What is Trench Art:
Trench Art's most basic definition is: Something made from the debris of war or made to represent something military. To take this further, according to acknowledged trench art expert Nicholas J. Saunders, trench art is, "Any object made by soldiers, Prisoners of War and civilians, from war material, as long as the object and the maker are associated in time and space with an armed conflict or its consequences."
The phrase"Trench Art" although catchy is a somewhat inappropriate phrase, implying that it was created in the trenches, which are associated with the First World War. While many pieces were made in the trenches or close by, the majority made during the first World War was not produced in the "Trenches" but in the machine shops or hospitals or in some town miles behind the front lines. The vast majority of what is called trench art was produced between 1919 and 1939 when it became popular to visit the battlefield sites to see where a loved one fought and sometimes died.
Why is it made.
Trench Art was and is a method for soldiers to wile away any extra time between battles and the daily life of a soldier. During the First World War the average soldier spent only 15% of his time fighting. Both civilians and soldiers used it as a way to make some extra money to buy food and the little necessities to improve their lives. Wounded soldiers made many pieces of trench art, in part as away to fill in the long hours of recuperation and as physical and mental therapy. POW's and internees made it to pass the time and to earn some extra money while waiting for the war to end. After the end of the First World War and up until the start of the Second Would War, a cottage industry of small mom and pop business cropped up selling trench art at many of the famous battle sites such as Passchendaele and the Somme. At places like these and many of the lesser sites tourists made a pilgrimage to see where their loved ones fought and all too often died. At these locations trench art souvenirs were bought as a reminder of that loss.
Actually any material can be used. Before the industrial revolution it was mostly made from organic materials such as cloth, wood, bone, paper and stone. Many of these materials do not last very long. While stone can last forever it is heavy and it takes time and effort to shape it. With the advent of brass artillery shells, artist and craftsmen had a durable, pliable and relatively light weight material to work with. It was not until the late 19th century and the early 20th century, with the growing impact of industrialization that trench art flourished. Given that there were more than 4 million shells fired during the battle of the Somme there was a plethora of suitable raw materials for the creative soul to work with.
Where it was made.
The front lines, rear area work shops, hospitals, POW camps, towns and villages near and far to the front lines. Or just about any place a soldier or civilian could set up shop and start working.
The meaning of Trench Art.
The "Meaning" covers the gambit of human emotions from desperation or happiness to sorrow and so much more. For the soldier or civilian making trench art it might mean a hot meal or money to buy some missing necessity. For someone receiving it in the post it might be happiness that their loved one was thinking of them and still alive. Still to others it might be the last tangible connection with a loved one who had been killed recently. To a patient in a hospital it might bring only frustration as they try to create something with injured hands. As a collector it might just be a really cool piece of art. All of these emotions and more are a part of what is called trench art.