Camouflage Coursework

November 11, 2013
Harvard students experimenting with the problems of a rural industrial plant on a scale model. Photo: Courtesy Harvard Art Museums Archives.

In honor of Veterans Day, today we’re turning to the Harvard Art Museums’ history pages to highlight how the work done in our historic facility aided American troops during World War II.

When people think of the training that happens at the Harvard Art Museums, they don’t typically think of training in the art of camouflage. But during World War II, students could take a Department of Fine Arts course on industrial and civilian camouflage, taught at the Fogg Museum by Winthrop O. Judkins (Harvard Class of 1934). The courses were designed in part to help Harvard students prepare for their service in the war.

Judkins reported in a letter to Paul Sachs, assistant director of the Fogg Museum, how the initial course in this series, Theory and Practice of Military Camouflage was “with the exception of the work at the Pratt Institute in New York, the first camouflage course offered in this country outside of the armed services” (Judkins 1942). An article in the Harvard Crimson described how students used camouflage to hide military structures on “realistic battlefields, and [to hide] vital industrial plants [in] miniature cities. The models, some of which are copied from real urban and rural communities, are illuminated by special lights to simulate the different times of day and reveal accurately the shadows cast by the sun’s rays” (Harvard Crimson 1942).

Theory and Practice of Industrial and Civil Camouflage, one of the advanced camouflage courses, was sponsored and approved by the Office of Civilian Defense in Washington, DC. Students who completed this class were given a graduation certificate issued by the War Department. Some of the most talented students received more than this certificate and a good grade—they were recruited into the Armed Forces.

The Harvard Art Museums are grateful to these veterans, and to all of the veterans who have protected our country by putting themselves in harm’s way. We thank you.

  “Camouflage Course Offers Practical Training for War: Use of Models Gives Realistic Problems,” Harvard Crimson, December 2, 1942. Letter, Winthrop O. Judkins to Paul Sachs, October 13, 1942. Courtesy Harvard Art Museums Archives.