Trench Art in World War I: OCAC Library Exhibit

November 12, 2018 to December 31, 2018
OCAC LIBRARY
100th Anniversary of the End of World War I
Trench Art in World War I: OCAC Library Exhibit

TRENCH ART IN WORLD WAR I – AN EXHIBIT IN THE OCAC LIBRARY

100th Anniversary of the End of WWI
OCAC Library
November 7–December 31
Monday–Friday | 9–5 pm
 
In celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I, Veterans Day 2018, the OCAC Library hosts a small exhibition on trench art curated by OCAC students Will Benson and Thea Kinner. Trench Art in World War I features physical pieces of trench art, printed images, and WWI literature.
 
"Trench art objects are holders of soldiers’ memories and reminders of the conflict they faced. Made out of recycled war refuse such as shell casings, spent bullets or whatever came to hand, they open a window to the past. They tell us things like where soldiers went and what their surroundings were like. They also give hints about soldiers’ thoughts and actions. Something as simple and functional as a matchbox cover can provide a map of a soldier’s movements while other, more decorative examples, show a desire to find and create beauty, to camouflage war in art."
 
Most Americans do not know that Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” on the first anniversary of the end of World War I. The war ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. If World War I is only a dim memory for many in the United States, in Great Britain, Ireland, France, Australia and Canada its legacy remains vivid. Almost every family had someone who was wounded or killed. Many towns in these countries, regardless of size, have a solemn monument listing the names of those who were killed.  Historian Jay Winter believes the practice of naming individual ordinary soldiers, rather than glorifying great victories or heroic generals, stems from the fact that half the bodies of those who died in this war had no known graves because the bodies were simply obliterated. The names were all that remained.
 
Recently French President Emmanuel Macron mentioned the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of 1918 and his desire to not celebrate the end of the war as a victory of one side over another, but rather to commemorate the shared losses of all countries.  “France will be there to ensure the world does not forget that the thunder of nationalism always leads to the abyss,” he said. There is a tendency to view World War I as a tipping point when the modern world was ushered in and the Europeans lost their innocence.  The war certainly brought about many changes- political, technological, social and artistic. Artists and writers, as well as the people who experienced the war firsthand, struggled to express the carnage that stemmed from modern industrial warfare.

But perhaps most people sacrificed because they wanted to go home and return to the old ways, rather than embrace any new modernity. And Europeans werehardly innocent before the war- colonial powers had been exporting violence for centuries, but during the war the violence happened at home.

I would like to express my appreciation to Thea Kinner and Will Benson for putting so much energy and effort into curating this exhibit, and to Sol Lee for her artistry with the poem In Flanders Field by John McCrae. I would also like to thank Larry Clemens and Michael Rabette for loaning us some of the trench art.  

But my deepest thanks go to you — for taking a quiet moment today to honor all veterans and to celebrate the end of the First World War.

Dan Kelley
Directory of Library Services

 

What is Trench Art?
Trench art objects are holders of soldiers’ memories and reminders of the conflict they faced. Made out of recycled war refuse such as shell casings, spent bullets or whatever came to hand, they open a window to the past. They tell us things like where soldiers went and what their surroundings were like.

They also give hints about soldiers’ thoughts and actions. Something as simple and functional as a matchbox cover can provide a map of a soldier’s movements while other, more decorative examples, show a desire to find and create beauty, to camouflage war in art.
 
Who Made Trench Art?
Although evocative, the term trench art can be quite confusing or misleading. Trench art does not just refer to things made by soldiers in the trenches but objects made by anyone in response to conflict or recycled out of war materials. This includes soldiers, those in the trenches and those far behind the front lines, prisoners of war who made things to pass the time or to trade, and civilians. The civilian cottage industry in World War One trench art lasted from the beginning of the war, through the interwar years, to the beginning of World War Two.
 
 
Will Benson
 
 
Prosthetic Soldier