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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Art piece remembers Shropshire's WW1 soldiersBBC News, July 27th
His latest work also includes original World War One shells that were decorated by soldiers, which has become known as "trench art". Mr Jaycock said: "Soldiers used to scratch on them and create beautiful things - trees and nature. So they were...Read more
Dispatches from England: My Favorite Antique Finds Living in EnglandAnglotopia.net, July 21st
-Trench art. A friend of mine who had moved to the UK from Belgium introduced me to trench art. They are shell casings that soldiers sculpted into works of art while spending time in the trenches (mostly during World War I). My artwork is a casing that...Read more
County Durham woman amasses trench art collection over 30 yearsChronicleLive, July 14th
For a project which aims to track down First World War trench art in the North East, Judy Sunter's home is the perfect place to start. Judy, who lives near Stanley in County Durham, has amassed a collection of more than 600 pieces of trench art, much...Read more
Beamish Museum and Newcastle University join forces to hunt for stories behind ...The Northern Echo, July 10th
Researchers at Newcastle University are working with Beamish Museum to compile the history of dozens of pieces of trench art – decorative items made from such materials as artillery shells and bullet casings. Although there are examples of trench art...Read more
Newcastle University join forces with Beamish to hunt for First World War ...ChronicleLive, July 7th
In the years of First World War trench fighting, the debris associated with waging an industrialised conflict was everywhere. In what is now called trench art, soldiers made creative use of everything from shell cases and bullets to army biscuits...Read more
Jews on the front lineAustralian Jewish News, July 1st
Curator Deborah Rechter holds a shell casing that was transformed into trench art during World War I. Photo: Peter Haskin. A LETTER that 18-year-old Digger Idey Alexander wrote from the still smouldering battlefields of France shortly after the...Read more
Manatee History Matters: Palmetto museum wants to display your 'trench art'Bradenton Herald, June 29th
Trench art vase. Generally, trench art is recognized as any decorative item made by soldiers, prisoners of war or civilians where the manufacture is directly linked to armed conflict or its consequences. PHOTO PROVIDED ...Read more
Trench art: a story of grace under fireSydney 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