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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Trench Art

Trench Art what is it really, there are not many avenues of study and agreement on the subject. Trench Art objects are a unique kind of artistic endeavour, rich in symbolism and irony. The variety is a testament to human skills and fortitude under the extreme pressures of industrialized war.  A body of objects so wide and diverse that it has defied many attempts to categorize or understand it. A collection of war curios, objects from many different wars, under a host of different names, such as 'Soldier Art', 'POW Art', 'Refugee Art', or 'War Trophies'.
Many define Trench Art as First and Second World War objects of metal, cloth, bone and wood, made and created by those serving our military, and this is a good start.
 However, investigating and collecting Trench Art is far more interesting than this definition suggests.  Trench Art is more than a name, it is a concept. So should the study include objects made by Napoleonic prisoners of war, American Civil, as well as items made by those who fought in, or were affected by, virtually every 20th century conflict worldwide. Trench Art may have taken its name from the First World War, but it existed before 1914, and is still made today.
Perhaps a better definition of Trench Art would be ;
"any object made by any person from any material, as long as it and they are associated in time or space with armed conflict or its consequences."
Here is what we do know. Trench Art made by soldiers in the front-line and behind-the-lines during the time frame of 1914-1919 is the smallest category, probably because of the short time frame of 5 years. At the same time this grouping displays the greatest variety of shapes and materials used. Some letters from soldiers sent home describe soldiers using wood,chalk,bone,metals such as bullets and shells during what they called flat time in the trenches. They made practical items small and large, vases, ashtrays, rings, crosses, pendants and on and on we could go. Some makers created these items with personal perhaps spitiual intent. In other words momentos from war recalling the memories of life and death experiences. Also it is known soldiers in Prisoner of War camps in Germany and Britain made these objects and some items were made by maimed and wounded soldiers as therapy in hospitals. 

Here is a typical list of what examples have been found from this time frame.
Cigarette Lighters,Matchbox covers, and Ashtrays made from bullets and scrap metal.
Letter Openers made from bullets and scrap metal sometimes inscribed and often with badges attached.
Decorated Artillery Shell cases.
Tobacco boxes and cigarette cases made of wood and metal.
Military caps made from the base of shells. 
Finger rings and pen/pencils made from bullet cartridge cases.
Miscellaneous carved wood, stone,and chalk objects.
Miscellaneous embroidered/beaded items such as postcards,hankerchiefs and cushions. 
Interesting information, the British and Belgian soldiers and possibly the French and Germans as well, had a harder time finding materials to use without breaking their countries laws. Empty artillery shell cases remained the property of the state, and were supposed to be collected in dumps and then refilled in munitions factories for later re-use. Because of this their work is normally not signed by the artist .

Now Civilian Trench Art during the time frame of 1914 thru 1939 has the largest variety of objects produced. Wartime and post-war economic deprivation together with vast quanities of war material strewn over the land caused a thriving industry especially in metal. These objects were similar in type as the list above but more intricately shaped and or decorated.
During the war, civilian manufacture of Trench Art quickly became a cottage industry, sold to Allied and German armies. French and Belgian civilians on both sides of the front-line made and sold these items to any and all soldiers available. Many of these soldiers took these items home with them. A  famous example is the brass matchbox cover that depicted the spiked German helmet on one side with the inscription 'Gott Mit Uns' on the other, and 'Fabrique en France' inscribed on the spine.

Many of these objects were also sold to tourists whom wanted a special item as a memorial of the war and possibly as a rememberance of a lost loved one during the war. These tourists took them home to display in the hallway, on a living room mantle, or on a bedroom dresser, ensuring that memories of the war were only a glance away.
Now there is also what is referred to as 'Mounted War Trophies'. These items were made in Britian and possibly elsewhere towards the very end of the war, but mainly after 1918. These items were composed of raw materials of war brought back as souveniers and momentoes by returning soldiers. In Britian the Army and Navy Store produced advertisements offering to personalize these items and mount on ebonised bases.

List of items typically found from this category are;
Clocks made from shells and bullets,
Lamps and candle sticks from shells and bullets
Inkwells made from grenades or shrapnel
Cups made from shell parts
The Lost World of Trench Art--A war orphan would regard 'Daddy's shell' in quite a different  way than an old soldier, a bereaved widow, or returning refugee. After the advent of the Second World War Trench Art changed forever the status of objects from the earlier Great War. From 1945 onwards souveniers and ornaments of the bereaved and old soldiers went into decline. Therefore many Trench Art pieces were melted down for scrap between 1945 and the mid 1960's. How sad, and I'm sure some true masterpieces were lost forever. After the mid 1960's a new interest about the previous wars surfaced and people started collecting and preserving the Trench Art they could find.
Yes so called Trench Art has been made and still being made from all of our history's conflicts but there has not been enough study yet or interest enough to share that information at this time. So again at some point in the future their will be a later version of Trench Art, possibly named something different for people to study and become collectors of.

All photos included are what we currently have available in our shop.

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