Sunday, April 27, 2014

Learning from Abbott H. Thayer

A.H. Thayer, diagrams of figure-ground relationships (c1909)

Richard S. Merryman, Wood Duck (c1909)
Above Two illustrations from the classic book on camouflage by Gerald Handerson Thayer (the author of record), in collaboration with his father, Abbott Handerson Thayer, titled Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (NY: Macmillan, 1909/1918). The figures in the top one show the concurrent use of disruption and blending that results from the use of alternate background colors. Below that is a painting (made specifically for the book) by an Abbott Thayer student and assistant, Richard S. Meryman, of a male Wood Duck in a natural setting. Writes Thayer: His dark areas, with all their varied colors, here "become a part" of the like-colored dark reflections in the water, and his white patterns exactly reproduce the bright sky reflections, so that he is so to speak "dissolved" into the scene.


A tribute to Abbott H. Thayer by the California Nature Study League (probably written by C.M. Goethe) in HOME CIRCLE DEPARTMENT: NATURE STUDIES PAY BIG DIVIDENDS in Pacific Rural Press, January 15, 1921, p. 159—

…[A] brilliant instance of humanitarian dividends from nature study is the history of camouflage during the Great War [WWI]. Every child is familiar with camouflage photographs, as of ships colored spookily with bands of black, gray, blue. Ones first impression at seeing a wartime boat, gun, or even trench helmet so camouflaged, was of haphazard work. Camouflage, however, is based on mathematical laws [sic]. Its theory grew from observations of a nature lover [Thayer], a grown-up boy who had learned to read a roadside. 

He grasped that Germany, to win the war, needed successful submarines. The Teuton, on losing the first battle of the Marne in 1914, could gain no victory on land. This American, with boyhood nature-study training, saw clearly, thought accurately. Studying coloring of mammals and birds, there flashed into his mind the concept of something better than solid protective colorings, like the battleship gray of our navy during the Spanish-American War.

He examined carefully the mathematics of color patterns of such birds as the meadowlark, of such mammals as the chipmunk. From these he formulated certain mathematical laws Nature herself worked out so efficiently during hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. Enthuiastic over democracy's winning the war, he offered the theory to gasping France. With the usual speed of the Gallic imagination, the French General Staff glimpsed the possibility of thus blocking Germany's only way to forcing her kultur on all mankind.

Thus color patterns of grouse, deer, skunk were made the basis of camouflaging troop transports, of food vessels, of cannon. The coming of the Armistice Day was hastened.

The above answers "Does Nature Study Pay?"

Study carefully color patterns of such common birds, say the kildeer or any common sparrow. Think of the old theory of solid color like battleship gray compared with the camouflage of the Great War. Run through nature study books in your library such as Thayer's Concealing Coloration. Its illustrations will suggest new lines of thought in this fascinating study…

Abbott Handerson Thayer: A Beautiful Law of Nature (2014)

Depression, Fear and Camouflage

Ad for US Camoufleurs stage performance (1918)
Above Newspaper advertisement for a dramatic stage performance by members of the US Army Camouflage Unit at Camp Greene in North Carolina. The performance took place on June 2, 1918, and was very favorably reviewed the following day in the Charlotte News in CAMOUFLEURS MADE GREAT HIT, p. 2.


From the Albury Banner and Wodonga Express (New South Wales), October 16, 1936, p. 35—

Camouflage is the trick of making a thing look like something else. A battleship is painted to look like the waves. A building is covered with branches to make it look like a clump of trees. Other instances will occur to you. But camouflage doesn't always work. The battleship can easily be located by a tiny machine that picks up its vibrations, and tells exactly where it is and how fast it is going; or an airplane can see both ship and the shadow cast by it.  There are many people who camouflage their words and actions and motives. If they fool anybody, it is not for long. There is always something that betrays them for what they really are. The honest person never tries to camouflage. He does not pretend to be something that he is not. Don't camouflage. The trick is easily spotted, and it is always a sign that there is something wrong somewhere. Be yourself. Be the best yourself that you possibly can, and you'll never need to camouflage.


Rodney Dangerfield (American comedian) in an interview with Frank T. Csongos in 1975, reprinted here

Comedy is a camouflage for depression.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Camoufleurs Gerome Brush and Barry Faulkner

Gerome Brush (n.d.), Busts of Barry Faulkner
Above Two of three plaster busts (date unknown) of New Hampshire muralist (and co-founder of the New York Camouflage Corps) Barry Faulkner (1881-1966) by his friend the sculptor (and ship camouflage designer) Gerome Brush (1888-1954), the son of American painter George de Forest Brush. Recently, I was able to see the actual busts (which, as it turns out, are surprisingly large) when, on a visit to an Abbott H. Thayer and camouflage symposium, I had the fortune to spend some time with Allen Pierce, a descendant of the Brush family and the owner of these sculptures.


