Oskaloosa.com

October 16, 2013

Nelson Pioneer Farm artifact

Do you know what this is?

By DUANE NOLLEN
The Oskaloosa Herald

OSKALOOSA —

This past week's artifact from the Nelson Pioneer Farm was World War I trench art made from shell casings.

Several people made correct guesses as to the identity of the artifact.

Allen Anderson wrote via email: “This is a 3 piece vase set of Trench Art.  During World War 1, artillery shells were made of brass.  Soldiers, who had little to do in the trenches, took the brass casings and made items such as vases, ash trays and other things for their families or for sale.  This set was probably brought back to the United States by a returning Doughboy as a present for his family. Company D, 168th Infantry, 84th Brigade, 42nd (Rainbow) Division was from Oskaloosa.  After the war they stayed on and returned to Oskaloosa to a large parade which included a two (2) story victory arch which would have been located on 1st Street at the southeast corner of the square.”

Kathy Stiles-yeo commented on Facebook: “shell casings turned into vases from Viet Nam wars, m"

Linda Jansen commented on Facebook: “Shell casings turned vases...

Ron Barrett commented via Facebook: “Old military shell casings."

Nelson Pioneer Farm Curator Kelly Halbert has done some research on the artifact: “Industrialized warfare creates piles of discarded objects – shell casings of all sizes being the most plentiful. While soldiers for centuries have found ways to reuse this refuse, the residents of the trenches of World War I France created so many objects that the name “Trench Art” has come to signify this genre of art.

Nelson Pioneer Farm & Museum has three pieces of trench art from WWI. Two are candle holders and one is a large vase. All three are made from discarded shell casings although they are from different ammunition manufacturers and dates.

The pair of candleholders are made from 3” 50 Cal casings – one is dated 1900 and one 1912. The soldier/artist has heated and folded the brass casing to create a rippled design banding the item. The large vase is decorated with a floral design that has been soldered on the casing and then painted with enamel paint.

Tools for these artists were whatever was at hand. Shrapnel, wire cutters, bayonets and other military paraphernalia were used to pound, scrape or fold the waste into something of worth. The intrinsic worth of the item increases when their weight and bulk are considered. Every soldier has to be ready to pick up and move all his belongings at any time. These shell casings are heavy, yet they were carried along until they were shipped or taken home.

These objects are not great works of art – in and of themselves. But when one considers the conditions under which they were made, in a dark, damp and rat infested trench in the middle of a war in a foreign country, even these simple works become something special; beauty in the midst of war, worth from refuse, the elevation of man over his conditions.”

The Oskaloosa Herald and the Nelson Pioneer Farm are teaming up to test your knowledge of historical artifacts.

The Nelson Pioneer Farm has about 15,000 artifacts in its collection spanning in age from the 1840s to the present.

The Herald will take a picture of an artifact and publish it in the Herald section of the Oskaloosa Shopper, The Oskaloosa Herald an the Herald's Web site, www.oskaloosa.com. People can make a guess on what they think the object could be.

People can either email their guess to oskynews@oskyherald.com or mail their guess to The Oskaloosa Herald, P.O. Box 530, Oskaloosa, IA 52577. You can vote from Wednesday through Saturday.

The identity of the artifact and the vote breakdown will be announced in each Wednesday's Herald Shopper along with the week's new artifact.

Herald Editor Duane Nollen can be reached by email at oskynews@oskyherald.com