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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Still looking for a few gifts? We'd like to suggest a book or two
New Haven Register, December 20th

On a slightly brighter note – “trench art” – jewelry fashioned from bullets, shell cases and other fragments of war. “The Art of the Brick: A Life in Lego” by Nathan Sawaya (No Starch Press, $29.95). No Starch Press continues its series portraying...Read more

Artist's work popular in Southwestern Ontario
Waterloo Record, December 19th

A. You have a wonderful memento in the form of Trench Art, which is any military item converted to a useful or decorative purpose. It's a very simple but effective depiction of an olive branch and dove, a well-recognized symbol of peace. The large...Read more

Books for everyone on your gift list, December 15th

SEATTLE -- My best and hardest assignment of the year is compiling a list of books for holiday giving. I love books like other people love dogs, cats and martinis, and these suggestions are winnowed from hundreds (and hundreds of pounds) of books...Read more

Injured soldier's own thigh bone used for First World War 'trench art'
ITV News, December 11th

Injured soldier's own thigh bone used for First World War 'trench art'. A brooch crafted from a piece of human thigh bone is among the items selected for an exhibition about the First World War at the University of Leeds. Share · Tweet · Plus · Reddit...Read more

World War II Museum's latest addition will take visitors through European ..., December 10th

He wasn't the only soldier to turn out such ornaments, said Toni Kiser, the museum's registrar and assistant director of collections and exhibits, who called it an example of "trench art." Pfc. Andrew Sexton's metal cigarette case, showing the dent...Read more

Wirral Pals lecture is a great success in Saughall Massie
Wirral News, December 10th

A display of trench art and WWI memorabilia including newspapers was also shown. Trench art was done by the men in the trenches during “rest” periods and they often used spent shell cases and etched patterns on to them. The collection included two very ...Read more

SHARON STEVENS-CASH: My love of art that emerged from the trenches
Derby Telegraph, December 3rd

Since then, I've been able to add trench art from Mons, Lens and other battlegrounds. My favourite is made from brass, etched with flowers and an inscription, the work of a boy soldier who fought at Mons. It is a thing of beauty emerging from the...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