that practiced eye trained in the hills of Wyoming, watched over their welfare (p. 5).

In December, di Colonna and his fellow camoufleurs departed for France, where they would apply their skills on the battlefield. Presumably after the unit arrived, Colonna asked to be transferred from the camouflage unit to a combat outfit because “to get into the big fight was more to the liking of the Cody man.” As a result, he fought in significant battles, was wounded three times, was terribly burned in a poison gas attack, and suffered a back injury when a tree fell on him. He was twice cited for bravery and received the Croix de Guerre, but for the rest of is life, he lived with the after effects of his wounds.

Before going off to war, it seems likely that Colonna had been romantically linked with another Cody resident, a female Western novelist named Caroline Lockhart (1871-1962). Lockhart was acquainted with Buffalo Bill, but it isn’t certain what connection, if any, there was between Colonna and Cody (so it remains a puzzle why Colonna was called “Buffalo Bill’s right hand man.”)

In a recent book on Lockhart’s life by John Clayton (2007), di Colonna is described as “an Italian nobleman” who in 1918 was “a soldier now off fighting in the war in Europe.” She had received from him a “rather incoherent letter, sending a kiss” (p. 123). When Lockhart’s genteel sister saw one of di Colonna’s letters, she became upset by his use of such words as “bitch” and “pimp”—“A gentleman,” she insisted, “would not write such a letter to a lady.” But Caroline defended him: “Though the son of a bona fide Italian count,” she said, “di Colonna lived a rugged outdorsy life in Cody. Such earthy language was part of his appeal” (p. 123).

As the war persisted, Colonna (a “handsome younger nobleman” who was both “manly and chivalrous”) continued to send her affectionate notes. Lockhart was enroute from Oklahoma on the evening in 1919 when Colonna returned from the war. According to a newspaper account, he was surprised to be met at the station at Cody by a hundred cheering friends “who had been ‘tipped off’” and were waiting to meet the train. That evening, he was the guest at a huge banquet. His friend the novelist couldn’t be there, “but two days later he had a more intimate welcome: dinner and drinks at the home of Caroline Lockhart. He asked if he could kiss her, and though she coquettishly refused, she was quite smitten” (p. 138).

What happened to di Colonna in the remaining years of his life? In 1930, he may still have been in Wyoming, because he is referred to in a news article as the “former State Adjutant of the American Legion, Department of Wyoming.” Beyond that, virtually nothing is known.

That same news clipping (mentioned earlier), with the headline HEART ATTACK CLAIMS BILL MILLER, FAMOUS OLDTIMER AND VETERAN, claims that he never recovered from his wartime injuries, and had been advised for health reasons to move to a lower altitude. When he died somewhere in Maryland on September 7, 1938, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where his gravestone mistakenly carries the name Valentin D. Colonna.


“Cody Man Enters Camouflage Unit” in Pinedale Roundup (October 4, 1917) p. 2.
“William Miller Lies Wounded in Hospital” in Northern Wyoming Herald No 44 (September 25, 1918) p. 1.
“Bill Miller Is Home” in Northern Wyoming Herald No 28 (June 11, 1919) pp. 1 & 4.
John Clayton, The Cowboy Girl: The Life of Caroline Lockhart. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007.
Necah Stewart Furman, “Western Author Caroline Lockhart and Her Perspectives on Wyoming, in Montana: The Magazine of Western History Vol 36 No 1 (Winter 1986), pp. 50-59.

Thanks especially to John Clayton who kindly provided invaluable leads, as well as his notes on that unidentified news clipping from Caroline Lockhart’s scrapbook.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Review | The British Phantom Army

Rick Stround, The Phantom Army of Alamein (2012)

The Phantom Army of Alamein: 
How the Camouflage Unit and
Operation Bertram 
Hoodwinked Rommel
by Rick Stroud
Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2012
288 pp., illus. b&w. Trade, $25.95
ISBN: 978-1-4088-2910-3.

Some time in 2013, a new documentary film titled The Ghost Army will premiere on American public television. It will spell out the little-known story of a World War II U.S. Army unit that operated secretly in Europe from 1944 until the war’s end. That unit was made up of more than a thousand soldiers who in civilian life were so-called “creative types,” among them such now prominent names as the painter Ellsworth Kelly, fashion designer Bill Blass, wildlife artist Arthur Singer, and photographer Art Kane. Working as a team, they impersonated other army units and created persuasive illusions (both physical and auditory) of misleading, unreal battle events.

This book is not about that American unit, as tempting as it is to think that “ghost army” is synonymous with “phantom army.” Rather, this book tells the story of a comparable but earlier British outfit—consisting largely of artists as well—that was formed in 1942 for the massive, focused task of fooling German forces (headed by General Erwin Rommel, aka the “Desert Fox”) in the sands of North Africa in the Second Battle of El Alamein. The resulting Allied victory was in part attributed to (by none other than Winston Churchill) the ingenious clandestine trickery of the British Middle East Command Camouflage Directorate in a famous large-scale project called “Operation Bertram.”

Unlike the American Ghost Army (kept secret until 1996), details of this British ruse have been known since at least 1949, when one of its self-touting members, British stage magician Jasper Maskelyne, wrote what is widely considered to be an embellished and largely self-serving account, titled Magic—Top Secret. Three years later, the film director who headed the unit, Major Geoffrey Barkas, published his own eyewitness report of the operation, titled The Camouflage Story (from Aintree to Alamein). Over the years, those two books have been supplemented by ten or more others about the unit’s achievements. According to its publisher, this one, which has just come out, “tells for the first time the full story.”

