http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/ ... ndex=40633
One photo shows......
Rhode Island School of Design Librarian Claudia Covert, hand only, displays an Oct. 4, 1918 photo of the World War I cargo ship SS Alabet, at the library on the RISD campus, in Providence, R.I., Jan. 16, 2009. The photo appears above an historic drawing that was the plan for a camouflage design known as Dazzle which appears on the ship in the photo. Dazzle is an irregular pattern of graphic design that has been compared to Pop-art. The camouflage was meant to trick German U-boat commanders as to the size, position, and shape of the ship, making is harder to attack. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) - AP
Counterintuitive camo: RI display to `dazzle'
By HILARY RUSS, The Associated Press
5:35 a.m. January 21, 2009
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The blueprint for the S.S. Erny would have made her look like a floating Cubist painting. It called for a paint job with thick, black rays stretched along her bow and bold, stepped blocks running up her midship.
If it seems like an odd choice for a World War I ship that would sail in seas swarming with German U-boats, that was the point.
The fragile old Erny blueprint is part of a forgotten collection at the Rhode Island School of Design that showcases a counterintuitive style of camouflage called "dazzle" that uses outrageous paint patterns, not to disguise, but to deceive.
Dazzle – also called razzle dazzle – didn't aim to blend ships into the ocean and sky. Its goal was to confuse submarine gunners and captains peering through periscopes. The random graphics made it harder for enemies to distinguish shape, speed and direction while at sea.
"They never wanted to reveal the true lines of a ship," said Claudia Covert, the librarian at RISD who dug up and obsessively researched the collection after someone submitted a reference question four years ago.
German submarines torpedoed thousands of Allied civilian and naval ships in World War I. A maritime painter for Britain's Royal Navy first developed dazzle to counter that menace, according to Jack Green, a consultant to the Naval History & Heritage Command. Americans quickly adopted the wild schemes, which were also used at the start of World War II, just before radar made them obsolete.
There's no proof the S.S. Erny ever got a dazzle paint job, and experts aren't sure how well dazzle camouflage worked. But the bold designs boosted morale, Covert said.
It was certainly appealing to look at, said University of Northern Iowa graphic design professor, camouflage expert and former Marine Roy Behrens
"It's bizarre stuff," he said. "Dazzle is so seductive."
The collection of 455 prints, rediscovered after eight decades, may be rivaled in the United States only by a similar group at the National Archives in College Park, Md.
"This is a big discovery," Behrens said of the RISD prints.
RISD got its collection from Maurice Freedman, who was born in New York 1898 to Polish immigrant parents. In 1919, Freedman donated the hundreds of prints, 20 photographs and a few historical documents.
During the war, Freedman was a camouflager in Florida for the U.S. Shipping Board's Emergency Fleet Corporation – the wartime precursor to the U.S. Merchant Marines. Navy warships had separate designs.
Freedman oversaw the hefty paint-by-numbers jobs, hiring workers, ensuring adherence to blueprints and, when the plans were off, making adjustments.
In the dazzle style, designs always differed on either side of the ship, which could be splashed with thick stripes, swirls, triangles and zigzags in asymmetrical, organic patterns.
In earlier years, colors were bright, such as lime green, pinkish red, brown and blue mingled with black and white outlines. Later, Covert said, colors were more often black, white and gray.
Over the years, RISD professors occasionally used the blueprints in classes for inspiration. But they were never displayed together, and it's unclear if anyone realized the extent of the collection until Covert found it.
Experts disagree over how much interplay existed between the burgeoning Cubist movement and dazzle camouflage.
Pablo Picasso was one of the first artists to comment on then-new military applications of camouflage designs, which he saw on uniforms in Paris, Behrens said.
But many camouflage artists were conservative, put off by cubism and futurism and ready to get back to painting impressionist landscapes after the war, he said. There was often tension between artists and the military when they were forced to work together during war.
"The military side had a kind of aversion to artists. (They) wanted their ships to be nice and shiny and didn't want all the crazy carnival stuff on it," Behrens said. "When you practice camouflage, whether on ships or on ground, you're trying to contradict the kind of geometrical neatness that we associate with spit and polish."
The "Bedazzled" exhibit runs in RISD's Fleet Library from Jan. 26 to March 29.