Friday, January 14, 2011

Trench Art: Make Art Not War

M Y   C O L L E C T I O N — Featured today are two brass artillery shells that have been machined into flower vases. This is a genre of art known as "trench art" and consists of using war time materiel for peaceful uses such as pencil holders, vases, sculptures etc.  I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure my father made these after the war. My Dad was quite handy with all sorts of machines, and while he concentrated on working with wood in later years, restoring antiques and the like, he was quite familiar with working with metal. He even cast his own fishing weights! I have six of these empty brass casings, which have dates on the bottom ranging from 1940-43. The larger one is close to ten inches high and has a 40mm stamp on the bottom, while the shorter one is closer to six inches tall. There is no "mm" mark on the smaller one. I really love the idea of making something beautiful out of something that was created to be used to destroy, kill and maim. 

I suppose they could have been bought at some PX, too, lol.


  1. Hello Casey,

    I am a big fan of WW I era art and artists : Paul Nash , John Nash , Otto Dix, Grosz and others . It's an era that is often over looked or dismissed as" military art and propaganda ." A lot of the art is quite the opposite , depicting war's inhumanity rather than idealizing it's 'glory.' That younger war artists utilized Cubist and Futurism adds to it's vibrancy and urgency . The anti-war passion is not reserved for angry young artists alone. At the other end of the spectrum , John Singer Sargent created one the most moving anti-war paintings,Gassed.

    I have had the honor to see this at The Imperial War Museum in London. It is huge. They dedicated one room to it and nothing else . It is heartbreaking behold . Those who are unfamiliar with it , should enlarge it and take note that, in the background , off duty soldiers are blithely playing an innocent game of soccer .

    Anyway ,this is to say I am somewhat familiar with Trench Art from The Great War and WW II. These shells often possess an eerie anonymity : so much work,so much detail created during so much suffering . Uplifting ,too,as beauty is born out of destruction . Always a mystery as to who made them .

    But, today , I can happily put a face and a name and a personal history to these haunting works . Thank you so much, Casey ! An artifact comes to life .

    It's always surprising what one can find here.

    Thanks so much.


  2. thank YOU, AP! you've given me a lot of names to research now. I really don't know that much about the artist you mentioned, not much at all except for Sargent.

  3. That makes me very happy. Here is a fantastic site on the subject:

    I thought of you a few days ago.My wife,step nephew and I went to the Getty Museum and stood slack jawed
    viewing Illuminated French Manuscripts . I imagined how much you would have enjoyed viewing the hand lettered, illuminated pages of books more than 800 years old !


  4. These vases are gorgeous Casey! The whole concept of trench art is new to me but I am intrigued, you have certainly picked my interest.

  5. I too have never heard of Trench Art. The workmanship is beautiful. Yes, this is a much better use of ammo.