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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READER SUBMITTED: Special World War II Series At The Avon Library
Hartford Courant, September 17th

18, 7 p.m., is on Trench Art Souveniors. This talk will delve into the everyday experience of American soldiers, sailors and Marines in WWII, as reflected in their trench art and souvenirs. These tangible mementos give us candid insight into the minds...Read more

Art in the Trenches
GOOD Magazine, September 13th

In an interview with ArtInfo, Durant explains what exactly Trench Art is, and how he has made a few pieces of his own to place next to the actual examples he's found over the years: "The use of 'Trench Art' functions as a reminder of the inextricable...Read more

Antique weapons to go on sale in Nebo and Sarina
Mackay Daily Mercury, September 10th

ANTIQUE civil war guns, samurai swords, trench art and military medals will be some of the items on sale tomorrow and Sunday at two auctions in Nebo and Sarina. Antique weapons authorised identifier Don Mahoney said there were some amazing items ...Read more

23 Questions for History-Inspired Artist Sam Durant
Artinfo UK, September 8th

The use of “Trench Art” functions as a reminder of the inextricable link between war and art, violence and culture. I made two sculptures which involve war material. One, a large wind chime, uses artillery shells as the bells, which might actually...Read more

First World War trench artist's son presented with family history book
Your Local Guardian, August 31st

A First World War trench artist's son was "overwhelmed" to receive a book bringing together research into his father's life. Back in May a couple from Ewell presented Ronald Turtle with a piece of trench art created from the case of a shell by his dad...Read more

Discover trench art at Compton Verney
Leamington Courier, August 25th

Compton Verney gallery near Kineton is displaying a selection of Warwickshire-based 'trench art' - items made from the by-products of 20th and 21st century warfare. The collection includes decorated shell cases, carved sections of a propeller, rifle...Read more

Trench art: relics from a grim reality
Edmonton Journal, August 23rd

The veteran is gone, but the souvenir sits in the collection of the National War Museum in Ottawa and is a favourite of historian Tim Cook. It's one of the many pieces of trench art that survived the war, mementos fashioned by soldiers from the...Read more

First World War soldier's son "overwhelmed" to receive his trench art
Your Local Guardian, August 19th

Almost a century after it was created, a piece of trench art made by a soldier during the First World War has finally been presented to his son. Corporal Ernest Turtle, from the Royal Engineers, crafted a guard house from the case of a German shell...Read more