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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UVic searching for identity of mystery soldier behind World War I sketchbooksMetroNews Canada, September 30th
The two-volume leather-bound books, which contain about 130 sketches and drawings ranging from caricatures to somber images of trench art, have been housed within the university's special collections and archives since at least the 1960s, when it is ...Read more
World War II hits home at auto museumReno Gazette Journal, September 29th
Among the unusual is trench art, so named because it was created by service members and includes such artifacts as artwork made from spent shells, bombs and other items of war. "We're trying to show the war years beyond the headlines," Frady said...Read more
Coal scuttle trench artThe Bolton News, September 24th
THIS fascinating piece of World War One trench art belongs to Michael McEwing. The miniature coal scuttle is made from a shell found at Ypres during one of the major battles of the Great War and was created by G Marks as the inscription on the top...Read more
Art in the TrenchesGOOD 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 SarinaMackay 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 DurantArtinfo 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 bookYour 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
First World War soldier's son "overwhelmed" to receive his trench artYour 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