(Roughly) Daily

Now you don’t…

Camouflage– cryptic coloration– is common in the majority of species that have lived on earth; but military camouflage is a relatively recent development.  Through the early 19th Century, almost all soldiers tended to dress in bright colors chosen precisely to make them more identifiable on the battlefield; it was during World War I that camouflage found common use.

The earliest military camouflage drew on the work of zoologist and artist Abbott Thayer, applying lessons from the animal kingdom to secreting troops and tanks.

But World War I was as importantly a naval war.  Norman Wilkinson, a marine painter [and your correspondent’s relatively distant ancestor] who was in the Royal Navy, is credited with being the first to develop camouflage for ships– “dazzle,” a kind of camouflage that is “disruptive” like zebra’s stripes. The Royal Navy allowed him to test his idea; and when the test went well, Wilkinson was told to proceed… but was given no office space.  So he went to his alma mater, the Royal Academy, and was given a classroom. Wilkinson hired Vorticist Edward Wadsworth to be a port officer in Liverpool, England and to oversee the painting of dazzle ships.  In 1918, Wilkinson came to United States to share his dazzle plans. 1,000 plans were developed through this partnership.

One of Wilkinson’s U.S. collaborators was Maurice L. Freedman, the district camoufleur for the 4th district of the U.S. Shipping Board, Emergency Fleet Corporation (a precursor to today’s Merchant Marine).  Maurice’s job was to take the plans, adjust them if necessary, then hire painters (artists, house painters) to paint the ships accordingly.

Freedman, who attended  the Rhode Island School of Design after the war, donated the plans and photos in his collection to the Fleet Library at RISD.  Now (through the end of March) those plans are on display at the library– and online.

As we dress discretely
, we might recall that it was on this date in 1258 that (a decidedly un-camouflaged) Hulagu Khan (a grandson of Genghis) and his Mongol force sacked Baghdad, and brought the Abbasid Caliphate (source of, among other marvels, algebra) to an end.

Hulagu and his Queen, Dokuz Khatun