Friday, July 25, 2014

More on Golf, Camouflage & Alister Mackenzie

Inspired by Mackenzie's bunkers, or did art inspire him?
In the blog post prior to this one, we talked about Dr. Alister Mackenzie and his dual contributions to World War I camouflage and the design of major golf courses throughout the world. As a British army camoufleur, he designed trenches—or bunkers. And of course as a golf architect, he designed another kind of bunker, an odd-shaped hazard filled with sand.

I mention this because there is an article by another golf course designer, (Gordon) Desmond Muirhead (1923-2002), in which he too talks about the connections between golf course design and the visual arts. He speculates that the style of the bunkers that Mackenzie designed was probably influenced by the art of early Modernists, among them Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Joan Miro. Here is what he says in "Symbols in Golf Course Architecture" in Executive Golfer (July 1995)—

Mackenzie, a kilt-wearing Scotsman, had the fame and sometimes the temperament of a movie star after he had designed the Augusta National and Cypress Point CA golf courses, arguably two of the half dozen greatest golf courses of all time. His influence was enormous. As a doctor of medicine, a well-educated man, and a competent painter, Mackenzie would be familiar with Picasso and Matisse, because of the world-wide furor that arose over Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Picasso (1908) [sic, actually 1907] and the Fauves paintings by Matisse (1905-1907). It is true that Matisse derived some elaborate amoeboid shapes from early Japanese symbols. But half a century before Matisse, organic undulating shapes from the Arts and Crafts Movement had arisen from the tapestries of William Morris and the many artists of the Art Nouveau movement. In his old age, Matisse, who could no longer paint, used these undulating shapes as cutouts. Mackenzie was also a camouflage artist in WW1, and presumably used similar shapes for this relatively new profession. Anyway, his bunker shapes could have been designed by Matisse, Arp or several similar artists of that period.

Actually, the most compelling resemblance exists between Mackenzie's amoeboid sand traps and various abstract artworks by Hans Arp (aka Jean Arp), as shown on the covers of two well-known books by Harvard art theorist Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Entropy (1971), and Art and Visual Perception (1954, 1974) (as shown below). 

Book covers using artworks by Hans Arp

Design historian Bevis Hillier talked about the popularity of these shapes in The Style of the Century (London: Herbert Press, 1990), p. 119—

These amoeba-like forms invaded design in the immediate post-war period [WW2]…Like the picture frame, the "wiggly" became a hackneyed motif in graphic design…"Wigglies" were further popularized by the big exhibition of Hans Arp's works at the Valentin Gallery, New York, in 1949.

But prior to that, they had also been commonly used in camouflage, where they were jokingly sometimes called "greeny-browny blobs." In his autobiography titled Indigo Days, British artist Julian Trevelyan (who designed civilian building camouflage during WW2) believed that the "wiggly" came from WW2 army camouflage patterns, while others have claimed that it's similar to a kidney-shaped artist's palette, or a cross-section of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto's famous Savoy glassware vase (1947).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Link Between Golf and Camouflage

Alister Mackenzie (1915), demonstration of trench camouflage

There is a direct connection between golf and camouflage. It resides in the dual achievements of a British surgeon, Dr. Alister Mackenzie (1870-1934), who was one of modern history’s leading golf course designers, as well as an early contributor to World War I army camouflage.

Mackenzie served as a surgeon with the Somerset Regiment in South Africa during the Boer War. In the process, he studied the effective use of camouflage by the Boers.

Later, during WW1, he returned to military service not as a surgeon but as a camouflage expert. Following the war, he turned his full attention to golf course design (called “golf course architecture”), for which he became internationally known. He designed some of the world’s finest golf courses, among them Augusta National Golf Club (Augusta GA), Cypress Point Club (Monterey Peninsula CA), Royal Melbourne Golf Club (AU), Pasatiempo Golf Club (Santa Cruz CA), Crystal Downs Country Club (Ann Arbor MI), Lahinch Golf Course (Ireland), and Meadow Club (Fairfax CA).


As early as 1915, he published an article on “Military Entrenchments” in Golf Illustrated (Vol 3 No 1, pp. 42-44), in which he wrote—

…what earthly connection is there between golf course construction and trench making? The connection consists in the imitation of nature. The whole secret of successful golf course construction and concealment in trench making consists in making artificial features indistinguishable from natural ones, and for the last ten years I have been daily attempting to imitate nature.

