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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'American Pickers' echo 'Let's Be Frank' on History ChannelExaminer.com, November 26th
Mike found a fifty caliber artillery shell that was decorated and called trench art; Mike had to have it and got it. The next lead she gave them was in Illinois to Dr. Ian, a collector of wheeled transport, especially for disabled people called...Read more
Students remember Bombardment of Hartlepool with Durham Cathedral displayHartlepool Mail, November 25th
They are inspired by so-called trench-art from the First World War. Jeremy Gribben, head of art and design at English Martyrs, explained: “The whole project was initiated through the Catholic Schools Partnership in the North East which we are part of...Read more
On a rainy day, explore history at the Printing MuseumHouston Chronicle, November 21st
German and American soldiers alike created trench art from shell casings to distract themselves from the horrifying conditions of war. In display cases are examples of intricate works, some with poems or images engraved. The end of the exhibit depicts...Read more
Flanders fields yield up secrets of the trenchesCanada.com, November 17th
Every day, they find artifacts: buttons, badges, uniforms, boots, empty bottles, trench art and hundreds of weapons. At one firing post, they discovered a children's chair – used by a German soldier to rest as he sat for hours aiming at the enemy lines...Read more
Top five family things to do in Coventry and Warwickshire this weekendCoventry Telegraph, November 13th
In the same week as Remembrance Day, why not discover a small display of objects from a Warwickshire-based private collection of Trench Art. This exhibition is part of a national programme to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War. It...Read more
The art of war and the Anzac centenary: history, nationalism and propagandaThe Age, November 8th
The trench art will be teamed with contemporary artists' responding to the work from 1914-18. "As a curator, unpacking the very idea of nationhood is essential, which is why I think it's important we have indigenous artists, some of whom have a family...Read more
WWI trench poetry given gorgeous graphical treatmentBoing Boing, November 5th
I've always been fascinated by WWI trench art – objets d'art fashioned from bullet and shell casings and other materials found in the trenches and battlefields of that hellish quagmire. My general interest in WWI military history has also brought me to...Read more
Talent from the trenchesSouth Shore Now, November 4th
A century ago, however, as the carnage of what became known as the Great War unfolded in Europe, the two did indeed converge, and works that became known as “trench art” emerged from the shadows of the battlefields. According to Jane Kimball in her ...Read more