The Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL has trench art items on display. These items date back to World War I.
What is War Trench Art?
War trench art is usually described as an item, decorative in nature, crafted by a soldier or prisoner of war using bomb shells, bullet casings and even wood or bone. Trench art is known to have existed as early as the Napoleonic Wars and continues to be popular to present day.
Creation of trench art picked up momentum during World War I and continued into World War II. By this time, the term “trench art” was also used not only to describe the souvenirs crafted by soldiers, but also those produced by military service personnel.
Today, trench art is divided into four categories: Items made by soldiers, items made by POWs and Internees, items made by civilians and items produced commercially. Various trench art items emerged from each group.
SOLDIER’S TRENCH ART
Trench art obtained its name from soldiers who would bide their time in the trenches by creating pieces of art using materials they had available to them – mainly bomb and/or bullet casings. Some soldiers were even known to create a reverse relief in the clay floor of the trench and then filling the relief with lead melted down from shrapnel balls. Smaller items, such as rings, were also made by these soldiers. Wounded soldiers were encouraged to utilize this type of art as part of their therapy when recovering from battle wounds. These soldiers generally created embroidery art and hand crafted items made from wood.
From the very beginning of trench art, the prisoner of war had very good reasons for creating their pieces of art. First, they had a fair amount of idle time which the craft help to occupy. They mainly used their art, however, as a means to secure items such as cigarettes, food and other privileges.
The reference to Civilian-made trench art generally refers to art that was created around the conflict zone and also includes items made at home by a loved one. In France, postcards were embroidered, which lead to the popularity of embroidering panels of gauze. These pieces usually included pictures patriotic in nature. Throughout WWII, millions of these postcards were produced. At the end of the war, much of the leftover shell casings and other war debris, were decorated with town crests and sold to the tourists.
COMMERCIALLY PRODUCED TRENCH ART
This term is referred to the mass production of trench art. With a significant amount of leftover materials from the war, this commercially produced trench art served dual purposes:
1) A way to dispose of leftover materials, including bomb casings and pieces wood from ships that were involved in battle would be sold with a notation of the ship’s significance.
2) Commercially produced war trench art became a means of profit.
Today, a wide variety trench art items from each of these categories are still ailable for purchase. World War II trench art is very popular among collectors.