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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The best exhibitions to see for the First World War Centenary in 2014Culture24, July 24th
Featuring paintings, drawings, photographs, maps, Trench Art and other objects as touchstones for investigations in to local family histories Trent to Trenches at Nottingham Castle (July 26 – November 16) also features map tables and research stations...Read more
2014 Chevrolet Malibu Long Term Update: On the RoadKelley Blue Book, July 23rd
The museum has a number of displays of military equipment (including a number of tanks in an outside enclosure) and memorabilia including one-of-a-kind trench art--intricately carved brass artillery shell casings. The museum is well worth the admission ...Read more
Winsford U3A take aim for special Great War library exhibitionWinsford Guardian, July 23rd
Local, family and military history will combine with photography, trench art, craft work, songs, poetry and paintings to help deepen visitors' understanding of the Great War. Judy Wright, who co-ordinated the research, added: “Doing the project...Read more
Keeping abreast of the newsNelson Mail, July 16th
Nelson Mail chief photographer Martin de Ruyter, wife Karen Stade and their son Troy Stade, 20, were also responsible for one of the chosen designs. De Ruyter said their Bizarre Bra was a piece of "trench art" that was inspired by the copper creations...Read more
Five things to do in Coventry and Warwickshire this Tuesday nightCoventry Telegraph, July 15th
As part of a national programme to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War, this display showcases objects from a Warwickshire-based private collection of Trench Art. Trench Art is a term used to describe objects made from the by...Read more
From Ammunition to Art: Trench Art from the First World WarThe Oxford Times, July 14th
Jul 15-Dec 12. Part of a national programme to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War, this display showcases objects from a Warwickshire-based private collection of Trench Art. Trench Art is a term used to describe objects made from...Read more
Trench art at Witter honors veteransPilot Tribune, July 9th
This month's exhibit at the Witter Art Gallery in Storm Lake is "Trench Art," a collection of art pieces made from military hardware by soldiers dating to World War I. Many of the pieces are made from spent shell casings, fired by friend or foe, picked...Read more
Blurton pupils bring First World War trenches back to life for their history ...Stoke Sentinel, July 4th
Members of the Royal British Legion have also been showing students a collection of 'trench art' made from the brass parts of ammunition found in trenches. Other activities have included inviting a drama group into school to re-enact wartime moments...Read more