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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Artists no longer neglecting woodColumbus Dispatch, August 30th
Trench art, paperweight, artillery shell, mounted on stepped base, patinated relief spelter, 1918, 23/4 by 51/2 by 41/4 inches, $275. • Flag, American, 40-star, parade, glazed cotton muslin, inscribed Dr. Crawford, printed, hand-stitched elements, 1889...Read more
Lifelike wooden sculpturesObserver-Reporter, August 29th
Clarice Cliff pottery vase, Bizarre shape, My Garden, painted, yellow, multicolor flowers, 5 x 3 1/2 inches, $120. • Royal Bayreuth pitcher, figural, lobster shape, painted, green handle, blue mark, 1900s, 7 inches, $230. • Trench art, paperweight...Read more
Wood carvings grow in popularity, collectibilityWinston-Salem Journal, August 27th
Trench art, paperweight, artillery shell, mounted on stepped base, patinated relief spelter, c. 1918, 2¾ x 5½ x 4¼ inches, $275. Flag, American, 40-star, parade, glazed cotton muslin, inscribed Dr. Crawford, printed, hand-stitched elements, 1889, 84 x...Read more
Kemper to host exhibit on World War I artThe Edwardsville Intelligencer, August 20th
Also included are rare examples of handmade “trench art,” with which soldiers memorialized their units and the battles they fought. These range from painted helmets and an engraved canteen to small objects made from shell casings. Aftermath. The final ...Read more
At Tower of David, ancient stones host modern art ode to JerusalemThe Times of Israel, August 15th
Parnas used old methods to create new art in “Ammunition Hill,” which contains his contemporary interpretation of Trench Art – historically made by soldiers in World War I with remains of weapons while sitting in the trenches – and Death Masks, based...Read more
'World War I: War of Images, Images of War'Washington University in St. Louis Newsroom, August 12th
Robert McGiffin, Painted American Helmet, c. 1918. 5 1/8 x 11 1/4 x 12 3/16”. Jane A. Kimball, Trench Art Collection. Hi-res images upon request. War looks different, before you're in it. In 1914, as Europe lumbered optimistically to battle, a proxy...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
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