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

Source: Google News

Trench art: a story of grace under fire
Sydney Morning Herald, February 26th

Slade, who's based at the Art Gallery of South Australia, envisioned a marriage between historical trench art and contemporary work, and came up with En-Trenched. The exhibition – supported by the federal government's Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture ...Read more

Exhibit opens at museum
Danville Commercial News, February 25th

The Vermilion County War Museum announces the opening of a temporary exhibit, Trench Art. The exhibit runs through July 4 in a new area of the museum. Trench Art is any item crafted by a soldier or prisoner of war using bomb shells, bullet casings and ...Read more

Vermilion County War Museum unveils new 'Trench Art' exhibit, February 25th

"Trench Art" is any item crafted by a soldier or prisoner of war using bomb shells, bullet casings, and even wood or bone, in addition to traditional paintings and drawings. Although it began in the Napoleonic Wars, it became quite popular in World War...Read more

Ask 'Mimi,' Feb. 22, 2015
Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette, February 22nd

Yes, this just came to me via email: The Vermilion County War Museum in the old Danville Public Library just mounted "Trench Art," featuring items crafted by soldiers or prisoners of war using bombshells, bullet casings, wood or bone, as well as...Read more

Trench cello from WW1 played for 'first time'
BBC News, February 20th

A "trench cello", fashioned from an oil can by a World War One soldier, has been played for what may be the first time since the war, a museum has said. The instrument was made by Reginald Quelch, who served as a sapper with the Royal Engineers...Read more

World War II Sweetheart Grips
Daily Caller, February 13th

It wasn't until after World War l that the term “trench art”was used to describe these creations made from carved bones or shell casings, among other things. During World War II, some American soldiers even found ways of replacing the grips on their...Read more

Coleraine Times, February 10th

Chris, a former goalkeeper with Linfield before he joined the army four years ago, and his colleague Corporal James Cooper decided to use their spare time to help this cause which is close to their hearts by creating some impressive pieces of 'trench art'...Read more

Antiques: 90-year-old Lake Louise photo explores Canadian history
Ottawa Citizen, February 4th

A: You have a wonderful “trench art” memento. Trench art 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 calibre...Read more