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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Out of the Attic: Hate beltBurlington Hawk Eye, October 4th
The item assumes many names, including grave digger belt, souvenir belt and hate belt, and often is considered a representation of trench art from World War I. The belt on display is leather with a brass buckle and round silver insert with the words...Read more
Project marks the Great WarNews Guardian, September 27th
“The best parts for me have been making trench art like the soldiers used to make from old shells, and cooking trench stew.” Jo Woolley, VODA's youth volunteer worker who led the project, said: “This has been the most inspiring and moving project to...Read more
Military mania is a force in the auction worldazcentral.com, September 24th
There are collectors of helmets, field glasses, optics, patches, bayonets, trench art and powder tins. In regards to helmets, a good German World War II era Fallschirmjäger, or paratrooper helmet, can bring in $5,000. Did you grandfather bring one home...Read more
Art review: Dead Man's Penny commemorates national and private lossThe Canberra Times, September 14th
This art, arising from the detritus of modern warfare, is sometimes referred to as trench art. The two ornamental vases are incised with graceful sprigs of flowers, perhaps in an unconscious attempt to domesticate these feared objects of destruction...Read more
Students can “touch” First World War with Discovery BoxVictoria Lookout, September 14th
What weighs 27 kilograms, contains five genuine and 17 reproduction First World War artifacts, including a gas mask and an example of trench art, and can be borrowed without charge by any school in Canada? It's the Supply Line First World War Discovery ...Read more
Fake Towns and Aliens at Vegass Atomic Testing SiteDaily Beast, September 12th
Past temporary displays have included trench art from WWI and remnants of the World Trade Center, but the recent addition to the museum dives into the country's most conspiracy-filled plot of land. Area 51: Myth or Reality, opened in 2012, just one...Read more
America's Lost History: William Penn, Bayard Taylor and trench artBoyertown Berk Montgomery Newspapers, September 11th
One item he specifically mentioned was trench art. He said at one time trench art, art crafted by soldiers during a time of war, was highly collected. The articles told a lot about the feelings of the common soldier. If the art isn't valued, it will be...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