• A Family Tree : Hippolyte Hodeau’s Trench Art (ca. 1917) — The Public Domain Review

    L’art des tranchées. Percer des feuilles pour laisser des traces en plein.
    Une belle série extraite du domaine public.

    Thierry Dornberger’s family keepsakes include a memento exceptionally delicate. His great-grandfather, Hippolyte Hodeau, was a World War I private who served in Argonne. As Dornberger relates, Hodeau “made the trenches and was gassed. Following the dull sound of a shell falling . . . he was wounded in the ear.” Like many soldiers, Hodeau spent hours huddled in these muddy channels. In order to kill time, perhaps, or lift his spirits, he gathered leaves from an oak tree — elongated, striated, forest green — and used a form of relief carving to inscribe the names of his daughters, Andrée and Eléonore, as well as the word “souvenir” and what looks like “Argonne”.

    “Trench art”, as it’s called, wasn’t necessarily fashioned in dugouts and wasn’t usually so fragile. Collectors seek out letter openers made of shrapnel; crucifixes made of bullets; and artillery shells fashioned into everything from bracelets to clocks to candelabras. Wooden walking sticks were festooned with intricate carved heads, and tiny valentine pillows sewn and beaded for sweethearts back home. Hodeau’s engraved leaves are part of this resourceful genre, but there is another artistic tradition to which they also belong — that of arborglyphs, or tree carving. Humans have long regarded trees as witnesses. Basque sheepherders in the American West wrote poetry on birch, Confederate Civil War soldiers graffitied their names in trunks, and various Aboriginal Australian tribes honored the dead on bark. Whereas these gestures leave a bit of the human in the landscape, Hodeau’s engravings take a bit of the landscape with the human. “I was here” says one; “I was there” says the other.

    As unique as his objects may seem, Hodeau was not alone in carving leaves. The art form flourished during World War I as a way to enhance letters home with a unique lightweight enclosure. Soldiers used a needle or knife to whittle between the oak and chestnut veins, leaving only words or, sometimes, an image. Due to the partial opacity of perforated leaves, the carvings are especially enchanting when lit from behind; sometimes they’re called “feuilles de poilus”, or “tree leaf lace”.

    #Domaine_public #Art_des_tranchées