Trenches to Easels: Military Artwork

Military artwork comes in many different forms and styles. Sometimes martial art appears as portraits or statues. It can take a more basic form, like engraving on a canteen or mess kit.

Sometimes servicemembers acquired artwork during their service. “Trench Art” is a good example, decorative items made from recycled materials. Here are some examples of military artwork. Scroll through the page to learn more about the different works included in the exhibit.

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23. Engraved World War I Mess Kit

Robert Clark Collection, Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum

Mess kits have been a ubiquitous piece of military equipment for a very long time. Sergeant Louis C. Wahl spent considerable time and effort engraving the exhibited M-1910 mess kit. Wahl engraved the meat can, resembling a frying pan, with the Corps Castle insignia from the Army Corps of Engineers and distinctive unit insignia for the 212th Engineers. The mess kit's plate includes the Eagle from the US Coat of Arms along with Wahl's name and places he served during World War I.

24. Naval Shell Ashtray

Richard  A. Tobin Collection, Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum

Pieces of trench art are typically made from recycled materials. The ashtray from the Tobin Collection is a good example. It is made from the base of a naval 5-inch shell. Four coins, welded to the ashtray, serve as rests for cigars or cigarettes. The coins used are a mix of American and Chinese currency. These coins include a pair of US silver dollar coins. The others are a 1927 Chinese "Memento" coin and a 1908 Empire silver coin.

Dick Tobin was a doctor in Casper during World War II and kept records of local servicemen. It is unknown where he acquired the ashtray. Despite popular perception, civilian artists typically manufactured trench art. They sold pieces to servicemembers as souvenirs.

25. Bracelet

Charles M. Morrison Collection, Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum

Not all trench art is made from shells or casings. The first bracelet from the Morrison Collection is a string of British coins. Nine three pence coins make up the bracelet. The coins were minted between 1900 and 1932. British pence are comparable to American cents.

Charles Morrison served in the European Theater during the Second World War. He served with distinction in infantry and engineering units. He could have picked up the bracelet during his treatment at the 68th General Hospital in Whitchurch, England.

26. Bracelet

Charles M. Morrison Collection, Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum

Here is another example of trench art from the Morrison Collection. This men's silver bracelet features a floral and plant-based design. It has a squeeze closure on the back.

Like the earlier example, Morrison could have acquired this bracelet anywhere during his wartime service. 

27. Bracelet

Charles M. Morrison Collection, Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum

A third example of trench art from the Morrison Collection features the Combat Infantryman Badge. The Army introduced the CIB in 1943. (To learn more, check out our exhibit on military badges.) Made from aluminum, the men's bracelet has a CIB affixed to it. Aluminum was a scarce wartime material. It was likely made in the European Theater, but its artist is unknown.

Morrison was highly decorated for his wartime service. He received the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts.