A Dublin artist’s role in World War I camouflage

  • Abbott H. Thayer Photo credit: Dublin Historical Society—

  • Abbott Thayer's book on camouflage. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Abbott Thayer's book on camouflage. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, November 07, 2018 11:27PM

The state of military camouflage as we know it today may very well be thanks to a Dublin artist and his study of animals.

While much of his artistic works centered around portraits of women and children, ethereal angels, and landscapes, Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921) became known to many as the “father of camouflage” as his study of concealing coloration – animals’ and others use of biological markings to mask themselves from others – may have laid the groundwork for camouflage by the United States and other nations during World War I.

Camouflage became more needed during World War I, as technological advancements such as aerial photography made it more crucial to disguise troops and military equipment.

In 1909, Thayer, along with his son Gerald, wrote and published “Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom,” a book that set forth his explanation of how animals use their colorings to blend in with their surroundings.

Using a combination of text and illustrations of animals in their environment, Thayer explained techniques like background matching (where an animal’s markings resemble its background), disruptive coloration (where an animal has disruptive color markings that distorts the animal’s body), and countershading (that the upper part of animal bodies are darker and their undersides tend to be lighter, which equalizes their overall tone).

Thayer and other painters, including his friend George DeForest Brush of Dublin, worked to persuade the military to adopt concealing coloration techniques to mask ships, weapons and troops.

One of Thayer’s assistants, Dublin resident Richard Meryman, worked in the army’s camouflage division during the war and was able to utilize Thayer’s techniques.

“I wish Thayer could see it all,” Meryman said in a letter to his mother dated Sept. 16, 1917. “After having devoted so many years of his life to this very thing and all the time receiving almost no encouragement from the government and from scientists, suddenly through great necessity the whole thing crystalised [sic] into an actuality. He would be so pleased to see it working.”