So what did these soldier-artist-camoufleurs do? How did they hoodwink the Desert Fox? The answer(s) to that constitutes the best moments in the book. In general, I think it would be fair to say that they used two approaches: First, they made key weaponry disappear—not by vanishing, but by disguising it as something else, as a less threatening, innocuous thing. Tanks were made to look like trucks. Field artillery was concealed in other phony forms. And food, fuel and other supplies were covered up and stacked to look like harmless transport vehicles. Second, at other times, for other purposes, they did the opposite—making clever use of the simplest materials, they constructed trompe l’oeil dummies (tanks, artillery, support vehicles) to create an illusory build-up, to “reveal” things that were never there. As a result, they made the enemy think that Allied forces were being amassed at times and places that differed critically from the real situation. This Second Battle of El Alamein, in which these methods were employed, was the war’s first victory for the Allies.

If illusions, unfounded resemblance and various other visual subterfuges are bewildering to experience, they are at least equally hard to describe. One thing that sets this book apart is the richness of… more>>>

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Film Review | Rockwell Kent

Dust jacket for Moby Dick with Melville's name omitted

Rockwell Kent
by Frederick Lewis, Director
Dundee Road Productions, Athens, GA, 2005
DVD. 170 mins. Sales $39.95
Distributor’s website:

In 1902, as a 20-year-old art student at the New York School of Art, Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) studied with the painter Robert Henri. He was one of the top three students in the class, the others being George Bellows and Edward Hopper. Given their talents, at the time all three looked forward to promising futures.

Among Kent’s relatives was a wealthy aunt with an interest in art who had briefly been a student of the painter and naturalist Abbott Handerson Thayer (the "father of camouflage"). By her suggestion, her nephew became Thayer’s apprentice in the summer of 1903, at the artist’s home and studio in Dublin, New Hampshire. Kent fit in remarkably well in the Thayer household, a blissfully fanciful setting which some (uncritical) visitors called “Thayeryland.” In subsequent years, he was a close friend of Thayer’s son Gerald while “Uncle Abbott,” to some extent, was a belated surrogate for his own father, who had died when Kent was an infant. In other than the summer months, Kent also learned architectural drafting in New York, which later, whenever needed, provided a reliable way to survive financially.

Kent's self-portrait photomontage of himself surrounded by Thayers*
A decade later, Kent was dismayed when his work was ignored for the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art—now famously known as the Armory Show—while among the featured works was a controversial painting by the French artist Marcel Duchamp, titled Nude Descending a Staircase. Four years later, when Duchamp submitted an entry to an exhibition by the Society of Independent Artists in New York, for which Kent was a board member, that organization rejected Duchamp’s strange submission because (conveniently) the entry form was not properly filled out. The “artwork” that Duchamp submitted was—of course—his first, most famous “readymade,” an unaltered porcelain urinal called Fountain, signed “R. Mutt 1917.”

It was around that time that Kent grew disillusioned with the New York “art world.” He turned essentially to design, even when he was “designing” with paint on canvas. Not surprisingly, today he is especially remembered as an extraordinary book illustrator (for me, his greatest achievement may be the Random House edition of Moby Dick, which, amazingly, was published initially with his name on the front cover, while omitting the name of the author, Herman Melville); an insatiable adventurer, having lived (and lusted, both within and outside of his marriage(s)) on Monhegan Island in Maine, and in Newfoundland, Alaska, Tierra del Fuego, Ireland and Greenland; a phenomenally fluent writer; and a person who bravely protested when he was publicly targeted by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the latter’s fabled manhunt for Communist sympathisers. Kent was openly supportive (too uncritically, in retrospect) of the Soviet Union during the Stalinist era, but he was never a member of the American Communist Party. more>>>

* Kent is the large illuminated figure in the background. The five Thayers seated in front of him are (l to r) Abbott (Papa) H. Thayer, his second wife Emma (Addie) Beach Thayer, Gladys (Galla), Mary (Je-Je, Mandarin Chinese for "big sister"), and Gerald (Gra). Kent has given himself a halo, while Abbott and Gerald have elf ears. In subsequent years, Kent and Gerald Thayer were frequent friends, but he fell out of favor with Abbott because of his unfaithfulness to his first wife, Kathleen Whiting Kent, who was Abbott Thayer's niece. For more on this and other images and information, see the Rockwell Kent Collection at Plattsburgh State University. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Camoufleur Everett Warner on YouTube

An autobiographical talk by Everett Warner on YouTube
Everett Longley Warner (1877-1963) was an American Impressionist whose artistic career (like that of most promising artists in the early decades of the last century) was destroyed by Modernism. As he himself admitted, he had no taste for abstraction, and yet, ironically, he is largely remembered today as one of the key contributors to the development of dazzle ship camouflage during World War I—the examples of which would be hard to surpass in geometric abstract painting.

In the past decade, there has been a resurgence of interest in Warner, coincident with the popularity of Modern-era ship camouflage. There is an article about him on Wikipedia, an online chronology of his life, and four of his published essays about the theory and practice of camouflage were republished this year in SHIP SHAPE. In addition, a one-hour lecture with an audio track in which Warner himself talks about his art and life (more…) is available on YouTube. In addition, here are links to earlier posts in which he is pictured or mentioned.


Since this was originally posted, I have run across an online interview of American artist Everett Raymond Kinstler, titled "On the Shoulders of Giants," conducted in 2009 by Ira Goldberg. It is online here at LINEA: The Artist's Voice.  On page 9, Kinstler states:

[When he was nominated for membership to the National Academy of Art,] The academy turned me down…I got a letter from Everett Warner, who was a member of the academy and a good landscape painter. "Dear Mr. Kinstler," he wrote, "I was very disappointed to see that you were turned down at the Academy. You're a young artist of great potential and talent." He continued, "Don't be discouraged. The Academy needs people like you." It has always made me sensitive about writing to people.