Barry Faulkner (recalling his friendship with Gerome Brush) in his Sketches from an Artist's Life. Dublin NH: William Bauhan, 1973, p. 69—

Gerome was a Personality. His high spirits spread a feast for his friends, a feast of wit and good humor. His character had no ugly traits. He had no formal education, yet with wits as quick as those of a fox, from the talk of his father's distinguished friends he picked much information which he understood and remembered. His talents were versatile; he became a sculptor and painter, and in his last years he wrote several admirable essays on the lives of famous Italian women painters, expressed in an original and exciting form of poetic prose. Our friendship was easy and undemanding; after years of separation we were able to pick it up just where we had left off.

More about Brush and Faulkner

Dazzle Camouflage Stockings

Calvert H. Smith, camouflage stockings cartoon (1919)
Above Wartime cartoon by Calvert H. Smith of "camouflage stockings" in Harper's Magazine, September 1919.


From CAMOUFLAGE STOCKING LATEST LONDON CRAZE in the Windsor Evening Record (Windsor, Ontario, Canada) November 3, 1917, page 12—

The Camouflage stocking has appeared in London. By imitating camouflage combinations used in fighting zones, difficulties of chorus managers in finding substitutes for many Venuses who have become war workers will be solved.

Certain camouflage combinations are said to make curves where this is slimness and slimness where curves are too pronounced.

The present skirt vogue is held responsible for the yellow and black and pink gray creations seen on Bond and Regent streets.


From the Sunday Times (Sydney AU), September 5, 1926, p. 17—

Camouflage is being utilized in the make-up of hosiery for fat ankles. Silk hose have been introduced which are guaranteed to make the fattest ankles look slim. The effect is produced by means of hand-painted shadows, which appear on either side of the ankle, giving the plumpest ankle an apparently graceful arch and the plumpest leg a slim outline.

Camouflage Artist | Harry Emerson Lewis

Emerson Lewis, Gray Dunes and Desert Verbena
We're trying to find information about an American Impressionist painter named Harry Emerson Lewis (1892-1958), aka Emerson Lewis. We've found a few minor news stories that mention him in passing, and a useful biographical note at AskArt. Everyone seems to agree that (as a later news article confirms) he served as a US Army camouflage instructor during World War I.

Born in Hutchinson KS, Lewis' family moved to Grand Rapids MI, where he attended high school. After that, he studied art at Northwestern University in Evanston IL. Following his wartime service, he studied art for three years in France (at the Sorbonne) and in Italy (in Rome, Milan and Florence). Returning to the US, he studied briefly with Boston-area artist Alexander Robinson, as well as at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1924, he moved to California (Los Angeles initially, then San Francisco, then Santa Ana), where he remained for the rest of his life. He died in 1958.

Emerson Lewis news photo (1942)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Trompe l'Oeil Camouflage

Richard W. Rummell (c1918)
Anon (1919)
Above (top) During World War I, American artist Richard W. Rummell (1848-1924) made this watercolor sketch of the starboard side of a single steamship, camouflaged by painting on its surface trompe l'oeil images of three other ships advancing diagonally toward the right. The caption on the painting reads: Side of steamship painted to represent Fleet of Vessels going diagonally forward to Starboard. This ploy was indeed proposed during the war, but most likely it wasn't ever carried out. Courtesy US National Archives. (bottom) Below that is another (unattributed) artist's rendering of the same idea, as published in Lloyd Seaman, "Masterpieces of Navy Camouflage" in Popular Mechanics magazine. Vol 31 (1919), pp. 217-219. The article's author's caption reads: The masterpiece of navy camouflage: Destroyers painted upon the sides of the ocean leviathans. No Hun submarine commander cared to face the redoubtable destroyers with their deadly depth bombs. Ordinarily, no time was spent in investigation—the U-boats dived and fled the spot.


From "Camouflage" in American Architect. Vol 117 (1920)—

Now that the war [WWI] is over the camouflage artist may be seeking occupation, and the Architect's Journal of London has facetiously thought of a manner in which his talents might be used for the general good. We are surrounded by many buildings, which cause us daily pain, but which serve some utilitarian purpose. Why should not the camouflage artist so decorate the fronts of these buildings as to make them absolutely invisible from the street? It might excite wonder to see some hundreds of people passing into a building which apparently consisted of one floor only, but this would not matter. We should only consider that there were more marvels than had been dreamed of in our philosophy, while local authorities would have to determine what new buildings should be allowed to be visible.

Below A somewhat comparable concept: A World War II-era Russian photograph (taken by Alexander Krasavin on 9 August 1942) of the Bolshoi Theatre camouflaged by the application, on its facade, of a painting of an entirely different building. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons / RIA Novosti.

