An exhibit of “trench art” — decorative and practical objects created from military shell cases, bullets, grenades and projectiles — is ready for viewing at the Firearms Museum of Texas, located inside the Brown County Museum of History downtown.
“We’re planning our grand opening for the exhibit on Saturday, during Veterans Day weekend, but it’s ready for viewing now,” firearms museum director Steve Blake of Brownwood said.
Items for the exhibit, on loan from a collector in California, will be on display until May 2008.
The term “trench art” describes a wide range of objects created by combat soldiers, support troops and even civilians that share a unique feature, Blake said. All use parts utilized by deadly weapons to create items of beauty. Shells, bullets and other items were crafted into things like lamps, ash trays and candlesticks featuring remarkable detail.
The display in Gallery Two of the firearms museum features several dozens examples of the art along with historic photos — most taken during World War I — showing soldiers who made such pieces, as well as the mountains of discarded casings from which the art was made.
“While trench art has been around for hundreds of years, World War I — with its four years of deadly trench warfare, long hours of idleness in trenches between fighting and the untold millions of fired artillery shell cases — led to a vast outpouring of artifacts between 1914 and 1918,” Blake said. That led to the name now commonly used to describe this type of artwork.
“Even after the war ended, a small souvenir industry sprang up to meet the demands of thousands of grieving relatives who visited their loved ones’ graves in France,” Blake said.
Meanwhile, the Brown County Museum of History has refreshed its display of war materials dating back to the U.S. Civil War, and featuring the Camp Bowie years in Brownwood during World War II.
Cindy Evans, museum staff member, was directing visitors to the Museum Annex Thursday afternoon where the war displays are found. Nearby is a display of barbed wire on two sides of a moveable panel, which Evans said has drawn considerable interest since the 85 items were mounted for viewing.
“We’ve already had several visitors to the trench art exhibit,” Evans said Thursday. “They’ve all been quiet impressed.”
“It’s hard to imagine fighting that war, but out of this came some efforts at humanity,” Blake said of the World War I trench art. “Military leaders were still using 19th century infantry techniques but they had the beginnings of 20th century weapon technology. They were still using horses in battle. The theory was to outflank the enemy, and in Europe they kept circling each other until armies were backed up and had no where else to go. They were stuck in those trenches for week after week, and they kept lobbing artillery at each other hours on end. In World War II, though, they were able to keep on the move most of the time.”
Operating hours for the museum at 209 North Broadway are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.