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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'The Great War' remembered, 100 years laterGainesville Times, July 26th
The display also features some “trench art,” which gives a clue into the life of a soldier bogged down in the one of the war's many defensive positions. Utter boredom was punctuated by moments of sheer terror — mortar shells exploding all around on...Read more
Heritage team at South Somerset District Council Remembrance lecturesThis is The West Country, July 26th
The First World War Activities will include making your own trench art, designing and writing your own postcard, typewriter letter writing, tissue paper poppy making and historical displays on the First World War in Yeovil and South Somerset...Read more
Art. These Are Some of My Favorite Things at ASU art Museum in Tempe AZYareah Magazine, July 25th
They include: Cyndi Coon (small white objects); Emily Long (vintage Arizona objects); Gretchen Freeman (folk and naïve art); Mark Klett (sunrise sticks); Randall and Katherine Schmidt (military trench art); Joe Willie Smith (African folk and naïve art...Read more
The best exhibitions to see for the First World War Centenary in 2014Culture24, July 24th
Featuring paintings, drawings, photographs, maps, trench art and other objects as touchstones for investigations in to local family histories, Trent to Trenches, at Nottingham Castle (July 26 – November 16), also features map tables and research...Read more
2014 Chevrolet Malibu Long Term Update: On the RoadKelley Blue Book, July 23rd
The museum has a number of displays of military equipment (including a number of tanks in an outside enclosure) and memorabilia including one-of-a-kind trench art--intricately carved brass artillery shell casings. The museum is well worth the admission ...Read more
Winsford U3A take aim for special Great War library exhibitionWinsford Guardian, July 23rd
Local, family and military history will combine with photography, trench art, craft work, songs, poetry and paintings to help deepen visitors' understanding of the Great War. Judy Wright, who co-ordinated the research, added: “Doing the project...Read more
From Ammunition to Art: Trench Art from the First World WarThe Oxford Times, July 14th
Jul 15-Dec 12. Part of a national programme to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War, this display showcases objects from a Warwickshire-based private collection of Trench Art. Trench Art is a term used to describe objects made from...Read more
Trench art at Witter honors veteransPilot Tribune, July 9th
This month's exhibit at the Witter Art Gallery in Storm Lake is "Trench Art," a collection of art pieces made from military hardware by soldiers dating to World War I. Many of the pieces are made from spent shell casings, fired by friend or foe, picked...Read more