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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Richard Lewer: The game's the thing
New Zealand Herald, March 27th

Back in Australia, his next project is huge, a three-four year travelling show based on World War I trench art which he is working on for the Australian War Memorial. He is working on the paintings for that in his studio right now but tomorrow he'll...Read more

Village remembers its contribution to the Great War
Darlington and Stockton Times, March 22nd

Artefacts were loaned from a variety of locations around the country including the Durham Light Infantry Museum.. The items on display included an ashtray created from bullets and other trench art created from objects soldiers picked up from the...Read more

The Man Who Collects Little Hitlers
Daily Beast, March 22nd

He has a lot of Trench art, which, despite its name, refers to any art made by soldiers or POWs in any war, usually using military materiel, such as used shell casings. He has a hefty library, including a volume relating to military architecture, such...Read more

Trash or treasure? Local experts tell us what it's worth
STLtoday.com, March 19th

Appraised by Kime • A metal trench art banjolini, inscribed with artist's name F.F. Zimmer. Fair market value • $400 to $600. Kenneth Bruder, 58, Manchester. Item • “I have a World War II Japanese flag brought back from my wife's uncle.” Appraised by...Read more

Trench Art: Museum exhibit showcases art made during wartime
Newsbug.info, March 17th

This is plain to see through the Vermilion County War Museum's latest exhibit, labeled "Trench Art." The exhibit features various types of artwork from different wars. Some of the pieces were made by U.S. troops during times of war. Vermilion County...Read more

Soldiers' creativity on view
Danville Commercial News, March 6th

Pointing at items around the museum, Kouzmanoff noted that several could be considered trench art: a painting on felt of a woman from the 1940s, a pillow decorated with Navy emblems, a mannequin dressed up like a “Sad Sack” character from WWII...Read more

Trench art from Afghanistan helps Bushmills hero fund
Coleraine Times, March 5th

Lance Corporal Chris McKendry had made and sold trench art during his recent tour to Afghanistan and he made the presentation of the money raised and a piece of his trench art to President of the society, local war historian Robert Thompson...Read more

Trench art: a story of grace under fire
Sydney Morning Herald, February 26th

Slade, who's based at the Art Gallery of South Australia, envisioned a marriage between historical trench art and contemporary work, and came up with En-Trenched. The exhibition – supported by the federal government's Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture ...Read more