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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What's on this week?
Banbury Guardian, October 30th

Bloxham Village Museum, open every Saturday and Sunday from 2.30pm-5pm, £1/free for accompanied children The highlight of the exhibition is the large amount of trench art on show, including more than 50 pieces made from World War I shell cases...Read more

'Trench art' displayed ahead of Remembrance Day
Royal Gazette, October 27th

Emblems of respect for soldiers who lost their lives in war, some 12,000 remembrance poppies have been brought to the Island by the Bermuda Legion — and they will be given out, starting this Saturday, in the buildup to Remembrance Day on November 11...Read more

Fate of war dead closer to home in village map
Witney Gazette, October 27th

There were also artefacts, including medals, first aid books, trench art and knives, on display. Most of the displays have now gone into storage but more general items will be used for an exhibition at St Peter and St Paul's Church in Botley from...Read more

AT THE GALLERIES: Finding art in Vimy Ridge
TheChronicleHerald.ca (registration), October 24th

The Vimy exhibit at the Army Museum, on view till the Citadel's seasonal closing on Oct. 31, includes Rudnicki's print, close to the large model of the Vimy memorial; the Lewis gun; trench art; and the stories of well-known soldiers who were Mi'kmaq...Read more

Still chance to see historic items in latest exhibition
Banbury Guardian, October 24th

The collection includes a huge amount of trench art, including carvings of the French generals Joseph Joffre and commander-in-chief and marshal Ferdinand Foch. There is also a jumper which was made out of socks by Banbury solicitor Charles Huntriss, ...Read more

Military artifacts front and center in Staunton
Staunton News Leader, October 13th

The Woodrow Wilson museum will have Lamb value items from its military collection, including German helmets from WWI, military uniforms and “trench art” that was done on artillery shells by soldiers, according to Andrew Phillips, curator for the museum...Read more

Canadian War Museum launches hands-on WWI program at Ottawa school
MetroNews Canada, October 9th

Schools can borrow the Supply Line kits for two weeks at a time, which include items such as small arms ammunition, service dress caps, barbed wire, gas alarm rattles, and trench art. “We've got requests from every province,” said Sandra O'Quinn...Read more

Sam Durant: 'Invisible Surrealists'
New York Times, October 9th

can become a bit dry, Mr. Durant is also showing sculptures made in the spirit of World War I-era Trench Art. They include a wind chime composed of artillery shell casings and a Giacometti-esque tabletop assemblage that incorporates a small model...Read more