Accompanying that article were two comparative photographs (reproduced above). One of them (top) is a side view of soldiers in a trench designed by Mackenzie, while a second photo (bottom) is the same trench as viewed from the front, from 10 yards away. The caption notes: The man standing up is behind the trench. The men’s heads while firing were completely concealed at 40 yards away.


Alister Mackenzie, “Entrenchments and Camouflage” [credited to “Lecture by a British Officer Skilled in Landscape Gardening”] in Professional Memoirs, Corps of Engineers, US Army and Engineeer Department. Vol 14 No 47, pp. 574-638—

The brilliant successes of the Boers were due to great extent to their making the best use of natural cover and the construction of artificial cover indistinguishable from nature.


 In 1920, Mackenzie published a book titled Golf Architecture (London: Simpkin, Marshall, et al) in which he claimed—

There is an extraordinary resemblance between what is now known as the camouflage of military earthworks and golf-course construction.

The writer was fortunate during the war in being asked to give the demonstrations to members of the Army Council which were the foundation of, and led to the establishment of, the first school of camouflage.

These demonstrations were evolved from his experience as a golf-course architect in the imitation of natural features.…

There are many other attributes in common between the successful golf architect and the camoufleur
(pp. 128-129).


Anon, DR. MACKENZIE IN AUSTRALIA in The Advertiser (Adelaide AU), October 20, 1926, p. 15—

Dr. A. Mackenzie, an expert in golf architecture, is traveling to Melbourne by the Otranto, which reached Fremantle today from London. Dr. Mackenzie’s mission to Australia is in connection with the laying out of the Royal Mebourne golf links, but his visit has brought inquiries for consultations from other golf clubs in almost every state…

During the war he was in charge of the camouflage schools, and was responsible for many of the methods used during war time for disguising army operations. Dr. Mackenzie said he sought after several essentials in golf architecture. Every hazard, green and other essentials of a golf course should appear to be the work of Nature, and he strove to make them so. He aimed at increasing the interest of golfers in their links by providing alternative routes for weaker players, and more difficult if more interesting ways for higher standard golfers.



Alister Mackenzie, quoted in H.C, GOLF: Pavilion Gossip in The Australasian (Melbourne AU), October 30, 1926, p. 33—

Many soldiers at home and overseas have been engaged in what is now known as camouflage. The successful concealment of gun emplacements and other earthworks of military importance, as in the best types of golf course construction, depends on utilizing natural features to the fullest extent and the construction of artificial ones so that they are indistinguishable from nature. An object of military importance resembling a natural feature as viewed from the ground and the air may, and in all probability will, be overlooked to such an extent that it escapes the disagreeable attention of the enemy. My readers must not from this get the impression that there should be any concealment in golf course construction; the exact opposite is advisable, but it is suggested that the fullest use of natural features and the construction of artificial ones indistinguishable from nature are just as important as in earthworks.


Alister Mackenzie, quoted in ECONOMICS OF WORLD TOPIC FOR ROTARIANS: Dr. Alister Mackenzie of Pasatiempo Gives Talk to Club in Santa Cruz News (Santa Cruz CA), October 8, 1932, p. 2—

Since my youth I have always been foolish enough to tilt at windmills and fight against public opinion. In war I fought against the training of soldiers. In the fall of 1914 I offered to prove to the British war office that a force of civilians trained to conceal their fortifications on common sense lines could successfully repulse an army of soldiers ten times their number. This offer was rejected but two years afterward I was ordered to London to give these demonstrations to the King, the army council and the leading generals who were home at that time.

These demonstrations because the origin of the school of camouflage. Owing to jealousies and perhaps lack of diplomacy on my part, I was subjected to insults, abuse and even reduction in rank.


Anon, FOUNDER OF THE SCHOOL OF CAMOUFLAGE IN LONDON DIES AT PASATIEMPO HOME: Dr. Alister Mackenzie, Golf Architect, Passes Away in Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz CA), January 7, 1934, p. 7—

Dr. Alister MacKenzie, internationally famous golf course architect, author and founder of the Camouflage School, England, which all officers of the allied forces during the World War attended to learn camouflage, died early yesterday afternoon at his home in Pasatiempo. He was 63 years of age, a native of Scotland, and had resided in this city since March 1930.

