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

Ring made from 1916 coin is on display
Bundaberg News Mail, April 23rd

Among the Trench Art items in proprietor Alan Baker's collection, however, is a ring more connected with Australian history than you would think at first glance. The ring is made from a 1916 Australian penny and half penny, and is now on display at the ...Read more

Anzac Day - History unearthed
Latrobe Valley Express, April 22nd

Embellished with the Irish three-leaf clover, the Scottish thistle, the English rose and the words 'Best Wishes 1915', the piece of 'trench art' was crafted by William McIntyre, grandfather to resident Carol Smith. Historians at the Australian War...Read more

World War One workshops at Dumfries Museum
The Galloway Gazette, April 20th

On the 7 April the workshop focussed on Princess Mary tins and trench art and on 14 April the workshop was inspired by a beautiful pin cushion made as a gift. During the week beginning 27 April free interactive workshops are available to local schools...Read more

ART: Centenary marked in many ways
Newcastle Herald, April 17th

Newly appointed as assistant director, artistic programs at AGSA, Lisa Slade's curatorial project on trench art, en-trenched, will tour from 2016, including a stop at Newcastle Art Gallery. Official war artist Ben Quilty and Alex Seton's exhibition...Read more

Images of war continue to surprise in Anzac centenary year
Sydney Morning Herald, April 16th

Trench art and embroidered quilts recall the invisible threads that linked soldiers and loved ones far away at home. NGV curator Susan van Wyk is clear-sighted about the gallery's role in this commemorative year. "We have a general public audience...Read more

WWII dog tags make a 70-year reunion trip from Australia
Portland Tribune, April 5th

Hill says the two have gathered up “bits of wire, nails, the odd toothbrush, heaps of bullets of all sizes, harmonica reeds, rank insignia, coins, a fair bit of complete and incomplete trench art, webbing buckles, buttons, axes, the odd jerry can...Read more

Trench art from Afghanistan helps Bushmills hero fund
Ballymoney and Moyle Times, March 5th

Lance Corporal Chris McKendry had made and sold trench art during his recent tour to Afghanistan and he made the presentation of the money raised and a piece of his trench art to President of the society, local war historian Robert Thompson...Read more

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