'Trench Art'; Art Objects Made in the Battlefield

By Eric Olson

January 28, 2012 Updated Jan 28, 2012 at 10:55 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Indiana (Indiana's NewsCenter)--
Sailors make scrimshaw, prisoners prison art…soldiers make trench art, and a convoy of it has just pulled into the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.

“Trench art’s typically soldier made art,” says exhibit curator Brian Williams, “typified by usually brass and artillery pieces that have been constructed into functional objects by a soldier.”

These are the tools of war…bullets, artillery shells, bomb fuses and bayonets, stripped of their destructive purpose and turned into something useful by soldiers, sailors..even prisoners of war. Some of the most poignant items here are from the Civil War. Corporal Hoseah Maxham died a prisoner at the legendary southern death camp known as Andersonville. Before he died he carved these delicate rings and miniature doll furniture from peach pits and scraps of bone. These slender vases were brought home from the First World War by private Clarence Nalley of Lafayette, Indiana. And Sgt. Harry Toland of Portland Indiana fashioned these clever cigarette lighters from bullets.

“One of the more interesting pieces we have here is this beautiful well crafted lamp made by Melvin Zahner, a local gentleman who was in the navy in the 1930’s,” says Williams. “Very few of them would consider themselves actual artists. He might consider himself a craftsman if he thought his quality…was good but he was just entertaining himself or making a souvenir for somebody.”

Or perhaps drowning out the bedlam of the battlefield, replacing man brutalizing man with a brass gesture to civilization…beating swords, perhaps, into plowshares. Eric Olson reporting out in Your Country.

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