Camouflaged Bolshoi Theatre (1942)

Additional info

Monday, April 21, 2014

Thomas Hart Benton & WWI Camouflage

Article in Kansas City Star
Above News article on the opening of an exhibit (at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City) about Thomas Hart Benton's involvement in ship camouflage. From The Kansas City Star (April 19, 2014).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Camouflage Is Criminal

Laurel and Hardy in bungled prison escape
From Solomon J. Solomon, Strategic Camouflage. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1920—

When a man would commit a crime in a room overlooked from another the first thing he does is to pull down the blind; and, if he is using a light, he closes the shutters too.

War is a crime, and this war [WW1] was, and henceforth every other war will be overlooked, and the first the participants meed to do is to devise and prepare their blinds.


From "Camouflage" in the Encyclopedia Britannica (1922), p. 543—

The processes of successful camouflage are closely analogous to those of successful crime—namely, preliminary reconnaissance, suppression of clues, provision of false clues, variety of method and concealment of the crime itself.


From Anon, CONVICT PAINTS WAY INTO MILITARY SERVICE in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (March 15, 1943), p. 9—

Richard R. Colyar, who knows how to make things invisible, painted himself out of San Quentin prison and into the army when army officers learned that the 52-year-old lifer had devised a new camouflage technique.

Colyar, a former commercial artist, was paroled to army authorities to explain and develop his process.


From BOARD PAROLES SLAYER TO ARMY in The Modesto Bee and News-Herald (March 15, 1943), p. 3—

Richard R. Colyar, 52, former cartoonist and commercial artist, has been paroled to the army to explain and develop further a new camouflage technique, it was announced today.

Colyar, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1933 for killing his wife and sister-in-law in Los Angeles during a family quarrel, is the first California prisoner to be paroled directly to the army…

In prison Colyar continued painting. He did murals in the prison hospital and attracted wide attention. When the war started he developed a new type of military camouflage.

Army official learned of his work and investigated. His process had merit, the army said, and his parole was requested. Governor Earl Warren approved releasing Colyar to the army, and the board of pardons and paroles granted his release.

Colyar's whereabouts and details of his camouflage technique are secret.

More Info

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Camouflage Artist | Thomas Hart Benton

Benton camouflage kiosk at the National WWI Museum (Kansas City)
Well, maybe it's stretching it slightly to say that American artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) was a camouflage artist, because he didn't actually design ship camouflage during World War I. Nor was he responsible, like so many other artists, for actually applying the paint to the ships. But he was very much involved in ship camouflage while serving in the US Navy, because it was his assignment to travel around the bay at Norfolk VA, and to make visual records of the camouflage designs of any ships that he observed, including those of other countries.

Benton's service as a camouflage artist is being acknowledged, from April 19 through October 12, 2014, by a small kiosk exhibition on the lower level Research Center area at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City MO. The display was initiated by a non-profit organization called the Friends of the Benton Home, and designed by Joe Boeckholt, a Kansas City graphic designer. (By the way, there is an interesting online video tour of the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site.) This year is Benton's 125th birthday anniversary. We were pleased to contribute by providing a few of the image files. The installation looks wonderful, judging from the on-site photographs above. Below on this post is an announcement of the event on the museum website.

In a letter to a friend, here's what Benton had to say about his wartime experience (as quoted in Henry Adams, Thomas Hart Benton: An American Original NY: Knopf, 1989)—

I am now officially listed as [a] "camoufleur" and I have a nice quiet room in Norfolk and an office in which to work. There are two more 'camoufleurs' in the office with me, a photographer and a young would-be artist [possibly Louis Bouché, who had the same assignment]. Twice a week I leave the office at Norfolk with the fellow who takes the photographs. We go on board a 40-foot motor boat and cruise around the bay making sketches and photographs of newly arrived camouflaged ships. The sketches are finished back at the office (the colors of the camouflage are put in) and along with reports giving name, type, tonnage, etc., of each ship are sent to Washington to be filed. This is done so that if the ship should be torpedoed or lost in any way all the facts concerning her appearance etc. can easily be found.

Scans of two of Benton's ship documentation reports (including his colored renderings of ships) are included in the current display.

RISD Camouflage | SS Matilda Weems

In October 2013, we posted two views of a World War I dazzle-camouflaged Matilda Weems, as photographed on 23 August 1918. Recently, we were delighted to learn from Claudia Covert, scholar and librarian at the Rhode Island School of Design, that the library at RISD has (in its extensive camouflage collection) prints of the original dazzle-painting scheme that was applied to that ship. Above is a photograph of the starboard side of the painted ship, with the starboard plan below it. Similarly, below on this page is the photograph of the port side, and the matching port side plan. It's interesting to notice the differences (especially on the port side) between the diagram and the painted ship. What a wonderful discovery. Ship diagrams are reproduced by courtesy of Special Collections, Fleet Library at RISD, Providence RI.