Strictly speaking, trench art is a phrase that describes folk art created by soldiers who were stuck in the trenches during World War I. But trench art as a more broadly defined genre includes all sorts of art objects made during numerous military conflicts going back to the early 1800s, including items produced by prisoners of war.
Leaving aside the question of era, there are several generally accepted categories of trench art. Some of the earliest examples are wooden boxes made by French prisoners captured by the English during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).
By World War I, prisoners on both sides of that struggle were engraving and carving everything from spent shell casings to soup bones, transforming them into poignant mementos and useful historical records of the war to end all wars. Some pieces are particular to certain battle zones. For example, Turkish prisoners were known for their beaded snakes.
Those soldiers who did not have the time or tools to engrave spent artillery shells in the trenches often brought them home, where they would be embossed, fluted, and flared. Engravings on canteens and mess kits were probably done in the field, as were paintings on helmets.
Other examples of trench art include letter openers and knives made from bullets and shells; presentation plates hammered and engraved from flattened casings; lighters formed out of enemy belt buckles; and inkwells carefully crafted from fuse caps.
Soldiers recovering from their wounds also made trench art, usually in the form of embroidered badges and belts. Similar pieces made by wives and girlfriends waiting for their loved ones to return home are also considered trench art.
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Recent News: Trench Art
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Anzac belt: One man's personal tale of WW1ABC Local, April 22nd
It is known as 'trench art'; soldiers would find items on the battlefield and during their downtime would fashion them into familiar objects. Shell cases and metal debris were turned into ashtrays, water jugs, cigarette lighters, spoons, picture frames...Read more
Antiques: Just the right sizeOttawa Citizen, April 17th
A: You've got a piece of “trench art,” which is any decorative object that can be linked to an armed conflict. In your case, the pot bottom markings identify the source of the brass as a Second World War artillery shell case dating to 1945. Your...Read more
Memories of the 'Great War' on display at InschEllon Times, April 16th
There is also a fascinating picture of a group of volunteer knitters at Insch School, every one of which is male! Also on display are rare items of 'trench art' made by soldiers at the front. Insch Connection Museum is open on Wednesdays and Sundays 1...Read more
Compton Gallery's wonderful landscape sets it apart from othersBirmingham Post, April 11th
Another attraction later this year will be First World War Trench Art (July 16) showing what the troops did and the gallery's Folk Art collection will be re-emphasised. “The way ahead for us is to offer a far more well-rounded day out and to make much...Read more
Arts Notes, Walnut Creek Journal and Lamorinda SunSan Jose Mercury News, April 9th
"From Swords to Plowshares (through April 13): Metal Trench Art from World War I" -- During the "Great War," soldiers crafted art from artillery shells, bullets, aircraft parts, shrapnel and other salvaged military detritus. Works in the exhibition are...Read more
Pride, Propaganda and RedemptionLamorindaweekly, April 8th
so this new kind of conflict required the mass production of public support," adds Hochschild, whose lecture opened the latest exhibition by Saint Mary's College Museum of Art to depict humanity at war - "Swords to Plowshares: Metal Trench Art from...Read more
Exploring the tangled history of an iconic flowerUniversity of Bristol, April 3rd
and 2004. He has published more than twenty-five books, including Trench Art, Killing Time, Alexander's Tomb and Matters of Conflict, and has appeared in documentaries for the BBC, the National Geographic Channel and the History Channel. Feedback...Read more
Redoubt to commemorate 100 years since World War IEastbourne Herald, March 30th
The Redoubt includes the biggest military collection in the south of England, with artefacts ranging from rare First World War trench art, to a captured German staff car. Launching in April – with a free opening weekend on April 5-6 – the fortress will...Read more