Work With What You've Got: Trench Art

Trench Art KBeau Work with what you've got

Lately I have been thinking a lot about “working with what you’ve got,” and “looking with a different perspective.” Trench art fell perfectly under this topic.

During war many creative, skilled soldiers, prisoners of war and civilians created folk art from the remnants of war; particularly from discarded bullets, spent casings and buttons from the uniforms of their fellow soldiers who had been killed. Some even used soup bones. The use of government property was illegal, so these soldier artists did not sign their work.

Fortunately, we do know the identity of some of these soldiers. An Australian soldier, Stanley Keith Pearl, made several creations using many surprising items; wood from a German desk, spokes from an army bicycle, copper pipe removed from a German locomotive.

Though dubbed “art” these objects were sometimes useful objects too. One Canadian soldier created a tea set over the course of four years. He sent one piece at a time to his mother back home. Pearl created a clock from a hat pin stand and other items that survived the war.

Another topic that trench art brings up for me is the desire to create. I come by this naturally. I look at something discarded and begin imagining possibilities for it. I come from a long line of people who do this so I assumed everyone did this.

I try to imagine this sort of creative, problem-solving mentality against the background of war; of combat and all that entails. There is not a constant bombardment of bullets and bombs. I have heard soldiers speak of the boredom of war. There are long stretches of time spent waiting for the next onslaught of horrific violence; a dreadful oscillation between fear and monotony . Using that time to engage your mind in a project to create something must be a balm for the brain that is waiting to be assaulted by violence and stress.

My dad left behind jars and jars of spent shell casings. I gathered up many of those, and have played around with some designs using them in my jewelry. I also have all sorts of items I’ve found or been given by friends and customers. As I make jewelry from these found objects I sell them under my “Remnants” collection. This collection is where I place my work that is from one-of-a-kind items, found objects or cast from things that are precious to me. My rattlesnake rattle necklace and coffin key are two casting near and dear to my heart.