…He was working on a book on camouflage at the time of his death…

During a recent visit to the Hoover Memorial War Library at Standford, Dr. Mackenzie asked the librarian for some book[s] on camouflage. He was told there had been no real book on the subject printed, but that the library had on file copies of articles from the pen of a famous military engineer. These were given to Dr. Mackenzie. He found them to be his own writings [delivered as lectures initially in 1914] in the Military Engineer of Washington DC, appearing without credit being given to him.

The founding of the camouflage school in [Hyde Park, London] England was perhaps one of Dr. Mackenzie’s greatest achievements. It was the initial gesture in the art of camouflage, which performed a wonderful service during the war and was so effective in aiding the allies in their operations against the German forces.


Anon, GOLF AND ARMAMENTS in Daily Advertiser (Wagga Waggs, New South Wales AU), April 19, 1934, p. 2—

Dr. Alister Mackenzie (who was in Australia within the past year or two, but has since died) won universal fame as a golf architect…

But he was something more than a golf architect. He had a creative mind and a rare intelligence…

Perhaps Dr. Mackenzie best displayed his genius, and his quick perception of vitally important truths, in connection with his camouflage work. During the war he was one of the outstanding camouflage experts. In this work his quick and highly sensitized mind learned something which possessed great international importance. He thoroughly believed that camouflage could be used not merely for defensive purposes, but as a tremendous factor in preventing war. Before he died he was credited with working on a book which was intended to “prove that the peace of the world would be assured if all the nations would camouflage their defenses.”


In January 1934, the same month in which Alister Mackenzie died, his final (and most extensive) article on camouflage in relation to golf course design—titled “Common Sense of Camouflage Defense”—was published in The Military Engineer (Vol 26 No 145, pp. 42-47). >>>more

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Camouflaged Courtship

Grandma Demon Chaperone (1917)
Above A cartoon by F. Fox from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, August 21, 1917, p. 7. An accompanying headline title reads: Grandma the Demon Chaperone Is Certain That Clara's New Striped Dress Is Camouflage, and in the cartoon itself Grandma is saying That young man may be keeping his arm to himself but


Anon, "SWEET GIRL" IS SHERIFF: Masher Is Nabbed by Officer in Feminine Camouflage in the Idaho Register (Blackfoot ID), October 14, 1919—

Pawnee, Okla.—When Frank Brown of Meramec accosted a beautiful woman "just too sweet to lie," on a street corner the other night, he was rudely shocked. A strong hand gripped his right arm and a voice that was anything but sweet informed him he was under arrest. In the struggle the "sweet thing's" hair came off and the red ribbon about the left wrist was torn from the sleeve, and the features of the sheriff, smeared with paint and powder, were revealed. Brown was charged with improper use of the mails in attempting to make an appointment with a young woman with whom he was not acquainted.


From Questions and Answers in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 24, 1919, p. 6—

Legs—I would like to know how to reduce the size of my legs. One leg is 14 1/2 inches around the heaviest part of the calf, and the other is 15 inches. I weigh 120 pounds, and my body is otherwise slim.

Answer—The calf of the leg measures 14 1/2 inches in the ideal woman. Wear vertical stripes if you wish to camouflage your perfect calves.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

More HMS President Camouflage News

News article from Mail Online
Above Another news article, this one from the London Daily Mail, reporting on the centenary "dazzle-painting" (freely interpreted) of a World War 1 British ship, the HMS President. It is permanently moored on the Thames in the center of London, where it now functions as a floating events venue.

While the photographs are certainly fun, the text is marred by erroneous claims that "dazzle camouflage was originally inspired by modernist artworks," and that pioneering marine camoufleur Norman Wilkinson was "inspired by cubist and vorticist artworks." To our knowledge, the only vorticist involved was Edward Wadsworth and he (according to his daughter) was not a camouflage designer, but a dock officer who supervised the application of designs devised by others.

It also states that the camouflage pattern on each ship was unique. While that was the initial intention, it proved too ambitious, with the result that the same design was often adjusted and applied to a number of ships, as seen in this example.

In the US, Wilkinson's equivalent was American Impressionist Everett L. Warner, who was hardly a cubist. He did use abstract geometric shapes in his design of dazzle schemes, but it was all highly calculated and purposeful. And yet, recalled Warner, "it was precisely when our work was most firmly grounded on the book of Euclid that the uninitiated were the most positive that the ships were being painted haphazard by a group of crazy cubists."

