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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AT THE GALLERIES: Finding art in Vimy Ridge
TheChronicleHerald.ca (registration), October 25th

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

Read More - “ | The Chronicle Herald
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

Reconstructing the Legacy of Surrealism
Hyperallergic, October 20th

The inclusion of trench art in Invisible Surrealists was on one level a salient introduction of the dimension of class into the legacy of Surrealism, through the trauma of the war as experienced by the anonymous soldier; it cohabited with the racial...Read more

Exploring town's war link
The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald, October 18th

Among the artefacts on display are posters, photographs, uniforms, medals and trench art. The exhibition also tells the stories of people who had a connection to Marlborough during the First World War. One of those people was Private Fredrick Percy...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

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

Coal scuttle trench art
The 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