Camouflage: In Defense of the Eisenhower Memorial Tapestries

By July 17, 2012blog
Cover of WWII-era camouflage manual on left, mock-up of memorial tapestry on right featuring a tree from an idyllic Kansas landscape

The Frank Gehry designed metallic tapestries planned for the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington DC have been subject to scathing criticism, but I find them deeply poetic for a reason that seems to have gone unnoticed: their direct relationship to camouflage techniques of World War II.

Cover of WWII-era camouflage manual on left, mock-up of memorial tapestry on right featuring a tree from an idyllic Kansas landscapeCover of WWII-era camouflage manual on left, mock-up of memorial tapestry on right featuring a tree from an idyllic Kansas landscape.
(Composite by David Grider, Mock-up courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP, 2012)

As shown in the following images, all varieties of steel mesh, cloth strips and patterning were used for concealment during World War II, from the theaters of operation to coastal factories in the United States.

Technical Manual TM 5-267 Camouflage, May 1 1943, pgs 28 & 29 (Scan by David Grider)Technical Manual TM 5-267 Camouflage, May 1 1943, pgs 28 & 29
(Scan by David Grider)

And while I find the Gehry mock-ups beautiful in their own right, displaying a rich figuration capable of rewarding the eye from far and near, to think, suddenly, that gazing at & deciphering these screens relates directly to the act of visual inspection in wartime, to dangerous revelation or concealment of fire, to success or failure at Normandy – well, that gives me chills.

Mock-up showing a Kansas prairie house, an American longing for an agrarian peace writ in the canvas of industrial war. (Courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP, 2012)Mock-up showing a Kansas prairie house, an American longing for
an agrarian peace writ in the canvas of industrial war.
(Courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP, 2012)

We stand in our Capital looking at a benign metallic landscape of our collective memory, made of the same stuff used to conceal munitions and soldiers during World War II, a stunning, swords-to-plowshares American beauty, an altogether wonderful memorial for a general and president who led the conquering of fascism overseas and then, presciently, revealed the dangers of our looming military-industrial complex.

Steel mesh camouflage netting deployed at Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego, 1943 (courtesy San Diego Air & Space Museum)Steel mesh camouflage netting deployed at Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego, 1943
(courtesy San Diego Air & Space Museum)