Tren­chant in­sight:

Source Ma­teriel

Pasatiempo - - IN OTHER WORDS -

Trench art is a cat­e­gory of col­lectible dec­o­ra­tive ob­jects made by sol­diers, on and off the bat­tle­field, and civil­ians with ac­cess to the de­tri­tus of war. Brass shell cas­ings from Amer­i­can, French, Bri­tish, Ger­man, and Ar­me­nian ar­tillery in World War I were en­graved with scenes of bat­tle and then used as flower vases. Pris­on­ers of war turned mut­ton bones into nap­kin rings, and vis­i­tors to bat­tle sites scav­enged scraps of fab­ric, dis­carded cig­a­rette lighters, mil­i­tary but­tons, and other rem­nants as sou­venirs and then cre­ated craft items out of them. Trench art, some of which is quite valu­able, can be found at flea mar­kets and es­tate sales, hav­ing spent decades in fam­ily at­tics, the sig­nif­i­cance of the pieces lost to time or pur­posely put away in or­der to for­get.

One of the fore­most col­lec­tors of trench art, Jane Kim­ball, lives in Santa Fe. She is the au­thor of Trench Art: An Il­lus­trated His­tory (Sil­ver­penny Press, 2004), and a com­ple­men­tary web­site, www.tren­chart.org. Pieces of her col­lec­tion are in­cluded in a new in­stal­la­tion by Al­li­son Smith, Source Ma­teriel, open­ing at 6 p.m. on Fri­day, Feb. 19, at the Muñoz Wax­man Gallery at the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts. Smith, chair of the sculp­ture pro­gram at Cal­i­for­nia Col­lege of the Arts, works in pub­lic prac­tice rooted in Amer­i­can his­tory, of­ten fo­cus­ing on mil­i­tary reen­act­ment. Rudi­ments of Fife & Drum, a 2013 per­for­mance held in con­junc­tion with the Aldrich Con­tem­po­rary Art Mu­seum in Ridge­field, Con­necti­cut, in­cluded a cos­tumed band in pa­rade play­ing snare drums she made from wood, calf­skin, linen, brass, and leather. For Source Ma­teriel, she will use trench art made from bomb­shells, bul­let cas­ings, can­non­balls, shrap­nel frag­ments, air­plane pro­pel­lers, and fallen zep­pelins, as well as quilted util­ity blan­kets with im­ages on them in­spired by ob­jects in Kim­ball’s col­lec­tion, and a sculp­tural pile of crates and wood scaf­fold­ing that repli­cate World War I- era ma­te­ri­als. The pro­ject looks at the in­ter­sec­tion of art and craft as well as that of sol­dier and artist, uti­liz­ing “ma­teriel,” a French word mean­ing hard­ware and equip­ment that refers to mil­i­tary sup­plies.

“Trench art isn’t some­thing you usu­ally see in mil­i­tary mu­se­ums or art mu­se­ums. It’s sort of fallen through the cracks of dec­o­ra­tive art his­tory,” Smith told Pasatiempo. “World War I was the first war where weapons were be­ing mass- pro­duced, and the level of de­struc­tion cre­ated by th­ese bombs and other weapons was re­ally some­thing that was unimag­in­able prior to World War I.” Smith said that women who worked in mu­ni­tions fac­to­ries would of­ten in­clude love notes in the bombs sent to sol­diers on the front lines, and sol­diers would in turn en­grave mes­sages to the en­emy on them. “The bat­tle­fields were lit­tered with thou­sands of empty shell cas­ings. They were sup­posed to col­lect th­ese so that they could be re­cy­cled into new bombs, but there was a prac­tice that started, lit­er­ally in the trenches, of hid­ing the bomb­shells and then in the off-hours, mak­ing them into art.” — J. L.

Trench art made of soup bones in pris­oner-of-war camps dur­ing WWI; top right, 37mm French shell cas­ing with an at­tached ri­fle car­tridge and bul­let ap­plied to each side; col­lec­tion of Jane Kim­ball

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