Finally, the article claims that dazzle camouflage "fell out of favor by the 1940s, because it was rendered useless by the introduction of radar." I can't speak for the UK, but that certainly wasn't the case in the US (or in Germany even), where some of the most outlandish designs were in use throughout World War 2. Indeed, there may even be more photographs of bizarre dazzle-painted ships in WW2 than in WW1.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Newly Camouflaged HMS President

Dazzle-Camouflaged HMS President
World War 1 began in 1914 (the US did not enter the war until 1917), so for the British and others, this is the conflict's centenary year. As a result, all sorts of things are going on. Among them is the dazzle-painting of two British ships, the Edmund Gardner (in Liverpool) and the HMS President, which is permanently moored on the Thames, in the center of London.

HMS President is an actual WW1 ship, and was in fact dazzle-camouflaged during that war. For the centenary, however, it was decided to adorn it in a current, new design, which German artist Tobias Rehberger was commissioned to create. Its completion was announced today in a Guardian article (see above). 

It's a good article with four very interesting photos, but be forewarned that there is an error: The second photo in the article is that of a dazzle-painted WW1 troop ship, mistakenly identified as the USS Leviathan (formerly the SS Vaterland). In fact, it is the RMS Mauretania, a British troop ship which we've blogged about here and here.

more info

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Countershading | Thayer's Disappearing Ducks

from MAS Context (Summer 2014)
We have featured earlier posts about American artist and naturalist Abbott H. Thayer’s use of wooden duck decoys to demonstrate countershading. Additional information continues to surface almost daily. Some of this is detailed in an essay in the Summer 2014 issue of a Chicago-based design and architecture magazine called MAS Context. Here’s the link to the free online version, with the title page above. Other discoveries are below.


Barry Faulkner, Barry Faulkner: Sketches from an Artist’s Life. Dublin NH: William L. Bauhan, 1973, p. 18—

My first vivid memory of [his cousin] Abbott Thayer recalls him crouching in the dust of School Street, demonstrating to Mrs. Weeks, our teacher of drawing in the public schools, his newly evolved theory of Obliterative Gradation, or Protective Coloration—the foundations of his discovery of why birds and animals are difficult to see against their natural background.

The demonstration consisted of two small wooden ducks, mounted on wires, both painted the color of the dirt on which they stood, representing for the moment a natural background. One duck stood out solid and rotund, but the other Thayer had painted darker on its back and lighter on its belly until it had no more solidity than a cobweb. Suddenly a frightened cat bounded between Thayer’s legs, avoided the ungraded duck and dashed into and knocked over the duck it couldn’t see.  Cousin Abbott was as happy as a child at the cat’s vindication of his theory. Mrs. Weeks was entertained, if not enlightened.


George Palmer Putnam, Wide Margins: A Publisher’s Autobiography. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company. 1942, p. 33—

We who were at Dublin [NH, where Abbott Thayer lived] were forever having first-hand lessons in protective coloring. Perhaps it would be dummies of birds set out in conspicuous places. Some were painted as in actual life, their upper parts dark, light below. Others had this reversed, with dark breasts and bottoms, and light backs. Those concocted in nature's way flattened amazingly against any routine background; the light below and the dark above, counteracting shadow and brilliance, made flat planes. These visual decoys we'd constantly trip over. But the others, where nature's process was reversed, stood out brutally in any environment.


Mary Fuertes Boynton, ed., Louis Agassiz Fuertes: His Life Briiefly Told and His Correspondence. New York: Oxford University Press, 1956, p. 119—

[The Thayers’ book, Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom] is weakened only by its tone…and by the ambiguity of some, and prominence of others, of the illustrations. For example, in the photographs of models used to display the effect of countershading, the shaded model disappears so completely that you cannot believe it was ever there in the first place; an altered or falsified picture would have been more persuasive.


Fabian, “The Bushlover” in The Brisbane Courier (Queensland AU), October 9, 1926, p. 18—

An interesting experiment was made a short time ago at the British Museum of Natural History to demonstrate the great advantage of Nature’s commonest color arrangement among living creatures. Most of us have noticed that the great majority of animals are colored darker above and lighter below, and this is true, not only of nearly all our marsupials, but of most of the native birds as well. The rule holds good, too, in the case of fish, and, as more light comes from above than from below, the desired result is that the average fish in water becomes almost transparent and invisible. The British Museum experiment was carried out by Mr. [Abbott] Thayer, of America. He lined a large square box with gray flannel and placed in it two bird models, which were fastened to a rod running through the middle of the box. Both of these were covered with flannel, cut from the same material as that used to line the box, but one was painted dark above and white below, while the other was left in its plain gray. To the surprise of many observers the uncolored bird was decidedly the more conspicuous, and it was stated that at a few yards’ distance the painted bird, by counteracting the normal light and shade, was almost invisible. In Australia this color scheme for birds is a very common one. It is worth noting also that our really brilliant birds are almost always those of the dense shrubs, where protection is comparatively easy, while the birds of the plains and the open grassy spaces are far more protectively colored.


Roger Pocock, “The Art of Concealment: Devices on Land and Sea” in The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania) January 3, 1918, p. 6—

On the permanent staff of the Natural History Museum in London, there are two little wooden ducks…They are dressed in gray flannel, and each housed in a glass case with a gray flannel background. No. 1 duck is dressed in a plain gray flannel, and you can see her plainly at a hundred yards, because of the dark shadows cast by her neck and body, as well as by the brightness of her back. No. 2 duck is slightly whitened underneath to counteract the shadows, and slightly bronzed on top to counteract the light. Even at six feet the showcase appears to be empty. There is no sign of a duck. No hawk, no fox, no sportsman with a scatter gun and a small dog could possibly discover or kill the invisible duck unless she moved or made foolish quacks to guide her enemies. A great many years ago I wrote to Lords of the [British] Admiralty imploring them to go and see the invisible duck who could teach them priceless lessons in the art of concealing battleships and cruisers…


James Devaney, “Nature Notes: An Experiment” in The Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Queensland AU), June 5, 1935, p. 4—

To illustrate just what it is which makes some birds hard to see, an interesting experiment was carried out by the American painter Abbott Thayer, who was also a keen Nature student. He wanted to prove how the darker back and lighter belly is a color scheme which tends to make birds less visible, so he made two wooden ducks as models. These he seated in a box on a perch, and both the interior of the box and the wooden ducks themselves were covered with brownish flannel. The ducks, exactly the same hue as their surroundings, were still plainly visible at a good distance. Then the experimenter [Abbott Thayer], who had an artist’s knowledge of color values, took his brushes and darkened the back of one and painted its under surface a whitish color. That particular duck then escaped notice at a little distance, and was absolutely invisible at about twelve feet, while the other one was very plain. Thayer carried out other experiments with imitation insects to show how Mother Nature gets her camouflage effects.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Braque's Camouflaged Squirrel

Camouflaged Squirrel © Karl Frey
Above Karl Frey, Camouflaged Squirrel (c2009). Digital media. Available for online purchase. Courtesy of the artist.


H.W. Janson, "Chance Images" in Philip P. Wiener, ed., Dictionary of the History of Ideas (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973)—

During the most austere phase of Analytical Cubism, when he and [Georges] Braque were working in closely related styles, [Pablo] Picasso one day went to look at his friend's latest work. Suddenly he became aware that there was a squirrel in the picture, and pointed it out to Braque, who was rather abashed at this discovery. The next day Braque showed him the picture again, after reworking it to get rid of the squirrel, but Picasso insisted that he still saw it, and it took another reworking to banish the animal for good.

Note There is also a longer, second version of the same story.



The squirrel is the monkey of Iowa.


Georges Braque, quoted in Alexander Lieberman, The Artist in His Studio (New York: Vintage, 1961)—

I was happy when, in 1914, I realized that the army had used the principles of my Cubist paintings for camouflage.


Joel Agee (remembering his father, writer James Agee), Twelve Tears: An American Boyhood in East Germany (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1981), p. 90—

One day a squirrel bit my finger. I was hurt, more by the feeling that the squirrel had been mean to me than by the sudden little pinch. Jim [his father] squatted down next to me and kissed the hurt finger and explained that the squirrel hadn't meant to hurt me, that it thought my finger was a peanut. That didn't make sense to me at first, but then Jim held up the tip of my finger and said, "Doesn't it look like a peanut?" and it did.


Robert M. Purcell, Merle Armitage Was Here! (referring to the book designer's alleged licentiousness). (Morongo Valley CA: Sagebrush Press, 1981)—

In the world of lust, [President Jimmy] Carter was a peanut compared to Merle Armitage.